Golf by the Gulf Offers a Relaxing Option
So this boy asks his daddy to send him this huntin dog. (I am enjoined from telling the whole story by the friendly but firm warning that my throat will be slit with a 5-iron if I do. Yes, that 5-iron.)
A group of golf writers and friends were sitting at a long table in the comfortable clubhouse bar at Kiva Dunes, a golf course Pate designed, watching the sunset through the big windows. The sky reddened on this narrow peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Bon Secour Bay.
Before us were glasses of beer, plates of the freshest shrimp youre likely to find, and the deepening evening. Pate, without once rolling his eyes at the request, was glad to tell the story of the 5-iron shot that won him the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club.
My caddie wanted me to hit 4, he says, eyebrows arching.
Pate, who has lived around here for more than 30 years, and his University of Alabama pal Scrappy Edgwin, played the course just before evening. They followed up the golf writers who were scraping it around in an effort to learn more about one of the Souths untapped golf destinations.
Heck, we played nine holes and then started fishin, Pate said. Edgwin laughed and regaled us with tales of the line-snapping bass that live in the courses ponds.
In a scene like this, just try to have a tense muscle.
That theme directs the development Gulf Shores, about an hour east of Mobile and the same distance west of Pensacola, Fla., as a new golf destination. The Gulf Shores Golf Association, just five years old, has lined up nine courses and a bundle of lodging partners in an effort to showcase the little beach town as a hub for golf trips and family vacations that could involve golf. The chief attractions are the simplicity and natural beauty of the place, as well as some quality golf courses.
Interstate 65 runs from Gary, Ind., down to Mobile, said Robert Craft, president of a family company that turned its turf farm into three courses. Thats our customer, right in that corridor.
Of course, Gulf Shores is ready to welcome visitors from anywhere (the local Convention and Visitors Bureau claims a lot of interest from English vacationers), but that central time zone will surely be the areas bread and butter as growth picks up speed. In that sense, Gulf Shores has worked its location to advantage: Plenty of golf, but no casinos (as in Biloxi, Miss.) or country-music theater nightlife (Myrtle Beach). There is a market, claims Craft and his colleagues, that doesnt go for that kind of glitz. And much of that market lives in the corridor Craft mentioned.
After playing some of the golf courses, its hard to disagree. Kiva Dunes, out on that sand spit by the Gulf, has a salt-air, coastal feel that excites the golf senses. Pates greens were only a little slower than concrete, and when the wind was up, there was a temptation to hit nothing but knockdown shots into them.
For the skilled player, this is an enervating test. On at least two holes, Pate set up the tee so that shots have to thread a narrow space between tall bushes or trees. Its an intimidating look, but on the other side, theres room aplenty for landing. Pate likes that kind of golf mind game; he says he learned it from architecture discussions with Pete Dye, no slouch himself in the intimidation department.
Somewhat less arduous but just as much fun is Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club, just a few minutes back toward the town and the road to Pensacola. There are 27 holes here, and exactly one of them is free of water. Once you get past that and keep your ball on dry land, youre free to enjoy the flowing route of the course, with its large greens and intelligent (read: not overdone) bunkering.
Nice touch at Peninsula: At the 1st and 10th tees, barrels of iced-down apples wait for golfers who need a boost.
For those willing to make the 45-minute drive inland to Daphne and Fairhope, there is golf with a different taste. Here the terrain begins to roll like a hurricane sea, even though its just a few miles from the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The result is courses such as Timber Creek (in Daphne) and Rock Creek (Fairhope), which feature mature pines that loom over narrow fairways and three-club elevation changes. This is the land of the railroad tie retaining wall, with pretty vistas from the tees and some heroic opportunities for approach shots. Of course, not all the rises and falls are dramatic enough to make your ears pop. But the variety compared to the coastal courses helps to make a golf trip complete.
If you want, you can grind it out on the Bermudagrass. But with the wall-to-wall Southern hospitality, its hard to be anything but relaxed between rounds. The area boasts miles of the whitest sand beaches in the world, plenty of restaurants (seafood lovers need never come ashore, menu-wise), waterslides and such for the kids, deep sea fishing, shopping and more.
Gulf Shores authorities know that part of the attraction of their location is the lack of crowds ' and of course, this puts them in a tough position. They want to invite the world, but they want the towns ' and its golf courses ' original charms to remain as they are.
Robert Craft smiles. Its a risk were willing to take.
For more information on Gulf Shores, log onto www.golfgulfshores.com or call (866) 636-3483.
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.