In the early 1990s, developer Jim “Scrappy” Edgemon discovered an exciting property on the Fort Morgan Peninsula, a sandy spit that forms the south eastern flank of Mobile Bay. His vision was to create a golf and beach resort that was complemented by a links-style golf course so he called in former US Open champion Jerry Pate to fashion an 18-hole layout for the new Kiva Dunes development.
First opened in 1995, Kiva Dunes is testament to the two men’s shared love of golf and, twenty years after the course was unveiled, a one and a half million dollar refurbishment was carried out to upgrade all the greens and bunkers, as well as remove some of the trees that were hindering the agronomic integrity of the layout.
The unique location of Kiva Dunes on a very narrow peninsula that separates Mobile Bay from the Gulf of Mexico means that ever-shifting winds make each and every round on the course different, depending on whether it’s the gulf or the bay breezes that are dominating.
Highlight holes include the 541-yard 2nd (with the green positioned behind a small lake), the 576-yard right doglegged 5th (which features a number of large fairway bunkers), the 215-yard 17th (played across water to a very narrow green), and the 458-yard 18th, where the enormous home green is protected by an equally large bunker to the front right of the putting surface.
One of the most challenging aspects in having a stand alone resort course is providing for compelling architecture that can entertain the fullest spectrum of golfers. One has to be smart enough not to ramp up the difficulty meter too far otherwise you run the risk of "one and done" rounds with few people returning. If you dumb down the architecture too much on the other side -- then you have a finished product that fails to excite any real passion.
Kiva Dunes is done well and much of that is tied to the updating of the course that was done back in 2015. Bunkers were overly penal initially and the desire to revamp them was a very smart move. Ditto the turf replacement on the greens and the general pruning of the surrounding trees and brush on the perimeter.
Much of the layout follows an east-west / west-east routing so one is likely to deal with serious crosswinds. You also have a number of holes with elevated targets so being able to execute on the approaches is a big time task when playing.
Among the holes of note is the long par-3 3rd -- be sure to take sufficient club on the 228 yards. The par-4 6th is also quite challenging - especially from the extreme championship tee. The finale hole on the outward side is first rate. The tee shot is played to a location just before the fairway comes to an end. Water runs down the right side and serves as a protection to the left side of the green.
The inward half picks up steam with the long par-4 12th -- once again water protects the entire left side of the drive zone. The best par-3 comes at the 13th. Here you have an elevated target with the green angled and protected by frontal bunkers. Those who don't hit sufficient club or push/pull the shot will face fall-offs on all sides. The hole is reminiscent of what you would see at old time designs in the southeast in comparable settings such as Seminole and Indian Creek.
The letdown comes with the back-to-back par-5s at the 14th and 15th holes. One goes from west to east and the other returns in reverse. They are merely yardage eaters and wish they could have been more compelling.
The final three holes are well done. The par-4 16th would be even better if the distant fairway bunker were expanded and angled more into the drive zone. The par-3 17th can be a real terror -- especially when facing a headwind or crosswind into the players. A pond hugs the left side as close as a young child hugs a parent on their first day of kindergarten. The slightest pulled shot results in the playing of the famed Bobby Darwin song, "Splish Splash."
Kiva Dunes concludes with a strong par-4 closer -- 458 yards. There's more room to the right than one can visually see from the tee and playing an approach shot from that position provides the best angle into nearly all pin locations.
As I said at the outset, stand alone resort golf is not an easy proposition. Kiva Dunes is well done on that front and the facility provides a range of complimentary amenities. Gulf Shoes is a wonderful location to decompress.
The only one real downside about Kiva Dunes is that you never see the Gulf of Mexico when playing. No question the impact of the daily winds is present and players have to be constantly aware of adjustments during the round.
M. James Ward
Very cool layout with a lot of water. Some of it aqua with the dye which always looks so good. In a really good area where after golf you go to the beach and enjoy a cold one!
The nearest Kiva is at least 2000 miles away (in New Mexico) and there’s not much in the way of dunes here either. What is here is a lovely golf course. Though water comes into play on 7 holes, only two require a forced carry. And half the holes require some strategic thought off the tee, deciding how much risk to take to get the most advantageous next shot. Strategy comes into play on approach shots as well—only five rove the option to play a running shot. And there is plenty of challenge once the green is reached. Every green has contours—none crazy, but each challenging.
Golfers with an interest in art will be particularly appreciative of the beautifully sculpted bunkers. They are somewhat reminiscent of those on a Seth Raynor course, but not as angular and thus more natural looking. I was in a few of them and found the sand to be quite consistent.
Kiva Dunes is a bit of a drive from Mobile (though the trip includes a boat ride) or out the Mobile Point peninsula from Gulf Shores. No matter which route one takes, it’s well worth the trip.
When Kiva Dunes Golf Club opened in 1995 Golf Digest called it the #2 Best New Public Course in the U.S and it still ranks as one of the finest in Alabama today. This superb Jerry Pate design is a links-style layout offering plenty of forced carries over sand dunes, lakes and natural wildland areas.
Manager Mark Stillings told me the course was closed for four months and reopened in November 2015 after spending US$1.5 million on improvements. Mark said they replaced the greens with Bermuda Tiff-eagle since it is much more heat, salt and wind tolerate. They also cut up the oak trees around the perimeter of the property and eliminated some of the “flashed-up” sand-walled bunkers for better ease of play.
A word to the wise - the greens are still hard since they are relatively new and extremely fast with an average size of 7,500 square feet so bring your best putting stroke. Still my fondest memory is walking up on 18 and seeing the reflection of the clubhouse lodge radiating across the pond and knowing this was my view all week long.
Kiva Dunes Golf Resort is the only golf and beach resort in Alabama offering an array of 2-4 bedroom well-appointed condos and 45 top-notch houses that you can rent. This is my kind of place to stay when I’m on a group golf trip. Consistently ranked in the top 75 Best Golf Resorts in America it didn’t take us long to make it our home-away-from-home while we golfed the Gulf Shores. There have three unique tropical oasis pools, a fitness and tennis centre along with a restaurant and 3,000 feet of sugar white sandy Gulf of Mexico shoreline that they claim is the longest privately owned beach in AL.
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