Ever-evolving Kiva Dunes a must for any Gulf Shores golf adventure

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Editor’s note: The 2024 Travel Issue of Golf Oklahoma is now online at www.golfoklahoma.org and heading to pro shops and home delivery. Here is a bonus story on one of our favorite destinations.

By Ken MacLeod

The first time this writer played Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, Ala., was followed soon after by a visit to Limestone Springs in Oneonta.

The striking impression was that Jerry Pate, who designed both courses, should be ranked right up there with Tom Fazio, Pete Dye and other top golf course architects of the day (that was probably 20 years ago).

Both courses were visually arresting and such a joy to play. Haven’t been back to Limestone Springs, but many times to Kiva Dunes and it never gets old. Part of that is because the course changes and adapts over the years to various weather events. A bigger reason is the flexibility Pate built into the course to have it play dramatically different each day depending on where tees and flags are set on the large undulating greens and wind direction.

Mark Stillings

“You could play this course five days in a row and I’d venture to say that none of those five rounds are going to be even close to the same feel,” said General Manager Mark Stillings, who has been on site in various capacities since the course opened in 1995 and was quickly voted the #2 best new course in the country by Golf Digest.

“We rotate the teeing grounds, the hole locations, the wind is different every day. You might hit a 9-iron in to 18 one day and a 4-iron the next. I’m partial obviously but it’s one of my favorites anywhere. In the 29 years I’ve been here it never grows old. It feels and plays different every time.”

Those playing Kiva Dunes recently will see it much as Stillings did 29 years ago when he began working and playing there. That’s because Hurricane Sally in 2020 came onshore in Gulf Shores and wiped out hundreds of pines and other trees that had grown tall and spindly over time, but left almost all the scrub oaks and palmettos that give the course its unique look and character.

“Nobody thinks it’s lessened the look or the playability at all,” Stillings said. “We’ve cleaned up the native and natural areas and now you see the white sand bunkers more clearly and you can see the white sand of the beach poking through in areas where you couldn’t see it before.”

David Jones, superintendent at Indian Springs Country Club in Broken Arrow and perhaps the only man alive to have played every golf course public and private in Oklahoma, appreciated the work of his counterparts in his first round at Kiva Dunes this fall.

David Jones

“I didn’t know what to expect at Kiva Dunes, but I had a huge smile on my face when I walked off of 18 green,” Jones said. “Some of the best green complexes I’ve played anywhere.  Everything is top notch there. It’s a wonderful layout, friendly service, and beautifully maintained course. I can’t wait to get back there someday.”

Kiva Dunes is one of the jewels in the Coastal Alabama Golf Gourp, which markets and helps set up trips to Gulf Shores. It includes courses leading in from Mobile such as Rock Creek or Timber Creek and courses heading towards Pensacola such as Lost Key and Gulf Shores Golf Club. Right in Gulf Shores are Craft Farms with an Arnold Palmer design and the Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club with three nines designed by local favorite Earl Stone.

Mobile is the most likely airport for those arriving from Oklahoma but many drive in as well. A stop in Lafayette La., for a Cajun dinner at Prejean’s makes for a nice break to the drive.

Kiva Dunes, like many resorts in the U.S., has been inundated since the Covid golf boom. The course did record rounds and revenue in 2022 and then soared past those marks in 2023. Staying on property in the course’s homes or condos is a great option but one that needs looking into sooner than in year’s past.

“We’re getting a ton of customers on property and some from areas we really haven’t seen in the past,” Stillings said. “We had conceded the northeast (New York, Boston, Philadelphia) to the eastern seaboard but we’re seeing a lot more from there. And then Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma are strong areas for us.”

Kiva Dunes has condos, beach homes and other homes for rent as well as offering restaurants, a beach club, pool and much more for its guests. Go to www.kivadunes.com for more information.

Stillings said it’s been an easy decision to stay on board for nearly three decades due to the culture of service and the way the owners take care of their employees.

“We’ve created a pretty good environment for our employees and staff and that’s why we have so many who have been here a long time,” he said. “We’ve got a beautiful product, good ownership, and hopefully doing a good job in management. We treat the customers well and have beautiful facilities. We spend a lot of time making sure that you have a great time.”

With Kiva Dunes sitting outside with its never-ending variety, challenging slopes and sense of playing a high-risk and high-reward game of chance in each round, most golfers do have a great time. The course can bite back hard when its in the mood, but it’s always memorable.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ68Ix22itk


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Ken MacLeod

Publisher Golf Oklahoma | Oklahoma's No. 1 Golf Source