Golf Course Review: Kiva Dunes (AL)

Kiva Dunes Course Rankings:

GolfWeek: #4 Alabama public #2 Alabama public

Designer: Jerry Pate (1995)

The former number one rated golf course in the state of Alabama, Kiva Dunes was unquestionably the course I was most looking forward to playing during our buddies’ golf trip to the Gulf Shores of Alabama. I am a ratings and rankings junkie, and any time a number one course is on my radar, I will admit I get pretty excited. If I had to guess, I’m guessing their website has probably gotten at least 500 extra hits from me, alone.

I love golf courses that have a “Big” feel to them (ie: Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue courses, World Woods Pine Barrens, Cog Hill No. 4 Dubsdread, Wild Rock, Erin Hills, Whistling Straits Straits and Irish courses, SentryWorldChambers Bay, The Prairie Club Dunes and Pines courses, True BlueThe Harvester, the Classic course at Madden’s Resort, Dismal River Red and White courses, Sweetgrass, Greywalls, etc.), and Kiva Dunes has a huge feel to it. The fairways are mostly wide and forgiving, with nice big greens, massive sand blow-outs and waste bunkers (or, as we called them, “Kiva Dunes”), and plenty of yardage – over 7,000 yards from the tournament tees.

Located on the western peninsula of the Gulf Shores, the resort at Kiva Dunes has beach-side accommodations, but the course itself does not have ocean views. There is certainly plenty of water that comes in to play, though, with a multitude of inland ponds and streams. Water comes in to play on 13 of the 18 holes – some more than others, like on the second, third, ninth, twelfth, seventeenth and eighteenth – and on a course as wide open as it is and with such proximity to the ocean, the prevailing winds can make the 7,000-plus yards seem like so many more.

The story of Kiva Dunes is a great one, and goes like this: Developer Jim “Scrappy” Edgemon was waiting for a fellow classmate at the University of Alabama on their University course in Tuscaloosa to clear the green. Taking his time on putting drills, he waved Jim to play up from the 160-yard par three’s tee box. He put the pin back in the hole, and Jim’s shot bounced once and while it was rolling toward the hole Jerry Pate pulled the pin and watched it roll in. Jim’s hole-in-one began a lifelong friendship with the eventual US Amateur (1974) and US Open (1976) champion, and led him to choose Pate for the course design on this gorgeous piece of land.

Pate is a legendary course designer in the south, and he applied his passion and vision skillfully at Kiva Dunes, leading to perhaps his career’s greatest work on the Gulf Shores peninsula.

Pre-round range time at Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, AL

The golf course at Kiva Dunes starts with a fairly straight-forward par four of 415 yards from the gold tees, and 379 from the blues that we were playing.

A typical [for Kiva Dunes] white sand waste bunker lines the left side of the fairway and can actually help keep wayward tee shots from going in to the woods on that side, while a tree line to the right makes for a fairly narrow driving zone.

Kiva Dunes Hole 1: Par 4 (415/379/321/260)

As a pre-warning, while the tree line on the right side opens up a little, it falls off to a pond at around 250 yards from the blue tees. I was pretty sure my tee shot was in good shape, for example, until I got to that area and found the pond and this little watch-guard gator basking in the warm Alabama sun.

Alligator basking in the Gulf Shores sun off the first hole at Kiva Dunes

This should be your view on a more centrally located drive on the first hole:

Kiva Dunes Hole 1: Par 4 (415/379/321/260)

The first par five on the course, the second hole at Kiva Dunes is a big par five. Water borders the playing surface on the right side, and from the tournament tees actually has to be hit over.

Kiva Dunes Hole 2: Par 5 (541/521/484/416)
Kiva Dunes Hole 2: Par 5 (541/521/484/416)

The wind was in to our faces on the course’s first par three, the third hole. At around 200 yards, this is a visually intimidating tee shot either way, with water short, right, and a marshland just off the left side of the green. Trees and out-of-bounds also guard this smaller green deep and off the right side.

Kiva Dunes Hole 3: Par 3 (228/193/160/111)

Tree-lined and teeing up over a marshland, the fourth is a short, drivable par four. At 280 yards from the blue tees, the green is certainly within reach but brings in to play a narrow landing zone with nasty brush both left and right. The smart play is obviously with a long iron, but what fun is that?

Kiva Dunes Hole 4: Par 4 (313/280/262/221)

The fifth is a great, long par five with beautiful cloverleaf sand traps littering the fairway. A small pond is in play on the left side of the driving zone, but the treeline right is probably the biggest hazard to stay away from. Meandering softly to the right, this par five finishes with a raised green atop several sizable front traps.

Kiva Dunes Hole 5: Par 5 (576/513/461/423)
Kiva Dunes Hole 5: Par 5 (576/513/461/423)

The sixth is a great risk/reward hole with a large wasteland cutting through the tee shot’s flight zone. Stay right of the traps to avoid any chance of having to hit a long shot out of the lowered beach, or take them on for a shorter eventual approach.

Kiva Dunes Hole 6: Par 4 (428/370/345/296)

The seventh is a long par four with a generous fairway. Trees line both sides of the driving zone, and the fairway narrows toward the green complex.

Kiva Dunes Hole 7: Par 4 (465/424/395/363)

The eighth is the shortest of the par threes on the course, and is all in front of you. The green runs sharply from the back to front, making tee shots at the pin a safe play.

Kiva Dunes Hole 8: Par 3 (161/155/135/98)
Kiva Dunes Hole 8: Par 3 (161/155/135/98)

The ninth is a fantastic finishing hole for the front nine. The inland pond that bisects the hole is reachable for the longest of hitters off the tee box (ie: Mike, who absolutely crushed his drive only to find that it rolled in), but getting as close to it as possible is a huge advantage as the approach required here has got to be hit accurately to avoid the water left and out-of-bounds right.

Kiva Dunes Hole 9: Par 4 (428/412/375/324)

The back nine starts with back-to-back short par fours, the first of which is the 334-yard (from the blues) tenth hole. The driving zone is spacious, goading players to reach back for a bit extra. The green on ten is two-leveled, making finding the right side a priority.

Kiva Dunes Hole 10: Par 4 (357/334/308/256)
Kiva Dunes Hole 10: Par 4 (357/334/308/256)

The eleventh, at 342 yards from the blue tees, is the second of the back nine’s opening short par fours. The tee shot here is considerably more thought-provoking than the one on ten, as the treelines both left and right are reachable with driver.

Kiva Dunes Hole 11: Par 4 (353/342/307/313)
Kiva Dunes Hole 11: Par 4 (353/342/307/313)

A longer par four with water running the length of the left side of the fairway, the twelfth hole at Kiva Dunes features a lightly left doglegging fairway that finishes along the water.

Kiva Dunes Hole 12: Par 4 (452/383/369/313)

I was really excited to see the setup of the par three 13th when we got to the tee boxes. The hole actually reminds me a lot of fairly similar work done by one of golf’s all-time greatest classic course architecture teams, William Langford and Theodore Moreau (ie: Lawsonia, Ozaukee CC, West Bend CC, etc.).

This mid-length, uphill par three shows a fraction of the front of the green, giving the impression that the tee shot needs to be perfect and barely fly the hellish front bunker. I had the right club, but the wrong swing. My tee shot flubbed off the bottom of the club face, rolling in to the wasteland in front of the tees. I tried hitting a wedge from there, getting it almost out of the wasteland, then another in to the front-left bunker, then another that didn’t get high enough. I picked up with a double-bogey max. What a disappointment on such a beautiful golf hole!

The fourteenth is the first of back-to-back par fives on the back nine at Kiva Dunes. The two par fives run parallel to one another, so we had the wind for the fourteenth, and played in to the wind on fifteen.

Both holes are relatively straight, and also relatively tight, with trees and wasteland bunkers lining their fairways. Both finish with greens that are located gently right of the remainder of their hole layouts.

Kiva Dunes Hole 14: Par 5 (570/510/463/402)
Kiva Dunes Hole 14: Par 5 (570/510/463/402)

The tee shot on fifteen is slightly easier than the one on fourteen, with an opening on the right side of the fairway to allow for some forgiveness.

The second of the back-to-back par fives finishes with a raised putting surface over a deep, clover-shaped green-side bunker.

Kiva Dunes Hole 15: Par 5 (540/509/452/401)
Kiva Dunes Hole 15: Par 5 (540/509/452/401)

With water dissecting the left side of the playing surface of the sixteenth hole, this mid-length par four is best attacked for inaccurate drivers (ie: Me) by less than driver from the tee boxes. Aim just left of the treeline for a mid-iron approach.

Kiva Dunes Hole 16: Par 4 (417/381/350/320)

The most challenging par three we played on the entire trip, the 17th is a beast of a one-shotter! Playing cross-water, the wind was howling in to our faces and a little to the left, and there was seemingly everywhere to miss and from 200 yards what looked to be a sliver of a green to target (AKA pray for a miracle to hit!).

Given my proclivity to draw my longer clubs, especially my hybrid which was the right club for this shot, the tee shot here was what I shared with my playing partners one of the most intimidating I have ever played. The wind for sure had a lot to do with it, but – regardless – this is a big-time par three!

Kiva Dunes Hole 17: Par 3 (215/196/175/126)

Finishing off the course at Kiva Dunes is one heck of a par four. Teeing up from over 400 yards with out-of-bounds left and water right, the green complex is huge and segmented with deep front traps and an encroaching waterline.

Kiva Dunes Hole 18: Par 4 (458/405/350/305)

Spectators abound on their balconies, adding a flair for the dramatic on what will inevitably a fairly long and demanding approach, especially to the back-right pin location that we had.

Kiva Dunes Hole 18: Par 4 (458/405/350/305)

Kiva Dunes beat us all up a bit on the scorecard, but was a tremendous golfing experience. The greens were perfectly true and were running at a comfortable speed of around 9.5. We were told by the starter that this is a little on the slower side for the course, as they can be sped up significantly for tournaments and events. The fairways, tees and traps were all flawlessly cared for.

This was my favorite round of our Gulf Shores buddies’ golf trip, and Jeff, Mike and Nick all agreed that it was an awesome track (albeit challenging), although opinions on their very favorite courses did differ between us all.

With its excellent conditions, challenging layout and beautiful scenery, Kiva Dunes is an absolute must-play for all golf enthusiasts visiting Alabama’s Gulf Shores.

18-hole scorecard at Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, AL
18-hole scorecard at Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, AL

Course Wrap-Up:

Location: Gulf Shores, AL
Yardage: Gold-7092, Blue-6464, White-5849, Red-5006
Slope/Rating: Gold-132/73.9, Blue-129/70.8, White-119/67.8, Red-115/68.5
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: $105 (includes cart, range)

Kiva Dunes Website

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