The Secrets of Kiva Dunes

The Secrets of Kiva Dunes

I’d like to ask Jerry Pate someday why he routed Kiva Dunes the way it is. I’m sure there’s a good reason all the holes run east-west, I’d just like to know what it is.

Lack of acreage could have something to do with it. The site is on a narrow isthmus on the coastal edge of Alabama between Bon Secour Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. And I’m sure the logistics of permitting around the lagoons and strands of wetlands littering the site made the design team want to commit group seppuku.

But you wonder if this was the only solution. It’s hard to imagine Donald Ross, a master of maximizing small spaces, settling for such an arrangement. Seminole, for instance, is on a smaller piece of seaside land but is a dazzling puzzle of angles and orientations (back in the day, of course, Ross could have just filled in the swamps).

The 18th at Kiva Dunes can be a harrowing hole in the crosswinds that blow in off the Gulf of Mexico. (photo:

The 18th at Kiva Dunes can be a harrowing hole in the crosswinds that blow in off the Gulf of Mexico. (photo:

Running holes back and forth doesn’t remotely begin to take advantage of such a windy location. And being as exposed to the sea as the Kiva site is, the wind does blow, mostly in north and south directions, so it’s usually coming across your shot. Meaning on blustery days you have to hang your drives out over water hazards and other lost-ball dangers, trusting it’s going to blow back into play. Scoring can become more a matter of faith than ball control.

But if we give Pate the benefit of doubt, what you have is a fairly riveting procession of holes packed into some difficult corners. Playing down between the wetlands, lagoons and the scrub vegetation bordering the holes can make you think you’re in some other part of the world, like the coasts of Australia or South Africa.

The artful bunkering flashed cut into the base of the greens amplifies the impression, and the shaping around the elevated complexes and through the fairways gives Kiva a sense of movement and flow. And sometime around the short par-4 10th, or maybe the par-3 13 up to a sloping, tabletop green, it dawns on you what a lovely and sensual golf course this is, so full of seductive secrets, one of them being why all the holes run east and west. (90)

Kiva Dunes Resort & Golf

Gulf Shores

Architect: Jerry Pate

Year: 1995

One of Alabama’s most memorable par-3’s, Kiva Dunes’ 13th.
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