This is the story of a love affair that overcomes barriers of distance and class. It is the story of me, a transplanted Southerner, living a comfortable life in New England, and the Isle Dauphine Golf Club, a once private beach beauty that's now a daily-fee course, if you can call $13.50 for 18 holes a fee. It's a pittance, really, for a round of golf washed in the breezes of the Gulf of Mexico. The 6,600-yard course is located on Dauphin Island, Ala., a sliver of land 33 miles south of my hometown of Mobile.
Like a one-time starlet reduced to supper-club dramaturgy, Isle Dauphine looks weathered, but let your eye linger and you can see that the course has good bones. If you gave Pete Dye a load of railroad ties and some sturdy grass seed, he'd create another Kiawah in no time. Five holes run alongside the Gulf. Somewhere between the 3rd green and the drilling platforms that dot the Gulf is where, in 1864, Admiral David Farragut damned the Confederate torpedoes in the Battle of Mobile Bay. As the course turns away from the water and winds in and out of the pines, the temperature rises and the local air force of mosquitoes buzzes the unprotected. No golfer arrives at the 1st tee at Isle Dauphine without sun-screen, an ice chest and a can of Deep Woods Off!
I have played links golf on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and the only thing that Isle Dauphine has in common with those courses is the salt air. But my love for Isle Dauphine has as much to do with my playing partners as it does with the course. Every summer three generations of my family arrive on Dauphin Island for several days of bonding. On a couple of afternoons my brother and I gather various combinations of sons and nephews (the women in my family are not golfers) and tee it up. We vow not to take the golf seriously, although the inevitable wagers often persuade us otherwise. Over the summers I have watched my brother tutor his sons, and I have seen my father, a onetime scratch golfer who quit the game long ago, lash at the ball again. This summer I hope to introduce my kids to the course. Career and marriage have stranded me among Yankees. Isle Dauphine connects my love of golf with my repressed yearning for home. The well-kept courses of Gulf Shores will seduce the tourists. My heart belongs to Isle Dauphine.