Crossing the bridge over the top of Mobile Bay, Ala., downtown Mobile’s skyline fades and the sky opens wide over one of the largest estuaries in the country. Birds flock to this area in all seasons, but winter migratory birds, such as the white pelican, take up residence during the cooler months. Our destination is The Grand Hotel, a Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa located on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Point Clear. Originally built in 1847 and rebuilt several times in 165 years due to ownership changes, wars and hurricanes, it is steeped in Southern tradition. The serpentine driveway is flanked by dramatic moss-laden live oaks with branches spilling out in all directions, reaching and embracing guests as they arrive. Known for its long-tenured staff who offer genuine hospitality, it is just south of the suburban community of Fairhope, known as “Carmel of the South.” A quaint, walkable community filled with art galleries, boutiques, antiques and restaurants, you’ll find no national chain stores or fast food franchises, keeping the historic charm of a quiet southern town.
The Grand Hotel lobby has the look and feel of a state park lodge that you would find out west. A gorgeously appointed large circular room is finished in wood paneling and high ceilings with open, rough cut beams meeting in the center around a massive stone masonry fireplace. Nooks with overstuffed chairs, leather sofas, soft lighting, antiques and Oriental rugs on hard wood floors create intimate seating areas.
The Grand boasts five separate sleeping buildings that provide marina and Bay views, garden vistas and lake views for 405 recently renovated rooms (thanks to Hurricane Katrina) with luxurious amenities. Guests enjoy two private manmade beaches next to the pool, which also offer horseshoes, volleyball, watercraft and special themed camps for children aged 6-12. You can order complimentary S’mores to roast over an evening firepit on the beach or a complete seafood clambake prepared by the chefs.
The campus of 550 acres includes the hotel, restaurants, pool, marina, spa, conference center, the golf courses and a separate private club for local members along with a high-rise condominium building on the golf course. Club members enjoy a separate pool, tennis courts and clubhouse with dining, which are also available to guests at the Grand.
The restaurants within the Grand are 5-Star and a local and regional destination, making the Grand one of Marriott’s top culinary standouts. All food service is managed by the legendary Executive Chef Mike Wallace who melds local Southern with New American cuisine. His focus on high quality, local and fresh ingredients, paired with dramatic presentation, have won him accolades and awards from Gulf Shores dining enthusiasts. The Chef’s Garden provides fresh herbs and vegetables used in daily cooking, but the availability of fresh seafood, combined with Southern cuisine, makes every dish a standout, including mouth-watering flame cooked shrimp served over cheese grits!
In the 1980s, Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, had a “field of dreams” vision to attract tourism dollars and economic development to the state of Alabama. He hired the top people in the industry to create a prestigious public golf trail winding throughout the state, building 18 courses at 10 different sites. He hired Robert Trent Jones, Sr., a legendary golf course architect of over 500 courses around the world, to tackle the project, now known as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Courses on the Trail all utilize the natural topography of each location. The challenging layouts impose major tests, but a unique tee location system allows golfers to enjoy the courses based on ability at any level. Each course was extracted from the land, not imposed on it.
The two courses at Lakewood Golf Club challenge golfers at every corner. The Azalea course gets its name from the azalea bushes that line many of the course’s fairways. The signature 14th hole has an island green surrounded by a four-acre lake which makes your approach shot to this par-5 very demanding. The 18 championship holes of the Dogwood course wind in and around marshes and features a spectacular collection of par-3 holes. The green on the 17th hole is surrounded by water on three sides, so the tee shot must find the green.
The historic Lakewood Golf Club at The Grand is the Trail’s latest addition, bringing the Trail total to 11 sites, 26 courses and 468 holes! The Wall Street Journal said the Trail “may be the biggest golf bargain in the country” and The New York Times called the Trail “some of the best public golf on Earth.”
The Marriott resort offers a separate Conference Center with three magnificently appointed ballrooms combining to create 39,000 square feet of meeting space at The Grand. In addition, smaller meeting rooms surround the large ballroom, making it an ideal location for conferences and breakout sessions. The large waterfront patio is ideal for an evening reception or cocktail party.
The Spa at the Grand offers relaxation and rejuvenation with massage, skin care, gentlemen’s services, salon services and what they call “body experiences.” These include a menu of detoxifying, stress reducing and firming treatments to refresh your body. The “Lady’s Relaxing Room” creates an environment to enjoy an after-treatment glow with a relaxing dip into a large hot tub, super thick robes and towels and lounge chairs with low light.
Marriott Corporation purchased The Grand in 1981 and added the Marina building and bayhouse to the resort. This attracts local and regional mariners for weekend getaways, and provides a way for guests to get on the water through separate charters or through the hotel’s Recreation Department.
3 gallons water
2 cups white wine
1 bunch celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 bunch parsley
2 onions, cut into quarters
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2/3 cup crab boil or Cajun seasoning
2 1/2pounds whole red bliss potatoes
10 ears corn, cut into halves
50 (16-20 count) unpeeled shrimp
11/2 pounds sausage, cut diagonally into 1-1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cup (1 sticks) butter, chopped
1/4 cup Cajun seasoning
10 tablespoons hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Boiled crab claws (save the water for crab boil)
Combine the water, wine, celery, parsley, onions, thyme and peppercorns in a stockpot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture and return the liquid to the stockpot; discard the solids. Stir in the crab boil.
Bring to a boil and add the potatoes and corn. Cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are nearly tender. Add the shrimp and sausage and cook for 5 to 8 more minutes until all are cooked through.
Strain the mixture and return the vegetables and seafood to the stockpot; discard the cooking liquid. Stir in the butter, Cajun seasonings, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Cook until heated through and coated evenly. Garnish with boiled crab claws and lemon wedges. Serve with crusty bread. Serves 10.
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups half-and-half
4 cups croissant cubes or dry white bread
1/2 cup raisins
Combine the brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a bowl and mix well. Add the bourbon and vanilla and stir to dissolve the brown sugar completely. Stir in the half-and-half. Mix the bread and raisins gently.
Spoon into a buttered baking dish and place in a larger pan filled halfway with hot water. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 1 to 2 hours or until golden brown. Serve with Whiskey Sauce. Serves 10.
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup whiskey
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup water
Beat the egg yolks with the whiskey in a bowl until smooth. Combine the corn syrup, both sugars, butter and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to mix well. Whisk 1 cup of the hot mixture gradually into the egg yolks; whisk the egg yolks gradually into the hot mixture. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until thickened and smooth, whisking constantly. Makes 3 cups.