Been in the desert, Palm Springs, in fact, kicking off the new year with some fellow GolfWeek Magazine Panelists. Very refreshing to get away from the winter of weather's discontent hereon the Eastern Seaboard as we await our third Nor'easter, second in a week. Gee Whiz. I hadn't touched a club in almost two months and it was astounding how difficult it was to get back any endurance, but finally with progressive exercise, walking, whirlpool spa and 70* temperatures, a reasonable game emerged.
I think Palm Springs is my favorite American desert area.
-The roads and traffic are so good, so well laid out with parallelism and width
-Many, many places to play
-Many lovely places to stay
-Golf shops out the wazoo!
-Tons of places to eat including the all-important Burger and authentic Mexican
-Generally reliable weather, 65* and overcast was the worst "high"
-Some excellent golf, but you need friends generally to play the best
Two Hotels Noted:
Westin Mission Hills of the SPG Brand was first-rate and very well-priced, arranged as a central area and outlying Casita-style accommodations - allowing you to park right outside to avoid the dreaded over-servicing and frequent purchase and re-purchase of the rental car. Two associated courses Dye and Player, both fun to play if not particularly notable architecturally. Troon conditioning, 'nuff said. The Player course was one of that design team's best with none of the dreadful tings that tey sometimes do and most surprizingly, even though it was basically through housing, it never really felt so the corridors were so generous and the houses so unimposing.
Hyatt's Grand Champions at Indian Wells, home of the GolfWeek retreat. Large central hotel and also outlying Casitas as well as a sister Renaissance Hotel on the property. Lovely and large rooms with bathrooms befitting a Ritz or St. Regis in size and nearly in fixtures.
At the Indian Wells property, Clive Clarks marginally over-landscaped (way over for some) Celebrity Course was surprisingly well done for a Zen Garden of delights on scant acreage. Generally the flower beds were out of play and some interesting green contours were present. Both par 5's resisted reaching in two by use of water and the occasional shrubbery. Biggest knock on the course was that there were only two par 3's. Seriously this is a major flaw. The weaker player always likes the par 3's as they are an equalizer for them and a chance for that glory of an ace. The par 3's often ask the most of a better player as there is no room to fudge, precious little to recover. Par 70 maxed at about 6500 yards it was rarely if ever cramped despite the small property and the landscaping enhanced the views such that all but the architectural snob will enjoy the course immensely.
John Fought's team did the (7300 max) longer Player's Course which was a standard par 72 4-10-4 arrangement with great variety and interest. Only the 18th hole, basically an over-landscaped garden for guests of the Radisson to over-look was out of place. It was a quite reasonable golf hole with a very interesting set of contours at the green. In fact the course overall will satisfy virtually all levels of golfer as there are no real forced carries except for the most way back set of tees. I found the course stimulating without being over-done. It was challenging enough to bring out the best in my game with well-defined strategies galore.
A visit to the Arnold Palmer team's Classic Club - used through last year as a course for the Bob Hope classic - was a huge disappointment. it was built with the tour Professional in mind and what was gotten for $30 Million is Exhibit A as to how irrelevant the professional game has become to the game of golf. well over 250 acres were used as a clean slate with on discernible interesting golf to be found. Over 7300 from the tips, it was bluntly boring and sometimes downright stupid. I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness that that much money had been spent with so little result. The ability to create a fully walkable course was ignored with large unnecessary separations of holes at nearly every turn. the distance form nine to ten was absurd! Width without strategy was the order of the day. Increasingly more difficult and/or uninteresting shots on the par 3's wee seen as the tees became shorter exemplified on the waterfall-decorated 12th with the 170 yard tee provided the easiest of angles to all green quadrants and the 116 tee given the most penal.
The course considering its cost is a candidate for a Doak 0. Natural rolling dune shapes of the desert were easily visible to the north of the property. I was so mentally exhausted from drivel, I slept for nearly 12 hours (to the great benefit of my game).
On the private side, I was invited to the Plantation - a men-only Curley design set amongst majestic Palms. Lots of short grass and interesting green contours were the order of the day. The course is completely walkable, is spectacularly beautiful and has compelling golf all 18 holes.
More favorite because of more interest in design was the also curly-designed Palms course, a few miles down the road from the Plantation. Here ladies are welcome and made up a good number of the players. Fred Couples has at least co-design credit and the nines are a bit split. F-par 34 3-5-1 max 3200 yards including gnarly mesquite lined and/or O.B.- ed first 5 holes. a very challenging and demanding start. The second nine from the back was a whopping par 36 3887 with standard 2-5-2 arrangement. Even the third set of tees wee 3444 on the back.
The greens were much more boldly contoured and the remainder of holes after the first five played through tall mature rows of date Palm trees. A truly majestic setting.
Doak's Stone Eagle is the last course I'll comment on. It was great fun, not necessarily Doak's best or even his best desert course (That was the once-was Apache Stronghold) but it was the best of the trip.
One thing that I particularly loved was the melded fairways that must make the superintendent's job much easier as the staff does not have to truck mowers everywhere and for the golfer, less golf balls lose their way. I really liked the super-canted fairway of number four and the uphill width-driven fifth. The gunsight saddle green location on the short uphill par 4 6th was brilliantly conceived and on and on. Not to bore all of you with descriptions, suffice it to say that the mountainous desert landscape is a very special canvas for golf, unlike the desert and unlike the mountains - it is unique and special. Dry dramatic washes, elevation changes, long views, drivable fours, reachable fives, center-line hazards - all the things a good card-carrying Doak Butt Boy would and do enjoy. Maybe I'll find a net photo of SE for toppers.