Even though the terrain here is relatively flat, there’s a lot of variety in these two sublime courses
PALM DESERT and LaQUINTA, Cal. (Feb. 11, 2019) – On the way to the golf-course-on-nearly-every-corner Coachella Valley, the Santa Rosa and Coral mountains dominate the horizon in the California desert. What’s not expected for first-time visitors here is how water – in the form of lakes, ponds, creeks and canals – infiltrates the line of play and adds testiness to these tracks.
We teed it up on two such aqueous tracks – the Palm course at the opulent JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert and the municipal, but anything but ordinary, course at the SilverRock Resort in La Quinta – on a trip here recently and found is that, even though the terrain is relatively flat, there’s a lot of variety in the desert.
Water is a big factor at Desert Springs
The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort is an oasis in the city of Palm Desert. This destination is a glittering world involving fine dining, hopping nightlife, spa, swimming pools and, amazingly in these arid climes, an indoor/outdoor lake with gondolas that ferry you around the property.
Golf course architect Ted Robinson, Sr. designed the Palm course, which opened in 1986. Robinson, widely known as the “king of waterscapes,” incorporated 35 acres of streams, lakes and cascading waterfalls throughout the two 18-hole courses – Palm and Valley – at Desert Springs Resort.
The Palm has water on a dozen holes. You can lose a lot of balls if you’re not in tune with your game as some of the hazards aren’t readily visible, which makes the course a little tricky. Golfers get that watery flavor while entering the property. To the left of the main entrance is the par-3 third hole, which features a splashing waterfall.
The Palm layout offers a fairly typical resort-golf experience, with wide fairways, large putting surfaces and reasonable bunkering. The conditioning is first-rate. Additional hallmarks include fairways lined by its namesake trees and golfer-friendly mounding as well as multi-tiered putting surfaces and white-sand bunkers.
The generally raised greens slope from back to front and contain swales and tiers; bunkers, grass depressions and slopes serve as their protection. The Palm plays as a 6,761-yard, par-72 from the tips. When a touch-up of the course was warranted, the resort decided to keep it in the family and asked the original designer’s son, Ted Robinson Jr., to handle the work in the summer of 2011.
The younger Robinson didn’t adjust any of his father’s water features, but added new tees, bunkers with crushed marble sand and putting surfaces that are now all up to USGA specifications.
The Palm course finishes with a stretch of four holes that would rival any closing sequence in the Coachella Valley.
No. 15, a 373-yard par-4 houses a lake along its entire right side; a group of bunkers lurk 240 yards out for longer hitters. The approach is to a peninsula-style green with water left and a grassy bank right. The par-4 16th measures 409 yards, but it looks, and plays, much longer. It curves around the lake to create a carry to an elevated green squeezed by bunkers left, right and back.
Perhaps the Palm’s prettiest hole is the 160-yard par-3 17th. The tee shot is all carry across over a waterscape with multiple colors. There’s a bunker at the back if you get too frisky with the tee ball.
The closer has been called the best finishing hole in the Coachella Valley by some locals. The 423-yard dogleg-left needs a drive that must carry the hotel’s main lagoon to reach the fairway. Guests at the spa’s pool area can watch golfers hit their approaches to a green fortified with railroad ties and guarded by sand and water.
The Palm is a fair and fun venue with several memorable holes. Though mostly benign off the tee, the numerous water hazards demand attention.
A unique aspect of the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort is how close the main buildings are to the golf courses. It’s rare to find a resort where one can be in their hotel room or in a restaurant one minute and the next warming up on the driving range. The golf shop is actually a part of the hotel and it’s just a short cart ride to the range.
Recent changes at SilverRock just the start
SilverRock Resort’s Classic course, designed by Arnold Palmer, opened in 2005 and was a part of the rotation for the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic (now called the Desert Classic) from 2008-11.
Owned by the city of La Quinta, the 7,578-yard layout is the first piece in the much-awaited SilverRock Resort, situated on 500-plus acres. The $420 million project calls for a luxury hotel and other amenities. Grading and infrastructure work could begin in early 2019 and the hotel might welcome its first visitors in fall 2021.
The Classic, which will be reconfigured slightly to accommodate the hotel, features massive bunkers and a handful of water hazards back-dropped by the Santa Rosas. The golf course is built around the La Quinta canal and skirts the mountains on two of its sides. Not only is this track fun, but the desert scenery around it is flat out distracting.
SilverRock’s back nine is so close to the mountains that it’s common for golfers to spot mountain goats running up and down the slopes.
There’s an abundance of desert waste areas here, helping to define landing zones and protecting putting surfaces. SilverRock has very few forced carries, but the desert and beach-sand bunkers pinch landing areas from tee to green.
Two par-5s here stretch more than 600 yards from the tips, which carry a beefy 76.3 rating. But players can bite off as much as they can chew thanks to six sets of tees. Though the layout has raised eyebrows for its length, finding success at SilverRock is centered more on accuracy than bombing away.
Golfers will be impressed with the variety of tests here. The fairways are relatively wide and guarded by well-defined trouble – what you see is what you get – and the greens, some of which feature considerable slope, are often bordered with friendly collection areas that allow for a variety of short-game recoveries.
SilverRock’s home half was renovated by Palmer as a result of a canal realignment project completed in the summer of 2014 by the Coachella Valley Water District. The project moved about 4,700 feet of the canal slightly west and affected hole Nos. 11 (a 418-yard par-4), 12 (par-5 at 658 yards) and 15, a 545-yard par-4 (ouch!).
The changes actually improved the tough 15th because the new configuration gives golfers more fairway room. The 570-yard closer is a great par-5, as a pond and stream diagonally intersect the fairway, making it a classic risk-reward hole.
The course was voted one of the “Best Tour Courses You can Play” by Golfweek in 2009, ’10 and ’11 and among the nation’s Best Municipal Golf Courses by the same magazine in 2009, ’10, ’11 and ’12.
SilverRock’s Classic is well-conditioned and fun; players who can golf their ball will find some real success here.