Escaping the cold grip of winter to visit a warmer destination is one of life’s great experiences, especially when the weather cooperates. However, it can be incredibly frustrating to have your winter getaway foiled by poor conditions at your chosen destination.
Californian has experienced some extraordinarily wet weather recently, finally overcoming an extended drought. The rain was definitely needed, but it also became a bit too much for many golf courses to manage. In fact, some had to temporarily close their courses to better manage the soggy conditions.
On a recent January excursion to Palm Desert, California, the rain came down consistently for the first 36 hours of my trip. This was on top of some soggy months preceding this most recent deluge.
My long awaited return to the links might have been delayed, or even cancelled, at many golf courses in the area. Thankfully, the course that I was scheduled to play was Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert, California.
Desert Willow is a 36-hole public golf facility that is about a 20-minute drive from Palm Springs International Airport. The course is managed by Northbrook-based Kemper Sports, the same company that manages top local Chicago-area courses such as Glen Club, Harborside International Golf Center and Cantigny Golf.
Desert Willow was built in 1997 and is a beautifully modern facility. The clubhouse is massive and features a restaurant that overlooks the golf course and the entire valley. The Palm Desert Golf Academy is on site and features a spacious driving range and short game practice area. The views of the surrounding mountains from both golf courses are breathtaking, especially for lifelong Chicago flat-lander like myself.
My first round was at the Mountain View course, which featured wide fairways and scattered desert waste areas. The course played 6,913 yards from the tips and offered a great challenge with 98 well-placed bunkers, sloping greens and seven water features.
The landing areas are ample and inviting, which is especially beneficial when you’re looking to revive a golf game that has been dormant during the Chicago winter. However, the bunkers in the fairway and around the greens did a good job of collecting errant shots.
The par three, 200-yard 11th is a challenging and memorable hole that requires a full carry over water to a green that is protected by a back left bunker and another guarding the pin on the right. There is a bailout area to the left, but the chip to this undulating green from this location is no bargain.
I played the Firecliff course on day two as it plays to a bit more challenging 138 slope versus 130 for the Mountain View course. Firecliff measures 7,056 yards from the tips and provided a stern test, especially off the tee, with over 100 bunkers.
Firecliff requires a bit more accuracy on many of the approach shots to some elevated greens. Although the fairways are plenty wide, it’s important to find the right side of the fairway so you can avoid the deep bunkers guarding many of the Firecliff greens.
A perfect example of these strategic hazards is the 536-yard par 5 18th hole, which requires a partially-blind tee shot through an initial tunnel of trees. The landing area is wider than you can see, but there is a bunker on the right side that could cause problems as you look to cross the creek that feeds the pond on the right side of the fairway.
Be careful to avoid six large bunkers on the left side of the fairway as you set up your approach to a green that is guarded by two more bunkers and the pond. The green is big and features multiple levels that place a priority on distance control with your wedges.
Both golf courses were beautiful and impeccably maintained. The facility and service was top-notch. But what made the entire experience exceptional was the ability of the course to somehow shed a massive amount of rain without a sign of flood water.
As much of the Coachella Valley was under water, how Desert Willow was without any standing water was truly remarkable. And according to General Manager Derek White, the secret to managing this much rain water was through detailed planning and course management that includes an extensive drainage system to 30-foot deep sump pumps located on each hole and two sump pumps on select holes.
In addition, both golf courses are constructed on sandy soil that has an above average soil absorption rate and also allows rain water to move rapidly to the drainage system and into the sumps. The fairways feature Ryegrass and proper soil conditioning includes the use of synthetic sulfuric acid injection, fertilization and soil surfactants. In other words – aerification, aerification, aerification.
For Chicagoans, a winter golf trip can sometimes be the carrot that gets us through the cold weather months. Next time you’re planning a trip to the Coachella Valley, consider playing both courses at Desert Willow Resort. They’re beautiful, challenging and a safe bet to be in great condition, no matter what Mother Nature decides.
38-995 Desert Willow Drive
Palm Desert, California 92260