Destination: Palm Springs – Capping A Winning Season

pgawest_nickt_hole8Nothing can punctuate a winning season better than a post-season victory. For the 2016 Chicago Cubs it was 103 wins followed by a World Series Championship. Hopefully, for most readers of Chicago Golf Report there were plenty of golf winnings during the 2016 season, and now there is a sure-fire way to follow your regular winning season with a post-season golf trip of “championship proportions” — visit Palm Springs, California and the Coachella Valley.

Greater Palm Springs (the Coachella Valley) is comprised of nine cities located in one oasis tucked between the Santa Rosa, San Jacinto, and Little San Bernardino mountains in the desert of southern California. Quite noticeable, and most impressive, to first-time visitors is that all the courses are incredibly lush and green, and, most courses contain plenty of water hazards.

Greater Palm Springs sits atop an underground water table, and ‘official estimates’ calculate that there is approximately 200 years of water available to this valley. Put aside the fears of drought and burnt out greens and fairways; it is not the case in Palm Springs. No umbrella…no rainsuit…no worries! You can pack a bit lighter when trekking to Palm Springs. Forget the umbrella and rainsuit; the Coachella Valley boasts that the average number of days of sunshine each year is 354. Odds are that you won’t encounter any of the eleven days of rain here in Palm Springs.

Stepping up to the plate four times and getting four hits in a post-season ball game can bring about “series MVP” considerations. I have discovered four terrific golf facilities in the Coachella Valley worthy of MVP status that should not be overlooked on any golf vacation to the region; all are open to the public. Furthermore, each of these four venues contains two championship courses; ‘Mr.Cub’ would say “Let’s play two”. The line-up, alphabetically, leads off with Desert Willow Golf Resort (Palm Desert); on deck is Indian Wells Golf Resort (Indian Wells); in the hole is PGA-West (La Quinta); and in the clean-up position is Westin-Mission Hills (Rancho Mirage).


6th Hole – Desert Willow Firecliff

Desert Willow, managed by Northbrook-based KemperSports, prides itself as maintaining 36-holes of championship golf with conditioning and service levels typically associated with exclusive private clubs. Its Firecliff course tests golfers’ skills with plenty of natural desert hazards and a myriad of water hazards. The Mountain View course is ‘smoother and a bit more relaxed’ — but not so, if shots leave the fairway or find the sculpted valleys near the fairway edges. Both courses were designed by renowned architect Dr. Michael Hurdzan.

The 2013 ranking by Desert Golf Guide from more than one hundred private and public courses spread across the entire Coachella Valley placed four holes from Desert Willow as their choice in the “Top 100 Holes” category. Firecliff’s #17 hole ranked 44th; Firecliff’s #6 hole ranked 68th. Mountain View’s #9 hole ranked 58th and it’s #10 hole ranked 76th. Both courses are top choices of Golf Digest, Golf Week, and Desert Golfer Magazine.

The updated version of Indian Wells Golf Resort is a testament to what $97 million can accomplish. This golf facility is owned by the city of Indian Wells; it could be called a ‘resort’ or it could be called a ‘muni’, but it must be called ‘spectacular’, ‘awesome’, and ‘stunning’.

City officials tapped into the talents of two great architects for the renovated course designs — Clive Clark for the Celebrity Course (redesign 2006) and John Fought for the Players Course (redesign 2007). Palm trees, lakes, flowing streams, waterfalls, wildflowers, and a truly great routing of golf holes make the IW-Celebrity Course a golfing utopia. Challenging shot opportunities, breathtaking corridors, and the added backdrop of the Santa Rosa Mountains, can take the sting out of one or two double-bogeys over on the Players Course.

Rewind back to Season 15 of the Golf Channel’s Big Break; Big Break-Indian Wells was contested here and featured Robert Floyd. IW’s Vue Grille & Bar (opened 2008) is top-notch; outdoor seating overlooks the lighted putting course and the Celebrity Course’s #10 tee, and indoors, tables and booths are surrounded by dozens of flatscreen TV’s.

PGA-West is the ‘western home of golf in America’; it is a spectacular golf resort and a private residential community containing four private and five public courses. Of its five public courses, the two that are most recognized are the Stadium Course (Pete Dye) and the Nicklaus Tournament Course (Jack Nicklaus); both courses operate out of the same clubhouse, making it convenient for visiting guest golfers. Be forewarned, these courses, while containing awesome beauty, are difficult for scoring.

In its most recent rankings (2016-17), Golf Magazine posted the Stadium Course at PGA West in the ‘Top 100 Courses That You Can Play’ list. Golf Digest has ranked PGA-West Stadium Course as the fourth most difficult course in the United States. Throughout its history, having opened in 1986, Pete Dye’s Stadium Course at PGA West has challenged and beaten golfers in The Skins Game (1986-1991), PGA Club Professional Championship, Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, PGA Tour Q-School, and again in the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Recall Jason Dufner’s skillful shot off the rocks to set up a par-saving putt on #17 hole that led to his victory during the 2016 tournament. A memorial plaque on the bridge to the #17 green honors Dufner’s amazing shot. Pete Dye described his use of moguls, pot bunkers and lumpy lies at the Stadium Course as his “grenade-attack look.” Another famous quote regarding the trouble to be found here is that made by the late Jim Murray who summed up PGA West with these words: “You need a camel, a canoe, a priest and a tourniquet to get through it.”

Individuals playing alone, or seeking a personal low score, may find the Stadium Course to be disheartening, but it is said that ‘misery loves company’ and a fun way to play the Stadium Course is a skins game with three golf buddies — double-bogey can win a skin! Whether it is the Stadium Course or any of the other four semi-private courses, PGA West is a ‘must play’.


8th at Westin Mission Hills Pete Dye Course

The Westin Mission Hills Resort offers two very fine courses from two of the more noted names in golf course architecture — Pete Dye and Gary Player. These two courses at Westin are more ‘golfer friendly’ than their usual designs.

Reminiscent of TPC-Sawgrass, golfers will find a number of greens protected by ponds with wooden bulkheads at Westin Mission Hills-Dye; nonetheless, along with the trouble, there still exist plenty of scoring opportunities. Also a bit on the friendly side, the Gary Player Course has berms and mounds which help direct crooked shots back toward the fairways, but there is still plenty of challenge at Gary’s course as well. Speaking of ‘golfer friendly’, the personnel at the Westin Mission Hills golf shops are among the most pleasant and helpful anywhere in the Coachella Valley.

If your stay in the Coachella Valley permits more than eight rounds, or if one of the eight courses recommended above is completely booked, play SilverRock Resort in La Quinta. SilverRock Resort is an 18-hole, par 72 layout designed by Arnold Palmer. Its 200 acres are set directly adjacent to the Santa Rosa Mountains. Six sets of tees, plus one combo, can please and test all skill levels; the shortest length measures 4884 yards, while the longest stretches out to 7578 yards.

SilverRock’s massive bunkers, stunning water features, and unusual wildlife add to the beauty and challenge. Bighorn sheep are often spotted on the craggy slopes of the Santa Rosa Mountains or grazing on the course itself. Golf Magazine named SilverRock’s Arnold Palmer Classic Course a ‘Top 10 New Courses You Can Play’ in 2005. SilverRock then became part of the Bob Hope Classic from 2008-2011., the 65,000 member online review site, has rated SilverRock as its #1 choice in the Palm Springs area for best playing conditions and worth the price.

Whether you consider your winter get-away to Palm Springs as ‘2016 post-season’ or ‘2017 pre-season’ you won’t be disappointed.



Greg Miles

Greg Miles has been a writer following golf in Chicago since 1990. For the past 28 years he has been a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and currently is classified as a GWAA "Life Member". He played his first round of golf on his 11th birthday, and since then has played more than 7,200 rounds of golf in his lifetime at 517 different courses. He has interviewed more than 280 golfers across all the professional tours along with famous celebrity golfers. Additionally, he is a member of several other competitive and honorary golf associations, as well as the Golf Nut Society.

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