Christmas in May, La Quinta Style

Last week, a deal popped up on Underpar.com that I couldn’t pass up. $89 for a round at any of the five public PGA West/La Quinta Resort courses AND a free same-day replay round. The deal also included a $15 meal voucher and an additional replay ticket that was good for a 2-for-1 green fee and could be used any time until September. It was a great deal for these courses—like Christmas in May for a golf fanatic like me!

Coincidentally, there were two of the five courses that I hadn’t yet played: PGA West Nicklaus Tournament and La Quinta Mountain. I bought my voucher last week, but didn’t know yet when I would use it.

Anyway, cut to Saturday afternoon as I am sitting around watching golf on TV (flipping back and forth between the Crowne Plaza Invitational and the Senior PGA Championship) and I quickly realized this was going to be a boring three-day weekend unless I did something about it. At the very least, I knew I had to go play golf somewhere on Sunday.

With it being Memorial Day weekend and a pretty mild weather forecast in the Palm Springs area, I didn’t think it would be an ideal time to use my voucher. But I decided to research it a bit anyway. I looked at their online tee times and saw plenty of openings at all the courses, so it began to seem like a real possibility.

My top priority was to play the La Quinta Mountain course because it has been number one on my Coachella Valley golf “wish list” for awhile now, but the timing just never worked out for me to play there before. I played the Dunes course there last year and got a little taste of the setting and Pete Dye desert design stylings, so I was anxious to finally get a chance to come back and play Mountain.

I called the La Quinta clubhouse to inquire about morning rounds, so I could be sure to get that round in first. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any early morning times available. However, they seemed very wide open in the afternoon and assured me I’d have no problem using my replay round out there in the late morning or early afternoon. So I then called the PGA West clubhouse to see about tee times on the Nicklaus course. They, too, were pretty booked up in the morning, but had a time available for 6:07 am. I went ahead and booked it.

After I hung up the phone, I started doing the math in my head to figure out how early I’d have to get up and leave to make that tee time (La Quinta is about two hours from where I live). The thought wasn’t too enticing, so I decided to try and stay out there Saturday night. I found a decent price on a Motel 6 room in Palm Desert, packed up and headed out on the road. Unfortunately, I did stop for a little bit at Morongo Casino, but it didn’t take long for me to realize it wasn’t “my night” with the gambling, so I got out of there before too much damage was done!

The wind was howling all night where I was staying (on the north side of the I-10), so it was kind of eerie. It was blowing extremely hard when I left in the morning, as well, but it’s amazing how much the winds can change from place to place in the desert. The courses weren’t too far from where I was staying, but there was nothing more than a gentle breeze in La Quinta and the weather was absolutely perfect…

PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course) • La Quinta, CA • 5/27/12

They put me out first off by myself on the Nicklaus course. I teed off right about 6:00 and zipped around the course with only minimal interference from the maintenance workers. I finished my round in just over two hours, so it was the perfect start to the double-dip day.

I didn’t really know much about the Nicklaus course coming in, but was very impressed with it. It’s a worthy neighbor to the TPC Stadium course and almost feels like Jack’s ode to Pete Dye in its design. Honestly, if Nicklaus wasn’t in the name I would have guessed it was also a Dye track. 

This is a really nice course design and very fun layout. A lot of big mounds, steep edges and massive sand traps/waste areas. No water comes into play until the awesome par-3 8th hole and then there’s plenty on the back nine. There are a number of split fairways to mess with your decision-making off the tee on a few holes. The small greens (especially for a Nicklaus course) are pretty well protected and generally somewhat elevated, making short shots tricky. It’s a very challenging, but mostly fair layout.

The course was in excellent shape, as well. The fairways and rough were green and lush. A little soggy first thing in the morning since they water so much overnight. The greens were very soft receptive and rolled pure. The greens did have a kind of ugly brownish color to them that wasn’t too pleasing visually, but didn’t affect play at all. The tee boxes were level and nice. I found a lot of sand traps and those were all in nice shape, as well. A very nice course and great conditions make this a worthy stop if you are visiting the LQ/PGAW resort.

Only complaint was that the GPS in my cart did not work and the fairways aren’t really marked much at all. I was flying blind on the front nine, but switched carts at the turn and all was well.

Some pictures from PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course) (5/27/12):

La Quinta Resort & Club (Mountain) • La Quinta, CA • 5/27/12

I was finished at PGA West by about 8:30, which was almost too quick because I didn’t think La Quinta Mountain would have anything for me for a few hours. I went into the PGA West pro shop and they helped me get my replay round booked. They had a time at 10:30, which wasn’t bad at all, so I booked it. I took my time and worked my way over to the La Quinta Resort clubhouse (which is several miles away) and checked in there a little before 9:30. I had time to kill, so I figured it was the perfect chance to use my meal voucher for a little lunch.

It felt like lunchtime to me because I had already played a round of golf, but when I looked at the restaurant menu I realized it was still technically breakfast time. I really didn’t want anything breakfast-oriented, so I asked the waiter if they were serving lunch items at all. At first, he said “no” but then said they could make a turkey or ham sandwich for me. That was perfect, so I ordered my turkey sandwich (which is what I was hoping to get anyway) and it was fine. Nothing too exciting, but it got the job done and didn’t cost me anything extra. I gave them my meal voucher and was on my way. I was ready to finally play my first round on the famed La Quinta Mountain course!

I was paired with a threesome and we teed off right at 10:30. We were behind a big tournament group, but the pace was pretty nice all day. We finished in four hours, which was excellent.

What makes the Mountain course special is its setting. It is right up against the desert hills and mountains. The back nine takes you into the mountains with a number of great holes, culminating in the signature par-3 16th hole that is always a talking point when discussing this course. It features an elevated set of tees with a great view of the entire valley. The green is basically an island below with desert and rocks surrounding it on all sides. Very cool hole.

Overall the course is a very nice design and it’s set against an incredible backdrop. So I can understand why it is so highly regarded. However, I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed overall because the conditions there were not great. The greens were fine, the tee boxes were good and the sand seemed good (a little crusty looking, but played fine in the couple of bunkers I found). The fairways, though, were quite ugly. The grass was patchy with a lot of brown/dead spots, some hardpan areas and just visually uninspiring. It really took away from the visual appeal that is so important to this course. The rough was a little better, but not too great either.

The best analogy I can make is to imagine Christmas morning. You finally get the bike that you had wished for all year, but you come to find out that your parents (or Santa, if you prefer) bought it used. And the more you look closely at the shiny “new” bike, the more scuff marks and dents you notice. It’s still a perfectly good bike, but you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I had such high expectations for this course and such a big build up in my own mind that the mediocre conditions definitely bummed me out a bit.

That said, I know this course is awesome when it’s in great shape, but it just wasn’t in the kind of shape I would have hoped for (especially after my morning round on a course that was in excellent condition). I look forward to playing here again someday and hopefully catching it in peak conditions. Hopefully that will be someday very soon.

Some pictures from La Quinta Resort & Club (Mountain) (5/27/12):

The signature 16th hole is below, first from the upper-most tee box and then from the whites where our group was playing from. Both great views!

Now, when you look at these pictures, my review of the conditions may come off as a little “overcritical.” Part of it is the fact I take these pictures for myself and try to get the most interesting and flattering angles. There are a few here, though, that will show you some of the splotchy fairways I referenced. I won’t say the course was in horrible shape. It just wasn’t as visually nice as I know it can be.

Even though the second round was a slight disappointment, it was still one of the best deals I’ve ever come across in local golf and I am very glad I took advantage of it this weekend when the weather was pretty much perfect in the desert. Now, I just wish I had bought more than one of those deal vouchers!

If you would have told me that I would have been able to play two rounds in La Quinta and then be home in Irvine by 4:30 (on Memorial Day weekend), I would have laughed in your face. Well, that’s what happened, so as far as the timing goes it was a mini road trip that couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. So glad I actually got out and did something productive this weekend!

One other thing that happened was something I considered a “sign.” I had just posted last week about my next big trip options and the Indiana/Ohio/Kentucky/Tennessee combo was what I was leaning towards. Anyway, as I ate my sandwich in the La Quinta clubhouse restaurant, they had a television on showing the Indianapolis 500. They showed some blimp views of the track and I could see some of the golf holes from the Brickyard Crossing course. Something about seeing that solidified my decision, so if all goes as planned that will be my next big “Bogeys Across America” trip later this summer!

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