The Last Little Trip of 2012: Day One at Westin Mission Hills

After just getting back from my soggy trip to Northern California during the long Christmas weekend, I was right back at it for the long New Year’s weekend. Except this time, I was back here in sunny(?) Southern California. What a better way to finish out the year than another visit out to the Coachella Valley!

I headed out Sunday morning with plans to play 36 holes at The Westin Mission Hills resort. I had a GroupGolfer.com voucher to use up ($89 for unlimited play) and they have two courses, so I was hoping to squeeze two full rounds in despite limited daylight this time of year and a busy golf day at the resort during a holiday weekend.

My adventure with The Westin Mission Hills goes back over a year. For once, I will spare ALL the details in dealing with the course and GroupGolfer during the year, but let’s just say I already had a grudge against this facility going in and I was glad to simply be checking these two courses off my list. I had booked a 7:50 tee time for Sunday on the Pete Dye Resort course, but I got a call Saturday afternoon from the pro shop telling me I had missed my time that morning. Apparently, they booked it for the wrong day. By the time I got the message and called back, it was already “after hours” so I got a different reservation line.

They were accommodating and understanding of the situation, but told me the Dye course tee sheet was “really full” for Sunday, which had me worried. Nonetheless, they put me down for a 7:58 time on the Gary Player Signature Course, which would be first off in the morning because they were anticipating a frost delay. When I booked this time, they informed me that the Player course was off-site (about a mile away from the Dye course and the main resort entrance). However, they also instructed me specifically to still go to the Dye course pro shop to check in and that they would shuttle me over to the other course.

Fortunately, I got out there nice and early. The signage at the main resort is pretty poor, so I parked in the designated lot. I saw a bag drop/shuttle stop there, so I put my bag in the rack and walked up to find the pro shop. There are no signs pointing you where to go and it’s not too easy to find. Generally, it looks like the cart boys will drive you up from the parking lot, but there were none to be found that time of the morning, so I wandered around until I eventually found it far away from the lot.

I checked in and they gave me a strange look as if I were an idiot. They told me I had to go over directly to the Player course pro shop to check in. There was no shuttle running at this time and that’s not how they do things anyway. So I walked all the way back to my car. I went to grab my bag off the rack in the parking lot and, of course, it was gone. Someone had already taken it up to the Dye pro shop for me! So I tracked down a cart boy and he had to radio up for them to bring it back down. Let’s just say it was not a good start to the day when I already had some bad feelings going in.

After that, though, I have to admit it was actually smooth sailing the rest of the day and things went as well as possible. I drove over to the Player course, checked in with ease and, even better, they informed me there was no frost delay. They were letting the early players off as soon as they wanted to go. I joined up with a twosome and we teed off around 7:30. We played at a nice quick pace and finished around 10:30, which was perfect timing. I checked back in with the Player pro shop and they were able to find me an opening on the Dye course at 11:26. I would have enough time in between rounds to not feel “rushed,” yet at that tee time I knew I would finish before it got dark. Perfect!

Sorry for all the preamble on this one, but it was part of my personal experience at The Westin Mission Hills. So was the weather. In all my times visiting the Coachella Valley, I’ve never really gotten any windy conditions, let alone any real clouds in the sky. It’s always perfect, which is why I like it out there so much. It was bright and sunny for my morning round, though there were clouds around the neighboring mountains. It was a bit windy and chilly all morning, but not too bad.

During the second round, the weather turned uglier. Luckily, it never rained on us, but it was very cloudy, windy and cold. Toward the end, I was pretty miserable and glad to get out of there by 4:00.

Of the two courses, I ended up liking the Gary Player Signature Course a lot more. It’s a very nice course. It’s a more secluded setting and doesn’t get as much “resort guest” play being off-site. Plus, it’s just a more interesting design.

Gary Player Signature Course

As the name would imply, this course was designed by South African tour legend, Gary Player, and his team. With the way it was set up Sunday, it made me think of a course layout and conditioning you might find if you were in South Africa. I’m not really sure, though, because I’ve never been there and haven’t ever seen too many South African courses featured on TV or in magazines. The fairways and greens were beautifully conditioned with nice, bright green grass. The fairways are cut tight for more of a links feel with a lot of extra roll-out and thinner lies. Some areas looked like astroturf they were so nice. In contrast, the bermuda rough around the edges was completely dormant and a light golden brown in color. You’ll find this from time to time with other desert courses in the winter months, but here it really fits with the layout and scenery.

Like most desert courses, the fairways are pretty wide and forgiving, but there is a lot of mounding along the edges and around the greens to create some visual intimidation. The front nine has some good holes, but the back nine tightens up more and brings a lot more water into play. Quite a lot of water hazards, in fact. The greens here reminded me of nearby Escena. Nothing seemed to break nearly as much as it looked. Everything plays pretty flat on the greens, so if you are on the same level as the hole, I would recommend cutting what you think the break is in half when you actually hit your putts. That said, there are some clear shelves and undulated parts where if you are on a different level than the hole, it will break as much as you anticipate.

This is the first Gary Player course I’ve played and it definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

Pete Dye Resort Course

This course, on the other hand, is one of many Dye courses I’ve played and it’s my least favorite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid course and a good overall layout, but it just didn’t impress or intrigue me as much as I was hoping. I’m not really surprised, though, mainly because I know this is a “resort” course designed to cater to the Westin guests. I would dub this course “Pete Dye Light.” It has pretty much all the elements you would expect, but it’s not nearly as “Dye-abolical” a layout as normal. It’s comparable to the Dunes Course at La Quinta in that way, but I still found that course to be much more interesting and challenging overall.

Like any good Dye course, The Westin Mission Hills’ offering has plenty of mounding/undulation, a fair amount of water (with his railroad tie edges as always) and pretty well-protected greens. The course is pretty forgiving from tee to green, but it does offer some challenge on and around the greens. The greens are pretty small here and feature his signature false edges and collection areas off to the sides. Those are always tough because you have to chip up and it always seems you have little-to-no green to work with up above. The greens on the Dye course do feature more undulation than the Player and run at a little quicker speeds, but they are still not as tricky as most of his other courses.

There are some challenging and interesting holes on the Dye course, though, including the 14th, which is a big dogleg left with ponds on both sides of the green. Then, there is the 18th, which is a beast of a finishing hole that definitely screams “Pete Dye.” All the holes here are named after his most famous courses (Harbour Town, Kiawah Ocean Course, Whistling Straits, etc.). I am not sure if they are supposed to be odes to those courses or specific holes. I have only played two of the courses these holes were named for. The par-3 3rd hole here was named “Harbour Town,” which didn’t really resemble any holes out that I can think of there. It does have a huge bunker in front of the green that is vaguely reminiscent of all the waste bunkers found at Harbour Town. The 18th was named “Sawgrass” and it definitely had some similarities to the 18th at that famous course. Water runs all along the left side and cuts in at the corner, forcing a very uncomfortable tee shot. You have to decide how aggressive you want to be on a hole that can play very long if you take the “safe” route around the water.

Condition-wise, the Dye course was in very good overall shape. It wasn’t quite as nice looking as the Player course. The fairways weren’t cut as tight, but still looked and played nicely, and the greens were in good shape. The rough on this course was a little less consistent with some spotty areas throughout. They also have some dormant bermuda around the edges of the bunkers on this course and on the outer edges of some holes, but it wasn’t quite as “filled in” or as nice of a visual contrast as it was on Player.

So, to sum up, I didn’t dislike this course at all. It’s still an enjoyable layout, but I would recommend La Quinta Mountain or PGA West Stadium if you really want to see Dye at his best in the desert. And if you only have one round to play at The Westin Mission Hills, I would vote for the Gary Player Signature Course. It’s a more interesting layout and features better scenery, in my opinion.

Even though my day started off a bit frustrating, it all worked out well in the end and I had a good time on both of these quality courses. For the price I paid, it was worth the visit. I wouldn’t pay an arm and a leg to play here, but either course is worthwhile for the right price, especially Player.

Some pictures from The Westin Mission Hills (Gary Player Signature Course) (12/30/12):

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Some pictures from The Westin Mission Hills (Pete Dye Resort Course) (12/30/12):

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