It’s rare for me to visit the same Southern California “region” on back-to-back weekends. I usually like to alternate and mix it up, but sometimes you just have to make exceptions. I’ve already been out to the Coachella Valley several times this year, where I have enjoyed some fantastic golf and exceptional conditions throughout winter and early spring.
I was back out there yesterday enjoying more of the same. Right now, the temperatures are starting to rise and the prices are beginning to fall, yet the course conditioning remains at a very high level throughout the Valley.
JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort (Palm) • Palm Desert, CA • 4/27/13
This may seem a bit like deja vu, but trust me it’s not. I did play at this resort just a few weeks ago, but last time I played the Valley Course. This time I played the other course at this great 36-hole complex: the Palm Course.
If you read that post (if you didn’t, click here), you’ll recall I was very impressed with the conditioning of the course. Other than the greens being a tad less than perfect, the rest of it was downright immaculate. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised with the beauty and challenge of that Ted Robinson layout. So needless to say, I was anxious to get back and play the Palm Course while it was still in tip-top shape.
I had a 6:00 am tee time, which I figured would be first off the tee. Normally it would be. I was paired with another single and a twosome and we did tee off right on time. However, they put out a “VIP” group ahead of us at 5:50. The starter seemed confident they’d be super quick players and wouldn’t bother us. He was mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, we still finished in almost exactly four hours, which is a great pace for a foursome. We would have finished quicker, though, if not for that group in front of us.
One player in my group snidely remarked that the “I” in “VIP” must stand for “Ignorant” in this case. That made us all chuckle as we waited on one of the tees. I might add “Inconsiderate” and “Inefficient,” as well. They were playing from the tips (and it was clear none of them should have been). And they were clearly playing for some money, as they took a lot of time on each tee and each green. Now normally, I wouldn’t berate a foursome playing at a four-hour clip, but as the “pace-setters” for the whole course you generally expect a little quicker play. Perhaps we were being too harsh, but it definitely wore on our group and I figure it’s worth noting.
Otherwise, things went great on the Palm Course. As hoped, the conditions were excellent and the layout was enjoyable. On all levels, the experience was probably not quite at the same level as my other recent visit, but that set a pretty high standard to uphold. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were all beautiful and green. Excellent grass that was great to hit from. The rough was just deep enough to make you work, but not completely brutal. The greens were a tad firm and running a little bit slow on putts, but still very nice.
As for the course itself, it’s a good sister course to Valley. I would say Valley is still a better overall track than Palm, but both offer plenty of great golf. Palm is a little more forgiving, but still fairly challenging. The greens aren’t quite as crazy. Some have the signature Robinson tiers, but none stood out to me as severe as what you’ll experience on many of the holes next door. Like Valley, Palm features plenty of mounding and natural undulation throughout the fairways and around the greens, so there are very few flat lies to be found.
The scenery is equally stunning with the green-ness of the course contrasted by the blue skies and rugged mountains in the background. There is also plenty of water in play on the Palm Course. The stretch of holes that stands out the most here is the finishing combination that will test you on every level. Holes 15-18 all play fairly long and bring water into play on each shot. Whether it’s your tee shot or your approach (and sometimes even some scary chips and sand shot angles), you have to avoid large bodies of water.
The signature hole here is the beautiful par-3 17th, which is basically a big island green with no room for error short. You can go a little right, left or long, but it’s a very intimidating tee shot for sure. Then, the 18th is a tough par-4 that leads you back to the resort’s massive pool area and clubhouse.
I enjoyed the course overall, but that finishing stretch definitely won me over. Still, I’d pick Valley over Palm if I could only choose one to play. Fortunately, they’re both there and they both will provide an enjoyable golf experience.
Lastly, my only real minor complaint with the JW Marriott Desert Springs Palm Course is that local knowledge can make a huge difference here. There was no GPS, there were no pin placement sheets in the carts and there were no hole maps on either the scorecard or signs by the tee boxes. I’m not sure if they sell yardage books, but you may consider one if you are a precise player. It definitely cost me a few strokes when I didn’t know there was water within reach. When I played Valley before, I don’t recall ever feeling like I was playing “blind” like I did a few times today.
Some pictures from JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort (Palm) (4/27/13):
After finishing at Desert Springs and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I headed right over to my second course for the day:
Shadow Mountain Golf Club • Palm Desert, CA • 4/27/13
I really didn’t know what to expect from this course, but I ended up having a lot of fun at this country club facility that puts the “old” in “old school.” Until fairly recently, Shadow Mountain was a private course. But with the economy, they made the decision to open to the public like a number of other once-private clubs have done in recent years.
I had an 11:32 tee time and showed up about a half-hour early. I could see it wasn’t crowded at all and I was hoping for a nice quick round on such a hot afternoon. When I checked in, they let me know there was another single signed up at the same time. I hung around for a little bit and no groups were going off the first tee, so ultimately they let me know I could just head out on my own if I wanted. So I did.
It was nice for a few holes by myself, but then I ran into a few groups. One group of old-timers let me through on the 6th tee, but then the group ahead of them didn’t seem so anxious to let me go ahead of them. I knew there was at least one group ahead of them, so I didn’t press too much. By the time we were on the back nine, I could see the course was pretty open in front of those two groups, so I jumped around a bit. I probably saved myself an hour of waiting and still got all 18 different holes in, so it was a good move. Overall, the pace ended up being ideal at about 2.5 hours.
In some ways, Shadow Mountain is just a silly little course. It was designed by golf legend Gene Sarazen and has been around since 1958. Most of the people on the course and around the clubhouse looked like regulars/members, so it was a relaxed vibe with minimal staff, minimal services and no “resort” type feel at all.
You can tell this is a pretty old course and nowadays it’s pretty well suited for seniors. From the back blue tees, this par-70 layout is only 5,375 yards, which is tiny by today’s standards. There are only two par-5s. One is 436 from the blues (the 9th) and the other is 431 (the 18th). The longest par-4 is 395 (the 17th) and it is way longer than most holes here. Several of the par-4s are under 300 yards.
By any measures, this is a pretty “easy” course and it offers a pretty good confidence boost for most players. However, that is not to say it has no bite. You still have to work to earn a good score. Bad shots will be punished and good, smart shots will be rewarded. Most of the holes are relatively tight because of doglegs and distances to (and through) the corners. Trees line every fairway and it won’t take too big a spray to send your ball into one of the many houses that surround each hole.
If you are a big hitter, you have options. The “safe” option on most holes is to play a straight shot out to the corners and then leave yourself a simple wedge/short iron approach to the greens that are mostly pretty basic and accessible. The “aggressive” option is to try and hit the greens with a well-shaped shot. The risk here is that you don’t have to get very far off-line to find trouble in the form of OB, trees or water.
For some golfers, Shadow Mountain won’t offer much appeal because of its short yardage, low rating/slope and quirky “target golf” layout. For me, it was fun. Since I am a short hitter, it really gave me a lot of scoring opportunities, yet I still found my fair share of trouble, too.
As for conditions, the course itself was in great shape all around. For the most part, everything was beautiful, green and lush. The fairways were really great to hit from and the rough wasn’t deep, so it was not penal at all. The small greens were soft and receptive. They were a bit too slow on putts, but not bad once I got used to the speeds. The bunkers had pretty nice sand.
Probably the most memorable aspect of Shadow Mountain is the routing of the course itself as it winds through the neighborhood and criss-crosses itself all over the place. It’s a bit disorienting for first-time players and, if it were a really busy day, it might even be disturbing for some. I had heard about some of the “close quarters” from other golfers I’ve played with recently, but you have to see it to believe it. Several of the tee boxes are uncomfortably close to different greens. You really have to keep your head on a swivel here!
Also, you have to pay attention to the arrows on the cart paths and the signage around each tee box because there are a few confusing sections.
Though not for everyone, Shadow Mountain is a fun little course if you go with the flow and enjoy what it is. Stay out of trouble and fire at those pins!
Some pictures from Shadow Mountain Golf Club (4/27/13):
To give you an idea of the close proximity of some tee boxes and greens, below is a photo from the 3rd tee looking at the 2nd green. This is not zoomed in at all. It’s just that close right behind the hole.
Now that’s a bad-ass golf cart!