Back in the Desert (Again!)

The Coachella Valley just can’t keep me away.

As my SoCal public, regulation-18 course checklist dwindles down to the final few, I can smell the finish line. I will be pushing hard and fast over the next few weeks to complete this task.

After taking care of both Tahquitz Creek courses last weekend, I was amped to head back out to the desert this weekend to cross off two more—the final two, in fact!

Of course, there are a ton of private clubs out there and throughout SoCal, too, and I hope to get to play as many of those as I can during my lifetime, but that’s less of an attainable “goal” as it’s less within my control. It is what it is, so I won’t stress it too much.

Either way, I was out in the desert early Saturday morning for another 36 holes…

Heritage Palms Golf Club • Indio, CA • 1/25/14

This is a semi-private club, but they do offer some limited tee times through GolfNow. I’ve been watching the prices online and the weekend rates led me to think that I would probably have to wait until summer to finally play this course. All the times were $90-plus and it just never seemed that worth it. The course really doesn’t have much of a website and information online is very spotty, so I kept it at the bottom of my to-do list.

However, as I was snooping around all the online tee time services last week (I am always thorough in search of the best deals), I came across some times on StandbyGolf. Back in the day, this was the premier multi-course discount booking service in the Palm Springs area and a pre-cursor to what other services have evolved to become. But they are still kicking and are an option worth researching if playing out in the Coachella Valley.

Anyway, I saw some 7:30 tee times at Heritage Palms listed for a more reasonable $55 each. They had a few listings available, so it led me to believe it was some sort of shotgun outing they had open spots to fill up at the last minute. That turned out to be the case and it definitely worked out in my favor.

The place was busy with regulars (members who pretty much all fall into the 55+ category as part of this community). Apparently, the shotgun start isn’t a normal thing around here, so some people seemed a little grumpy about it. However, there was a big tournament going off in the afternoon and it was the smart way to handle the morning demand.

I was paired with three members (three really fun and nice elderly fellows) and we started on the 3rd hole. They mentioned they are all used to sub-four-hour paces on this course and the course itself stresses a 4:15 pace maximum, which I loved. So everybody in the shotgun was moving at a pretty good clip and we finished in just under four hours, which was awesome.

The course design itself might have been overshadowed by the near-immaculate conditions. It was absolutely gorgeous out there, even though the weather was a tad gloomy. There was lush, green fairways and rough everywhere, with grass that was beautifully manicured. Heritage Palms is similar to some other courses like Desert Falls and Mountain Vista with the large expanses of rough that sprawl throughout the property. Though a lot of these areas don’t even come into play at all, they are still perfectly cut and maintained all the way from the edges of the fairways right up to the back porches of the houses that surround each hole.

Heritage Palms is actually a fairly new course by Coachella Valley standards, but the conservative Arthur Hills design and modest clubhouse evoke a very old school and traditional Palm Springs kind of feel. Houses surround the course and can come into play with a really poor shot, and the complicated routing through the neighborhood has some definite quirks.

Still, the layout itself is pretty benign and forgiving. It’s meant to be senior friendly. The actual fairway cuts can get a little narrow at times, but with the expansive rough the course feels very open from tee to green with ample room for error on most shots.

They have a nice mix of tee options, as well, to help you find the appropriate challenge level for your game. The blue tees top out at just over 6,700 yards. Then there is a white set at around 6,100. There is also a senior set of green tees that is only around 5,500. However, most guys still prefer to play the “combo” set between the greens/whites that is around 5,800 yards.

Though there isn’t anything super noteworthy about the layout at Heritage Palms, it definitely turned out to me more interesting than expected. There’s a good mix of holes, some nice-looking water hazards in play and some nice mounding around the fairways to provide visual contour.

As I will say about many of the mid-priced “country club” courses in this area, if this is the first and/or only course you play out there, you’ll be extremely impressed with the conditions, scenery and solid layout. However, with so many great courses to choose from, Heritage Palms falls somewhere in the middle of the pack as a really good local option, but certainly not a “destination” course.

Some pictures from Heritage Palms Golf Club (1/25/14):

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From Heritage Palms, I headed back west for my second round of the day…

Desert Princess Country Club • Cathedral City, CA • 1/25/14

Again, I figured it would likely be summer before I came out to play this course. They are not really present on any of the online booking sites, so finding discount times here isn’t easy. And with 27 holes, I figured I’d be more likely to get some sort of “unlimited play” deals during the off-season.

When I looked at their website last week, though, I saw they were offering a set $60 rate in the afternoons all winter long. Though still a little expensive for a twilight price, it definitely made things more appealing. And considering the course would likely be in great winter shape and I was getting a reasonable price on Heritage Palms in the morning, spending a few extra bucks at Desert Princess was easy to justify in my mind.

I showed up a little before 12:30. I had hopes of walking on quickly and that the course wouldn’t be super busy in the afternoon. I was hopeful I might get to play all 27 holes before dark. Unfortunately, there were plenty of people out there, so 27 was unlikely, but I was going to play what I could.

Luckily, they were able to get me out on the course pretty quickly. I headed right out to the first tee of the Lagos nine to join a threesome set to tee off next. The first nine went pretty smoothly and we finished in about two hours. My 27-hole hopes started to get up again, but were quickly dashed when we rolled up to the first tee of the Cielo nine and found two groups waiting to tee off.

That is often the problem with 27-hole facilities when they weave in new groups starting on one of the nines while others are coming around at their turn. The back nine was slower and we finished in about 2.5 hours. A total 4.5-hour pace for the round was pretty good on a busy day, but I was still bummed I wouldn’t be able to squeeze in the extra nine. So, though I have played all the public, regulation courses in the Coachella Valley, there is still a bit of “unfinished business” on two of them (Indian Palms and now Desert Princess) as I’ll want to go back and play the remaining nines I missed on my first visits. That will most likely wait until summer, though, when I can play them fast and cheap.

As for the course itself, Desert Princess is a very solid overall design. It’s a good-looking course with a resort “oasis” feel. It won’t blow you away compared to the more dramatic high-end courses in the desert, but it’s another enjoyable mid-range option.

There is a LOT of water in play at Desert Princess (especially the two nines I played). The Lagos nine is appropriately named because lakes come into play on almost every hole. There are a lot of trees here, as well, along with some small homes that line the course and are not far out of play. There are many parts of this course that feel kind of “tight” from the tee because of how things are framed and how much trouble can come into play.

However, the fairways here are actually pretty wide and forgiving, so there’s lots of landing room when you get out there. But when you miss a fairway, you will be holding your breath a bit because you really don’t have to stray too far to find the OB stakes next to the houses.

The Cielo nine is very similar to Lagos with the water, trees and houses providing the “look.” Well, that goes for eight of the nine holes anyway. That’s because the first hole of Cielo is a complete anomaly.

Not only is it a confusing five-minute cart ride from the clubhouse. It’s a dramatically different style hole. It’s one of a handful of Desert Princess holes you can see when you are playing the Pebble course over at the Cimarron Resort. This stretch is a more wide open links style set along the big wash area.

The first hole on Cielo is very different looking, and begs the questions of if/when/why they might have changed the routing at some point. After you play it, you go back across the street and the rest of the holes are along the lines of what you just played on Lagos.

The other holes out in the wash are part of the Vista nine and I have to assume the routing was different at one point because It seems like all of them should be together. As it is set up now, it’s very odd having this one hole completely separated as the lead-off hole for Cielo. I’ll be curious to go back and play Vista at some point so I can get a full perspective of the current routing for all three nines. Maybe it will make sense then, but I have a feeling it won’t.

On a more positive note, the course was in very nice overall shape. The tee boxes and fairways were excellent. The rough on most holes was great. For whatever reason, the 9th hole on Lagos had more of the dormant bermuda outer rough where every other hole was lush and green. Also, that wacky first hole on Cielo was also very brown throughout the sprawling rough

I was in one greenside bunker and it was good. Lastly, the greens were in nice shape. The surfaces were softer than what I had in the morning over at Heritage Palms. I did fix my share of ball marks here, but it wasn’t too bad. They were mostly smooth on putts and rolling at medium speeds.

Desert Princess is a very good course by all measures, but by lofty Coachella Valley standards it’s another solid middle-of-the-pack option. I would certainly play it again with the right price and I will need to return at some point to play the Vista nine. However, the fact that they don’t offer many online booking discounts through the regular services I use will probably keep it off my radar. You can book directly through the Desert Princess site and I’m sure resort guest/residents get reasonable rates, but specials and discounts for regular public play seem hard to come by.

Some pictures from Desert Princess Country Club (1/25/14):

Lagos Nine:

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Cielo Nine:

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Addendum to Desert Princess review (updated 11/24/14):

This weekend, I had the opportunity to revisit Desert Princess and take care of some “unfinished business” at this 27-hole facility. I walked on and paid a $30 afternoon 9-hole rate to play the Vista nine. I joined up with another single and we had the course to ourselves, so we finished quickly starting at 3:00.

There are two “halves” of the Vista nine. I noted how the first hole of the Cielo course plays out along the wash. Five of the nine Vista holes play out there and offer a more links-style design compared to the more traditional first four holes, which are similar to what’s offered on the Lagos nine and eight holes of the Cielo nine.

The routing is definitely a little wacky at Desert Princess, but I kind of like the departure out to these links holes in the wash. The Vista nine is a cross-section of the two personalities of this course.

It was in exceptional shape all the way around, so no complaints there. This is a course that often gets overlooked because it’s not on any of the major online booking sites, but it’s worth a visit. The conditions are great, the layout is enjoyable enough and the rates are generally pretty reasonable.

Some pictures from the Vista nine (11/22/14):

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