Dealing in the Desert

Saturday found a friend and I heading out to one of my favorite places, the Coachella Valley. We were drawn out there by a fantastic deal on one of the region’s best courses, so it was well worth the trek.

We booked an 11:06 tee time at the PGA West Nicklaus course, which left us with just enough time in the morning to squeeze in some golf. Just not quite enough time for a full 18, which made it a good opportunity to check one more “short” course off of my to-do list…

Ivey Ranch Country Club • Thousand Palms, CA • 10/25/14

I felt a little bad for dragging my friend along for just a 9-hole course, but then again driving all the way out to the desert for just one round at a course I’ve already played feels crazy to me. This quick warm-up round made the day feel a little more productive, at least by my standards.

We booked an 8:15 tee time directly with the course. I had seen on their website that they opened from their overseed the day before. However, the site also mentioned that they were playing one hole as an “alternate” because of some severe storm damage last month.

The price was $25 (cart included) for nine holes, which isn’t awful for a desert course this time of year, but it was hard not to compare it to the awesome price ($35) we got for the afternoon round at a far superior course.

The guard at the gate was rather weird, but the guy working in the pro shop was super nice and walked us through all the temporary routing alterations. Basically, the par-4 4th hole was closed and they were using an “alternate” bonus par-3 hole that is on the property, but not normally part of the routing. I guess it’s just there as a practice hole for residents because it is a bit out of the way compared to the rest of the course, but I’ll say it was one of the better holes there with a little pond to hit over and a tiny green.

We did drive along the closed 4th hole (a very short, but narrow dogleg right par-4), which definitely looked like a war zone after significant flood damage. They said it would be re-open in three weeks, but it sure looks like they’d have to pull off a miracle to make it play decently at all.

Normally, the course is a par-35 with two par-5s (kind of) and three par-3s. As it is now with the alternate hole, it is a par-34. I said “kind of” because one of the par-5s (the 9th hole) is barely over 400 yards and would be a par-4 on any other course.

Overall, Ivey Ranch is a short and relatively easy layout. There are a couple of tight tee shots, but as long as you hit it straight you generally don’t need much distance off the tee to have a simple approach shot in.

The course was in okay shape coming out of the overseed. The fairways were pretty shaggy and soft, but there were still some thin areas, too. The greens were relatively slow, but not horrible. I wasn’t in a bunker and I’m glad because they looked a pretty weak.

As a warm-up 9-hole round, Ivey Ranch served its purpose and it fits the senior community it’s par of. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to the more serious golfers out there, especially with so many excellent options throughout the Coachella Valley.

Some pictures from Ivey Ranch Country Club (10/28/14):

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Ivey Ranch was an OK warm-up, but we were ready for the main event…

PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course) • La Quinta, CA • 10/25/14

I first played this course back in 2012 and was really impressed with it on all levels. In fact, if you’ve looked at my Regional Rankings, you’ll see I personally have it ranked as my favorite course amongst the five public PGA West/La Quinta Resort courses. If the Mountain Course at La Quinta was a little better conditioned in recent years, I’d probably have it on top. However, based on my experiences I’ve found Nicklaus to be the best all-around in my opinion. It features great conditions, an excellent layout and plenty of nice scenery to rival any of its sister courses.

What I didn’t remember about this course was how challenging it is. I think I must have played the white tees last time and I was probably hitting more fairways that day. On Saturday, I struggled off the tee and made a mess of the round as we played from the blue tees. Oh well, it was still fun!

As mentioned, we got a fantastic price of $35, which was through TeeOff.com and using a promo code they sent out. The tee time was 11:06, and it was a pretty slow round on a fairly hot afternoon. One reason for the slow play and the discounted price is that the course had just reopened after overseeding and was playing as cart-path-only.

On one hand, you have to like when a high-end course keeps the cart paths out of way to not impact play or the aesthetic presentation of the course. However, when a course like this runs as cart-path-only, it is pretty brutal. This course has a lot of mounds and the cart paths are well out of the way, so it turned out to be quite a workout.

Otherwise, there was nothing to complain about with the Nicklaus Course on this day. Fresh out of the overseed, it was lush throughout. The fairways and tee boxes were maybe a little shaggy and slow as you would expect. The rough was pretty thick bermuda, which is really challenging. The ball would always sink down and make for a tough recovery, especially when most sections of rough here are along mounds or hillsides. So you get tough lies and difficult stances paired together. Such fun!

Like most Nicklaus courses, the greens are pretty difficult to get at. Most are elevated and well protected by shelves, false edges and big bunkers. The green complexes themselves aren’t overly tricked out, so one you are on the surface you do have a chance to make some putts. For this time of year after the overseed, they were in better shape than we expected. They were a tad firm and pretty slow, but overall pretty good. And, they should only get better as the season goes on.

There are a number of big water hazards on the course, the biggest of which is found between the 9th and 18th holes, which share a green and are both really long and challenging holes to finish each nine.

There are many memorable holes here. The 8th is a great par-3 that’s all carry over the water. Then my favorite two holes are the 15th and 16th. The 15th is a fun par-5 featuring a big island green and a lot of decisions to make for longer hitters. Even average hitters need to determine where they want to lay-up along the right for a preferred combination of angle and distance for the approach shot.

The 16th features one of the prettiest tee shots around with a big pond to hit over and the mountains framing the hole from behind.

I would highly recommend the PGA West Nicklaus Course to anyone. I would recommend all the PGA West/La Quinta Resort courses in a heartbeat, but this is my favorite of the bunch as it offers a little of everything that makes desert golf so enjoyable.

Some pictures from PGA West (Nicklaus Tournament Course) (10/25/14):

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