Seeking Challenge in the Desert

Saturday took me out to one of my favorite places, the Coachella Valley. I was there to play an exciting double-dip in La Quinta that would challenge every aspect of my game. The main event for the day was a Greenskeeper.org tournament at the PGA West TPC Stadium course, but we also had a great warm-up in store…

SilverRock Resort • La Quinta, CA • 5/16/15

Note: The back nine of SilverRock underwent some significant renovations. I posted an updated review in 2018.

This was a course I was excited to come back and play after first visiting it back in 2012. I’ve held it in very high regard since then, but I have also played many other courses in the desert since then and I was curious to see how well it held up against every other public track in the area. I probably wasn’t quite as blown away by SilverRock this time, but I still enjoyed it immensely and would keep it ranked high in the region.

A friend through GK had set up a 6:53 tee time and was able to book a foursome using his resident card, meaning the rate was only $45. That’s a great deal for a prime time Saturday morning round this time of year. We teed off on time as the second group out and finished in under four hours, which was ideal.

SilverRock is a very pretty course, which I’ve come to expect from Arnold Palmer designs. His courses generally have a pleasant visual presentation. This course was one of the host courses for the Bob Hope Classic (as it was known then) for several years, but it hasn’t been in the rotation for awhile.

The most distinctive parts of SilverRock run right along the edge of the mountains to provide a rugged backdrop for some beautiful and challenging holes. There are no significant changes in elevation on this course, but the overall contouring is nice and there is a diverse mix of hole designs.

To me, the signature stretch consists of holes 15-17, which are also probably the three toughest holes on an already relatively difficult course. The 15th is a long par-4 (453 yards from the blue tees) playing along the aqueduct canal, which has actually moved over a little since last time I played and is less of a factor on the hole (more on that later). Still, it’s a beast.

Speaking of beasts, the 430-yard par-4 16th is no picnic, especially with a tricky green that has a brutal false front and an evil bunker in front. Of course, we had the tricky front pin position on Saturday.

The 17th is a gorgeous par-3 over water and along the edge of the mountain. From the blues, it’s an intimidating 179 yard shot. From the tips, it’s a knee-knocking 237 yards with an angle that is all carry directly over the water!

Length is a factor at SilverRock, which is a course that was built with the pros in mind. From the blue tees, it plays at 6,658 yards. From the yellows, it is 7,146. And from the back silver tees, it is 7,578!!! We actually played the blue/white combo set, which was just about right for me at 6,252 total yards.

I was interested in seeing how the conditions were considering the renovations they were forced to do in the past couple years after some freak storms caused major flooding in that aforementioned canal. They shifted parts of the canal over closer to the mountain. I assume they also made it wider and/or deeper, too, because I don’t know what just shifting its location would accomplish by itself.

Whatever they did, it has worked great because the course was in exceptional condition. The tee boxes, fairways and rough were lush and beautifully kept throughout. With some rain during the week, things were really green and nice, albeit very soggy on the first several holes. The greens were firm and rolling smooth at medium-to-quick speeds. The bunkers had some inconsistencies, but overall the ones I found had good sand in them.

SilverRock is known for having some bighorn sheep that like to hang out on some of the fairways and tee boxes, and I was really hoping to see some of those. Unfortunately, they weren’t out there on Saturday morning.

Overall, it was another great experience at SilverRock and I’ll definitely be back here again to “Challenge the Rock” as their slogan says. It is a gorgeous course with a really enjoyable layout, so it’s well worth checking out if you haven’t been there.

Some pictures from SilverRock Resort (5/16/15):

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We had just enough time to go and grab a quick sandwich to go at Port of Subs and then headed back down toward PGA West. It was great to meet and greet with all my GK friends before teeing it up in the first group at noon…

PGA West (TPC Stadium Course) • La Quinta, CA • 5/16/15

I came to play out here last year, which was my second visit to this infamous course after several years in between. However, the weather that day was rather nasty with high winds and lots of sand/debris blowing through. It made this already difficult course almost impossible to play seriously.

I was looking forward to getting a fair shot at Stadium this time (and better pictures, too) with better weather in the forecast. Though the tournament was set up to play the white tees, our group and a few other individuals opted to play the blues. Even though I should be playing the whites based on my driving distance and overall abilities, this is one course I prefer to bite off more of a challenge. Like when I played Bethpage Black last year, I wanted to max out the test.

Of course, we weren’t super crazy. Playing the blues at 6,739 yards was more than enough of a test. We weren’t bold enough to attempt the black tees at 7,300. Maybe next time : )

The challenge of Stadium is all it’s cracked up to be as very few people in our whole group of players had good rounds. Nobody broke 80 and not that many people even broke 90. And this was all under good weather conditions and more-favorable-than-normal course conditions. By that I mean the normally nasty bermuda outer rough was cut down and not really a factor at all. Usually it tends to swallow up the ball and it can be tough to recover from, but not this time.

Still, no matter what length the rough is, the whole design of this Pete Dye course is predicated on hitting fairways and greens. If you don’t, you will be punished severely. The fairways will generally offer flat lies and favorable approach angles. Off the fairways, you’ll find deep bunkers and a ton of moguls/mounds to provide an awkward stance and angle for your next shot. Likewise, when you miss greens, getting up and down is never an easy task.

The biggest defense of Stadium on Saturday was the firmness and quickness of the greens, which were really tough to hold.

There are many memorable holes on this course and all have nicknames. Dye generally names all the holes on his courses. You have “Double Trouble,” the par-5 5th with two big water hazards in play. You have “Amen,” the super-intimidating long par-3 6th hole over water. Also, another favorite is “Moat,” which is the relatively short par-4 12th with a nasty bunker guarding the front and left of the green.

And of course, you have probably the most well-known holes here, which are the 16th and 17th. The 16th is a demanding par-5 called “San Andreas Fault,” which is named for the steep bunker that runs throughout the hole and is at its deepest left of the green. In the past, I’ve gone down here to hit “for fun” shots and found out how tough it is. Well, on Saturday, I had to play it for real after pulling my approach shot straight into the heart of it. It took four attempts to escape and left me with a 9 on the scorecard for that hole. Ugh!

Lastly, there is the signature par-3 17th. It is named “Alcatraz” and features an island green. It’s a real Pete Dye special and is always a fun and intimidating hole.

Beyond the rough being cut short and the greens being extra firm, the rest of the conditions were great. The tee boxes, fairways and first cut of rough were all in excellent shape and ideal to play from. The bunkers I was in had all featured good sand, though the San Andreas bunker did need a good raking. Unfortunately, too many people go down there for fun and then don’t have the courtesy to clean up after themselves.

Though Stadium is not a course I would like to play every day and there are many other courses in the desert I prefer over it on all levels, it is still one that everyone should make a point to visit at least once. It’s one that I hope to challenge every year or two. It’s always a fun, yet humbling experience.

Some pictures from PGA West (TPC Stadium Course) (5/16/15):

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#5 – Double Trouble:

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#6 – Amen:

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#12 – Moat:

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#16 – San Andreas Fault:

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One of my playing partners below shows the scale of the infamous greenside bunker:

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#17 – Alcatraz:

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