Saturday represented my third weekend in a row heading out to the Coachella Valley and it seems to keep getting hotter with each visit. Really, the reason I went back this time is because I had mistakenly left some things behind the week before at Indian Palms Country Club.
However, a friend was playing Desert Willow’s Firecliff course in the morning and it was the perfect excuse to join him. I got out to Indian Palms extra early to pick up my stuff and then headed back up to Palm Desert for round on one of my favorite courses in the area…
Desert Willow Golf Resort (Firecliff) • Palm Desert, CA • 6/20/15
By the time we teed off at 7:10, it was already pretty toasty out and the smoke from the nearby fire in the San Bernardino left the sky a little hazier than normal. There was no breeze at all during our first nine, but luckily it kicked up just enough on the back nine to be slightly more tolerable (even though it was well over 100 degrees by the time we finished).
Desert Willow does an excellent job of spacing out the tee times. We teed off after the group ahead had already reached the green of the par-5 1st hole. We never caught them once and the group behind us never really pushed us at all, so it was an ideal relaxed 4-hour pace.
This was my second time playing the Firecliff course after playing the Mountain View course three times in between. You can read my previous review of Firecliff here. It is clearly considered the marquee track at this excellent facility. Having now played both multiple times, I’m not sure the difference is quite as big as I perceived before, as both are great courses.
Firecliff is certainly longer and more challenging with a ton of bunkers in play. Also, its signature holes really stand out. Holes 8-9 and 17-18 are spectacular ways to finish each nine. They are also good ways to potentially ruin what might have been a good score!
Holes 8 and 17 are gorgeous side-by-side par-3s with a big water hazard in the middle. The 8th is shorter and more forgiving, but it’s still not an easy hole. The 17th is a beast, playing at almost 200 yards from the blue tees with very little room for error. Anything right is dead (either in the hazard or the big bunker that runs the length of the hole) and anything left is no picnic either with a deep bunker guarding short and left. As a fade hitter that has to hit a 3-wood for this distance, it is the stuff of nightmares. That said, it was the hole I was most looking forward to all round—and it owned me once again!
The 9th is a very long and difficult par-4 with water in play by the green. Then, the 18th is a tricky par-5 with lots of trouble in play. Both of those also mirror each other opposite a big water hazard with the clubhouse behind. The restaurant/bar patio at Desert Willow is really cool as it overlooks both of these beautiful holes.
The course was in excellent shape as it heads into summer. It was very lush and green throughout with only a few brown spots here and there. The tee boxes were great. The fairways were excellent to play from. The rough, though not long, was extra “sticky” and definitely required your attention to hit a good shot (especially when chipping/pitching around the greens). I was in a few bunkers out of the many that are on this course and the sand was consistently good. The greens were firm, yet receptive enough on well-struck shots. They were smooth on putts, but pretty slow. That’s pretty typical here in the hotter months so they keep from getting burnt out, but you really have to blast uphill putts to get to the hole. There were a number of really tough pins on the edges of mounds, so putting was tricky for us all day.
Firecliff is definitely one of the top options in the desert and Desert Willow is a great overall facility that I will happily return to again and again.
Some pictures from Desert Willow Golf Resort (Firecliff) (6/20/15):
With the unrelenting heat and the U.S. Open on in the afternoon, I could have easily headed home, but I called this next course just to see about getting out this time of year. They said “come on out,” so after a quick lunch I headed on over…
Seven Lakes Golf & Country Club • Palm Springs, CA • 6/20/15
This course has always kind of teased me. When I was going through my main list of full length public courses, I never gave it a second thought. They did offer some tee times on EZlinks/TeeOff, but I knew it was an executive and not a priority. When I went back to play all the public short courses, though, they were no longer offering times anywhere. When I called last year, they told me they went back to being fully private again.
Still, I thought it was worth a shot to call since it was so dreadfully hot out and they might welcome any business they can get in the slow summer months. It turned out to be no problem. When I called, they told me the rate would be $15 for 18 holes with a cart. However, when I checked in they told me $15 was just the walking rate and it would be an extra $10 for the cart.
That was a bummer, but there was no way I was going to walk in the now 110-degree heat. I was there and I was going to check it off my list no matter what they charged. Speaking of the cart, they had some nice new ones here, but they were oddly constructed. The steering wheel felt way to high and tilted forward. I felt like a little kid sitting in daddy’s driver seat for the first time. Definitely not the cart ergonomics I am used to, but it had some giddy-up and I got around the course quickly.
I was literally the only one out there and finished in about an hour!
There are seven tiny lakes scattered throughout the course as the name would suggest. I made sure to count. Otherwise, this is a pretty basic little executive course with four really short par-4s and a reasonable mix of par-3s as you work your way through this small community. The designs are simple and only a few of the greens have some undulation to contend with.
Maybe the most interesting thing on the course is a plaque by the 13th tee that notes Dwight D. Eisenhower once had a hole-in-one there. That’s about as exciting as Seven Lakes gets.
The course was in okay shape heading into summer. They had aerated a lot of the turf throughout the fairways and rough, so things were pretty chunky. The greens were pretty receptive and rolling fairly smooth at medium-slow speeds. Conditions were playable, but nothing too inspiring. It will be better once the aerations heal and the lies will be more consistent.
Seven Lakes was another good one to check off the list and made my day feel even more productive after driving out to the desert. It’s hard to go all the way out there and only play once, so this worked out perfectly.
Some pictures from Seven Lakes Golf & Country Club (6/20/15):