Number 750: My Battle at Bighorn

I chronicled my most recent adventure up to the Central Valley to quickly gather seven new courses and get my total course count up to 749 before Monday. And now you’ll know the reason why I did that…

Bighorn Golf Club (The Canyons) • Palm Desert, CA • 5/16/16

I like to celebrate the big milestones by playing special courses. With that quick spike in numbers, I was able to make Monday’s round at famed Bighorn Golf Club the ideal course to be my number 750!

I was on the wait list for the annual SCGA outing here, and I just got into the field last week (hence that last-minute Central Valley bonanza over the weekend). Most years, they play The Canyons Course at Bighorn and it’s an expensive outing at $250 a player. Making it my 750th course was a convenient excuse for such a splurge. Next year, they will be playing The Mountains Course here, which I think I will like even more. I’ll start saving my pennies now.

It was a 9:00 shotgun start and it was a very big group out there. They are currently remodeling the main clubhouse from the ground up. It’s supposed to be something pretty spectacular when completed next year, but for now some parts of the facility are temporary. The practice area, however, is quite nice. The range was stocked with Bighorn logo Pro-V1 practice balls and the whole practice area was conditioned beautifully.

“Beauty” is a good word at Bighorn because you can tell how much work went into the aesthetics of this course. For those of us who have played the reborn Rams Hill down in Borrego Springs, The Canyons at Bighorn gives you a glimpse into how that place might look in another 10-15 years when all the landscaping is fully matured (if they can keep it open and with the same exceptional conditioning it has now).

The comparisons between The Canyons at Bighorn and Rams Hill are easy to make. The designs have some similarities, which is understandable since they are both Tom Fazio creations with comparably rugged desert surroundings. Knowing that Rams Hill is accessible to the public and good deals are more easily found made me a little overcritical of Bighorn early on. However, the further I got into this course, the more it started to stand out with its own appeal. Some parts of the course felt like high-end Vegas courses and others had a Scottsdale feel. One hole even had saguaros brought in. I ended up walking away loving this place and feeling like I got my money’s worth. It’s a luxury golf experience in every way and you are paying for the exclusivity.

My group started on the great par-3 7th hole, which has a desert wash cutting across between the tee and green. I normally hate being put on a par-3 in a shotgun, but a smile crossed my face as soon as we pulled up to this tee box. In fact, all of the par-3s on The Canyons each have a different look, but all are fantastic.

I would categorize The Canyons as a “resort” style layout from Fazio, whereas I know The Mountains is a bit more extreme and dramatic. The reason the SCGA books this side more often is that it is more user-friendly. That’s also why The Canyons was where they played the old Battle at Bighorn Monday Night Golf specials with Tiger Woods and various partners/opponents. Those took place in the years of 2000-2002, and there have been other big tournaments hosted here, as well.

When I call this a resort style, I mean that it’s very forgiving from tee to green. The fairways are wide. There is some trouble in play in the form of deep bunkers, water hazards and native desert areas, but you almost always have plenty of room to give those trouble spots a wide berth off most tees. At the same time, you also have the option to play more aggressive on many holes if you aren’t afraid to take on the hazards.

Like most Fazio courses, the real challenge of The Canyons is found on and around the greens. The sand traps are punitive and the greens are large with plenty of undulation. You always want to be below the hole if you can, and you generally want to avoid the bunkers at all times.

It’s hard to pinpoint any one signature hole here because so many of them feel special as a result of such beautiful aesthetic framing. I particularly liked the 2nd and 11th holes. Both have a creek running along the right side of the fairway (and in the case of the 2nd hole, cutting across the fairway in front of the green). The 18th is also a great finisher with the most elevated tee box on the course and an intimidating second shot over a desert canyon/wash.

And then there’s the conditions. All I can say is immaculate. This place was absolutely perfect from tee to green. The grass looked (and played) like astroturf in some spots because it was so nicely manicured. The bunkers were exceptional. The greens were in the very beginning stages of their summer transition so a little brown was starting to come through on the surfaces, but they were rolling smooth, fast and true as true can be.

Ultimately, I’ll probably remember this experience at Bighorn as a cumulative effect. I loved the visual presentation of the course, the conditions were amazing and everything about this club felt first-class. We had an excellent forecaddie with our group, as well, so he added even more to the experience.

Some pictures from Bighorn Golf Club (The Canyons) (5/16/16):

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Normally, just this one special round would have been satisfactory. However, I had a friend who rode with me out to the desert. He didn’t play at Bighorn with me. Instead, he dropped me off and went to play a morning round elsewhere. When he picked me up, we headed across town for a second round together…

Palm Desert Resort Country Club • Palm Desert, CA • 5/16/16

I almost feel bad pairing this review with Bighorn, but it is what it is and I’ll try to keep it somewhat brief. Palm Desert Resort Country Club was the last of my public “replay list” courses in the Coachella Valley that I had never reviewed on this site. So this was a good opportunity to play it quickly and cheaply on a Monday afternoon.

We paid just $17.50 each and were basically the only ones out on the course, so we enjoyed a nice twosome pace. This same friend and I first played here about 10-15 years ago. That was actually my first ever trip out to the Coachella Valley, so it has a little sentimental value to me.

That said, I didn’t remember much about the course. It was just kind of an “extra” course we played on that trip because it was cheap, so I was curious to come back and see how it stacks up now that I’ve played every other public course out there and quite a few privates, as well.

Early on in our round, I saw why I didn’t remember much about this course. It was rather boring over the first several holes. However, it does start to perk up and get a little more interesting as you go. It’s still nothing that distinctive, but it’s a fine course. The Palm Desert setting offers some nice backdrops, though the plain housing around this course kind of take away from any major aesthetic appeal.

The highlight hole here is the unusual 18th. It features a peninsula fairway with water right, left and long. Then, it doglegs to the left as you hit over the water to the green on the other side. It’s a lay-up for most off the tee as you just want to position yourself for a good angle in.

As for conditions, the course played much better than it looked. The overseeded grass was just starting to die out as the bermuda takes back over for summer. So the fairways were dappled in color, but everything played really nice. Some tee boxes were way too shaggy, but we managed. The fairways provided a lot of roll out, but we generally had nice lies to hit from. The rough was more dormant and was recently aerated, so we had the dirt plugs all around. Around the greens, the rough was more lush and green. We really liked the greens and the sand traps. The greens were pretty firm, but rolling super smooth at medium/fast speeds. The bunkers had kind of a crusty layer on top of soft sand underneath, which we both really liked.

Both times I have played Palm Desert Resort Country Club, the conditions have been similar. I’m sure it looks and plays even nicer during the prime winter months, but it also seems overpriced during the season. In the summer, it’s easy to get out here for a great rate and with minimal crowds. It’s not worth a trip just to play here, but it’s a fine warm-up or cool-down option while in town.

Some pictures from Palm Desert Resort Country Club (5/16/16):

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