Last Thursday, a friend and I had the great opportunity to visit Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. He was able to line up a round on the Pete Dye Challenge Course, but we ended up getting to play all three courses on a slow, hot afternoon in the desert. We played anything but slow as we finished all 54 holes in under 7 hours!
We started as planned…
Pete Dye Challenge Course
We started around 11:00 and literally had the course to ourselves other than a few maintenance workers out there. I don’t think this course gets as much play from members, at least in the slow part of the season. As the name would imply, it’s a pretty tricked-out and challenging layout from none other than Pete Dye.
It’s easy to draw comparisons to the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, as well as some other Dye desert courses I’ve had the opportunity to play. In that sense, I enjoyed this course plenty because I am a Dye design fan. At the same time, this course also felt very familiar and pretty similar to some of those others I’ve played in the past.
As one might expect, there is a lot of water in play on this course with the signature Dye wood planking. There are a lot of mounds in the rough areas and around the greens. There are some funky little pot bunkers and a few large waste bunkers.
Similar to PGA West, the fairways can be narrow and the greens are relatively small. However, if you find fairways and greens, it’s not as hard a course as it appears. Fairways generally offer pretty flat lies and good approach angles, while most greens aren’t overly undulated. If you miss fairways and greens, though, you can be in for a tough round because you won’t find flat lies and you’ll be faced with tricky recovery shots. This course probably isn’t as punitive as PGA West in those respects, but it will definitely make you work.
Where this course also reflects Dye’s design approach is in the awkward angles. Every hole tempts you to try and bite off as much as possible on your tee shots to leave shorter approach shots with more desirable angles. The rough was cut down and not much of a factor for us, so that effectively widened the fairways and allowed us to give the water hazards pretty wide berths on our drives without much punishment.
Most holes here have a great look with the water hazards and mounding framing everything. Again, maybe a bit familiar. If this had been the first Dye desert course I had played, I would have probably been more in awe.
My favorite hole was probably the 17th. Mr. Dye is fond of putting his signature par-3 as the 17th hole on his courses. This one isn’t an island green like Sawgrass or PGA West, but it’s a pretty little hole that plays directly over the water and requires a precise shot. I think what stood out to me is that, though it had the familiar wood planking along the water’s edge, it wasn’t as elevated as normal. The grass sits a little closer to the level of the water and I thought it had a distinctive look.
The course was in good shape overall for early summer. The tee boxes were great. The fairways were mostly great, but there were some scattered thin/bare spots. The rough was mostly quite good. It was cut down and easy to hit from with the ball sitting up nicely. The greens were tricky because there were some really soft spots and some really firm spots, so not every approach/chip reacted the same. Some greens had some repair work being done, too. Still, the putting surfaces were nice and rolling smooth at medium speeds. I wasn’t in a bunker on this course, but they looked perfect just like on the other courses.
Certainly, the Pete Dye Challenge Course lives up to its name and is a very nice and interesting layout. If you don’t like Dye courses, then this one may give you nightmares. If you do, then you will likely love it. It didn’t feel like anything that new or different from his other desert tracks, but it’s still worth taking on in if you get a chance to face the “Challenge.”
Some pictures from Mission Hills Country Club (Pete Dye Challenge Course) (6/16/16):
Next, we kept on moving to our second course for the day…
Arnold Palmer Course
This course had a few players out on it, but it was still very smooth sailing for us and we finished quickly.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this course. I’ve seen different design styles from Palmer over the years, but I’ve generally really liked his courses. I’ve especially liked the way many of his courses are presented aesthetically.
Something about the Palmer Course at Mission Hills didn’t do a whole lot for me. It’s a solid track providing average challenge. It does favor a right-to-left ball flight as most doglegs go left around some big trees, but it is still pretty easy to navigate if you hit out to the corners and leave a clear angle in.
There were a handful of holes I did really like. There are a few water hazards throughout the course and those holes are the most interesting. Par-3s like 4 and 17 are nice-looking holes. My favorite hole here by far was the short par-4 12th. It is a big dogleg right around a lake that provides some fun shots. Be careful not to pull your ball through the fairway or you might find another lake hidden on the other side!
The Palmer Course was also in very good condition and pretty similar to Dye. It was mostly very good with just a few thin and brown spots here and there. Some small-tine aeration had been done on several of the greens, but the holes didn’t affect putts much at all. I was in a couple bunkers on this course and they were amazingly perfect. The sand was fluffy and bright white. In fact, it was almost blinding under the summer sun. Every time either of us hit into a trap, it would take a few moments for our eyes to readjust afterwards. Ski goggles would be recommended!
Though plenty enjoyable as a nice desert country club layout, I wasn’t too blown away by the Palmer Course and it was clearly my least favorite of the three. I can see this course being popular with some of the older members as it doesn’t seem as demanding as the other two.
Some pictures from Mission Hills Country Club (Arnold Palmer Course) (6/16/16):
Last but not least, we finished up on the most famous course at Mission Hills Country Club…
Dinah Shore Tournament Course
If you are a fan of women’s golf, then you’ll probably know about this course. It’s home to what is now the ANA Inspiration (formerly the Kraft Nabisco Championship), which is the first major of the year for the LPGA.
The tournament is perhaps best known for what used to be a fun and whimsical tradition, but has kind of been corporatized and watered down (no pun intended) in recent years. That is the tradition of the tournament winner jumping into Poppie’s Pond right next to the 18th green. Even though I think some of the fun has been sucked out of that tradition, it was still neat to see the little pond in person. And no, we did not jump in. That is a celebration that needs to be earned, but it might have felt nice at the end of a long, hot day!
Next to that green, there’s a big statue of Dinah Shore, the iconic bridge and the “Wall of Champions” with plaques of past tournament winners.
Like Palmer, there were a handful of players out on the Dinah Shore Course, but we weren’t slowed down much and finished quickly.
This course was designed by Desmond Muirhead and easily ended up being my favorite of the three. I’ve watched the tournament on television plenty of times and always thought the course wasn’t that interesting outside of a few distinctive holes. Even the signature 18th hole finisher seems rather easy and wide open the way the women play it, but we found out it’s a tougher hole than it looks. Of course, the wind was blowing pretty hard by the time we finished and that made this par-5 hole play much longer. Either way, a good tee shot and a great approach are required if you want to get home in two here.
My favorite hole was undoubtedly the par-4 6th, which has one of the more unique fairway set-ups I’ve seen. It’s kind of a peninsula puzzle piece fairway with water on the left that cuts in twice. The hole overall is a dogleg left. The ideal strategy is to play out to that peninsula for a short shot in with a good angle. If you play to safely right, you’ll be left with a longer, tougher shot in. However, to play out to the peninsula requires nerves of steel and a whole lot of precision. I made a mess of the hole, but I still loved it!
Overall, I thought the course had nice visual framing to it with the way the trees line the holes and the way some natural undulation happens along many of the fairways. We did play it at a very pretty time of day when the lighting was fantastic, so that also helped make it look extra pretty.
Other than the greens, Dinah Shore was definitely the best conditioned of the three. There were minimal weak spots in the fairways and the rough was more lush and green throughout this course. The bunkers were also amazing and blindingly white! The greens were generally good. The first one appeared to have been aerated recently, so it was slow and bumpy. However, the rest were fine and played similar to the Palmer course—firm and rolling at medium speeds.
All three courses at Mission Hills are well worth checking out if you ever have a chance, but the Dinah Shore course is the most well known for its role as host to the tournament. And, I would definitely say it was my favorite course of the three, providing a nice balance of challenge, diversity and aesthetic presentation.
Some pictures from Mission Hills Country Club (Dinah Shore Tournament Course) (6/16/16):