Course Review(s): Rancho La Quinta Country Club

On Saturday, I was back on the SCGA’s annual Bob Hope Trail. Luckily, they move around to a variety of courses every year and that has enabled to check quite a few off my list. I played Ironwood CC Thursday and couldn’t wait for Rancho La Quinta CC over the weekend.

Rancho La Quinta was actually a back-up option. The day was originally scheduled at Andalusia, which I was really excited to play. However, they decided to renovate their greens earlier than planned and the SCGA had to scramble for an alternate site. Fortunately for some course-collecting friends and I, Rancho La Quinta also represented somewhere we needed to play. In fact, like Ironwood, it posed the potential for two new courses to experience!

The main SCGA outing was set on the Pate Course as a 7:30 shotgun start. After the round, we talked to any staff members who would listen and asked about replaying on the Jones Course. Figuring it wouldn’t be crowded on a very hot afternoon, we hoped our chances were good. The pro shop guy said “not likely,” but thankfully the Head Pro eventually agreed it would be okay. They charged just $50 (family rate) and we were extremely grateful. We enjoyed the course basically to ourselves for a quick pace in the stifling afternoon heat.

So, yes. Two more awesome private desert courses in the books! Let’s review…

Pate Course

It’s not uncommon in the Coachella Valley for multi-course facilities to name their individual courses after the designers. The Pate Course is named for Jerry Pate. He’s not the biggest-name ex-PGA player to become a course architect, and this was the first course of his I’ve played. I was interested to see what he would bring to the table. 

You can tell from from the amphitheater-style mounding and hills around tee boxes and greens that this course was built with hosting big tournaments. I believe the Skins Game was hosted on the Jones Course a couple of years, but I don’t think the pros ever played on the Pate Course. 

Overall, I really enjoyed the layout of the Pate Course. It is an interesting design with a lot of rolling terrain and a beautiful desert setting surrounded by mountains in every direction. From tee to green, I felt the Pate Course had a Tom Fazio feel. The fairways are wide and forgiving and there’s ample room for error. However, positioning is key because the greens are where the challenge lies here. Most greens are elevated and very well-protected. The complexes are large and have some undulation. The greenside bunkers are big and deep. Then, there are some steep false edges and collection areas. 

Some of those green features are common on Fazio courses, but I would compare the greens more to a larger version of the Nicklaus Tournament course at PGA West (which in my opinion is a bit of an ode to Pete Dye style). However you want to characterize the greens and their difficult surroundings, they are definitely where your skills will be put to the test. Still, I thought it was a very fair design where a good score could be achieved with smart play. 

Water comes into play plenty on the Pate Course, with several holes having steep edges that will funnel your ball right down into the hazards. If you see water in front of you, give it a wide berth! 

Though the water adds a nice visual appeal throughout much of the course, it was actually a hole with no water that I liked best. Something about the 18th hole just caught my eye when I stood on the tee box. The tee shot of this par-4 is downhill and then the approach is uphill to the elevated green. It is not your prototypical Coachella Valley finishing hole with a grand water hazard and waterfall feature (see the Jones Course for that). It is just a nice and demanding finisher that is very well-framed visually. 

The course was in good overall condition, though it was definitely showing some wear this late in the season. The tee boxes were excellent. The fairways had some brown spots here and there, but mostly provided great lies. The rough also a bit spotty in some places, but again it was mostly nice. It was cut down and easy to hit from. The bunkers were a tad crusty. The greens were very firm and basically in mid-transition to the summer bermuda base. The speeds were a bit inconsistent. However, putts rolled pretty smoothly because very few ball marks were made.

We didn’t quite catch the course in peak season, and I can only imagine how gorgeous this place looks when the grass is deep green, lush and perfectly manicured from edge to edge. I hope I have a chance to play it in the winter someday because I really liked the layout and the overall presentation throughout the course.

Some pictures from Rancho La Quinta Country Club (Pate Course) (6/3/17):

Next, we were out to replay the original course at Rancho La Quinta…

Jones Course

If you read some descriptions online, you would think that the two courses here are vastly different in design and style. They refer to this as a more traditional layout and the Pate Course as more modern. Honestly, if you would have told me the same designer laid out both courses simultaneously, I wouldn’t be surprised. There are differences, but they are more subtle than some would lead you to think.

I generally love Robert Trent Jones, Jr. courses and Rancho La Quinta was no exception. Personally, I’d rank it a slight notch above the Pate Course. I may be in the minority, though. I’d bet the members prefer Pate because it is more forgiving off the tee.

The Jones Course has a lot of similar features as Pate. There is a lot of undulation in play. Most of the greens are elevated and very well-protected by deep bunkers, steep false edges, water hazards and collection areas.

From the black tees, which I played on both courses, the Pate Course is actually rated slightly higher. However, I’d say Jones is more challenging. Though many design elements are similar, the difficulty is ramped up a bit more on Jones in my opinion. The fairway cuts are narrower, the doglegs are more pronounced and the water hazards come into play more. Everything just feels a little less forgiving from tee to green. That said, smart play can get you a good score here, too. Bad shots are more likely to be punished on the Jones Course, if you ask me, and that’s why I would consider it the better of the two.

I heaped a lot of praise on the unconventional finishing hole of Pate, but the 18th of the Jones Course became an instant favorite of mine. And that’s not just because I birdied it!

In concept, this is your prototypical Coachella Valley 18th hole finisher. It is pretty. It is dressed up. And, it is exciting. It is a reachable par-5 for longer hitters. The tee shot is fairly wide open. If laying up, you want to stay along the left to avoid the large water hazard. That hazard then cuts across in front of the peninsula green. Three-shot players are left with a fun little wedge shot across the pond. Big hitters will be tempted to go for it on the second shot, but there is obviously not much room for error. Aesthetically, it fits the style of the region, but the design felt fresh and super memorable. It is a fantastic finishing hole that I’d put among the best I’ve played in this region (even if there is an obligatory rock waterfall feature behind the green that makes it feel somewhat overdone). 

Ultimately, both Rancho La Quinta have great finishers in their own ways. I really appreciated both styles with such interesting execution.

The conditions on the Jones Course were pretty similar to Pate. They are both getting ready for the summer transition, but they still have good playability at this point in the season.

Basically, I would highly recommend either course at Rancho La Quinta, especially if you are lucky enough to play in peak season.

Some pictures from Rancho La Quinta Country Club (6/3/17):

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