Course Review: Desert Hills Golf Course

As I march toward my 1,000th course played, I need to keep playing new courses and padding my numbers. I only played one new course in January, so I want to step it up again in February. With this in mind, I’ve been making my full lists of all courses left to play in western Arizona (from Bullhead down to Yuma), which is reasonably accessible for me and these are the closest places I can drive to in order to find new public courses. Playing in the Phoenix area this time of year isn’t cost effective and the short days also provide some limitations.

Therefore, it made sense to take a quick day trip to Yuma yesterday. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive for me to get there, which isn’t bad by Golf Nomad standards. Plus, there are a lot more courses than you realize in the far southwestern corner of Arizona. If you include everything in Yuma and Wellton, there are 15 courses to my knowledge. There is also a 9-hole course out in Ajo, which isn’t really too close to Yuma, but I’d probably still have to lump it in this region. Most of them are short courses and none of them are high-end, but it is affordable to play there any time of year and you can easily play a number of different courses in a single day. Good enough for me.

This is peak season in Yuma with a ton of snowbirds in town, so you can expect the courses to be busier than they would be in mid-summer and the prices at any of the notable courses are generally a little higher than in the offseason. Still, it’s very affordable out there.

I will split my day trip into two articles. I ended up playing four courses yesterday. I played Desert Hills Golf Course in the morning, which is a full regulation 18-hole municipal course. Then, I played three local short courses later in the day. This article will just talk about the big course at Desert Hills.

Out of the 16 courses I count in this region, there are only six regulation 18-hole courses and one of them (Yuma Golf & Country Club) is private. I had played Mesa del Sol, Las Barrancas and Coyote Wash on previous visits, so Desert Hills was clearly the next in line.

This is a municipal course in the middle of town, so it naturally gets a lot of play. I booked a 7:29 tee time as a single, but the lady I talked to in the pro shop recommended I show up a little earlier to maybe get out ahead of that time. Arizona is an hour ahead of us in California this time of year, so sunrise starts around 7:15. Even at 7:29, I knew I would be in one of the first few groups going out.

The weekday rack rate price was $49 with a cart. It is a good walking course, but I’m still dealing with a bum ankle and I also knew I’d be walking other courses later in the day. I ended up in the first group out and we teed off at 7:20 when it was just barely light enough to see. I was paired with two couples. One of the wives was just riding along, though, so only four of us were playing. They were all regulars here and quick players, so we made good time on the front nine. We played in about 1.5 hours.

Unfortunately, Desert Hills allows back nine players in the morning and they let groups off until 9:00. We ended up at the 10th tee at the same time as another group and they allowed us to go ahead. It didn’t matter much because there was a steady flow of groups ahead and several of them were fivesomes. The back nine ended up taking about 2.5 hours to complete, so that was a letdown after a quick front. Still, a 4-hour round at this course is about as good as you can get from what I’ve heard, especially in the busy winter season.

As for the layout, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by Desert Hills. From the minimal pictures I could find online, it looked rather plain. It’s actually a decent track. As the name would imply, there are some hills here. There aren’t any significant changes in elevation, but the terrain is naturally rolling and there’s just enough uphill/downhill variation to impact club selection on approach shots.

Beyond the slight hilliness, the design is very forgiving. Some trees line the fairways, but they aren’t too much in the way because most are skinny palm trees and small pepper trees. Then, there are many parallel holes, so you could spray your drives and still be in play without too much in your way toward the green.

The signature hole here is easily the par-3 17th, which plays over one of only a couple water hazards on the entire course. The other hole that sticks out is the par-4 3rd, which is the other hole where water is a significant factor. It is a short-ish hole that’s a sharp dogleg left with water on the corner that will force most people to hit less than driver. Along the left is a tall curved chainlink fence with a water canal on the other side, so it also presents a hazard that gets quite tight at the corner and runs all the way up past the green. It’s not the prettiest course feature, but the fence and the water sure make it feel like there’s no room for error on each shot.

The course was in okay shape, though it actually wasn’t all that impressive considering this is Yuma’s “peak golf season.” The tee boxes were adequate. The fairways were overseeded and mostly pretty good. There were some thin spots and inconsistencies, but it was fine enough for a muni course. The rough was dormant and best avoided. It was shaved down to almost nothing, so it was more like hitting off soft dirt with some tangled dry kikuyu and bermuda roots mixed in for added fun. Some spots around the greens were overseeded and nicer to play from.

The greens were firm-ish yet kind of fuzzy with a somewhat iffy overseed. A little bumpy at times with speeds that are very hard to figure out because a few of the greens here have some big slopes. Downhill/sidehill putts were really tough to stop while it seemed impossible to get an uphill putt to the hole. With the moderately hilly terrain here and I’m assuming some natural pull toward the nearby Colorado River, figuring out what was uphill or downhill wasn’t always easy. They were definitely some tricky putting surfaces.

Lastly, the bunkers were awful. They were decently maintained/raked, but the “sand” is more like a coarse light gravel and there is no softness underneath. I couldn’t pull off a normal “splash” kind of sand shot, so I ended up just trying to pick it with my PW like a normal chip and that worked out better. Fortunately, none of them have big lips and are easy to escape no matter what shot you use. You could easily putt out of some of them.

For a muni-level course in a region without incredible that great to choose from, Desert Hills is a solid option. If you happen to be driving through Yuma, it’s not a bad way to spend 4-5 hours (maybe more on some days), though I would still personally rank both Las Barrancas and Mesa del Sol ahead of it. It would go ahead of Coyote Wash and any of the short courses I’ve played there, though. The truth is no golf course in Yuma is worth going too far out of your way for unless you are a nut like me trying to play as many courses as possible.

Some pictures from Desert Hills Golf Course (2/1/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow view for better detail.)


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