Man on a Mission
By: David Rallis
Call me crazy if you want to. Many people have, but I was on a mission. That mission may have been thought to be impossible, but I chose to accept it. I was to find three golf courses in the Palm Springs area that are affordable and accessible to the average golfer. These courses should be memorable and worth it to play, not chosen just because their green fees are low. This would would be done during their high season, which is winter when the weather in Palm Springs is at its best and most pleasant. People from cold winter climates come to Palm Springs to enjoy the warmth of the desert climate.
Here was the idea. I was a visitor to the Palm Springs area, brought my clubs and had some time to fit in a round of golf. I didn't have the $200 to play one of the very famous courses but wanted to play a course that is both challenging and pleasing, one that I wouldn't forget and want to come back to the area to play again. I had to do this with two restrictions; I couldn't go to an online tee time reservation system and green fees had to be under $80 with cart. Given that, how did I find that which I sought.
My stay in the Palm Springs Area was one week. I chose a condominium and hotel resort in Desert Hot Springs as my base of operations. The resort offers a hot spring mineral pool with mineral jacuzzi and is out of the way so that I could get the relaxation and comfort needed for my difficult task, just the quiet place to reflect on my strategy and completion of my mission.
My arrival at my condominium was about 3:00 Saturday afternoon after spending a couple of days in San Diego for a kind of mini vacation as a way of preparing for my mission. Check in went well, and I dropped off my things at the condo. It was time to get back into my 350Z and drive the few miles to explore Palm Springs. I turned on to Palm Drive the main road between Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs.
Desert Dunes Golf Course is on Palm Drive about half way between Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs. It sits alone in the desert, with no development, residential or commercial, around it. The location of the course is very beautiful in its isolation. The contrast between the stark desert landscape and the lush green of the course caught my eye. I turned off Palm Drive and drove to the clubhouse to investigate the course and found out I was in luck. The course was affordable and fit into the cost I had set for green fees. My tee time was set for 11:00 on Monday and I was excited.
I arrived at the golf course and was met by Desert Dunes Head Pro Pat O'Donnell. We chatted for a bit about the golf course before my round.
“Desert Dunes is a golf course that you never get bored with.” He began.”It is fair for the average golfer and you don't loose a lot of balls. The greens are elevated and tough, but putt true.” He continued.
The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Mr. O'Donnell explained that the designer felt that it was one of his best designs. The course was opened in 1989 and was acquired by a Canadian investment group in 2009. Their master plan calls for the property to become a destination site along the lines of a Marriot Resort, with the biggest difference being that the course will be away from the condominium development keeping the course's desert feel. He also talked about how great a value the course was, with its very affordable green fees--$99 as a peak time rate between the hours of 8:00 A.M. And 11:00 A.M. and $79 before and after those times and also offering a great twilight rate-- and it was only ten minutes from Palm Springs International Airport.
On the first tee I was paired up with a couple from Alberta, Canada— Murray and May. He was a retired Doctor and she had just retired from nursing. We talked and I found out that many Canadians come down from Canada during the winter months to escape the cold of the north. I knew that many people come down from Canada to get away during the cold winters, but I thought most went to Florida. I was surprised at the number that came down to Palm Springs. Many have condominiums and homes in Palm Springs and spend much of the winter season there. Murray and May had just purchased a house in Desert Hot Springs. They were a delight to play with.
The course was in impeccable shape. Fairways were lush and green contrasting the dryness of the desert surroundings. The greens themselves were quick and undulating, but I found them to putt true as Mr. O'Donnell pointed out. Every hole was a joy to play, and there were only two lakes on the course to worry about.
Holes one and two were not very eventful, I thought. The fun and beauty actually started on hole number three and doesn't stop. Three is a short par four that sort of gives you the feeling it keeps going up into the sky. The hole plays longer than it looks. Number four is a slight dogleg left and requires a precise tee shot in order to open up the green for an easier approach. That was one of the things I thought made the course interesting Many of the holes were doglegs and I think that was done by the designer to give the impression that each hole was isolated from the next, chiseled out of the desert landscape.
My favorite hole on the course was number 5. It is a short par three cut into a desert hollow. In front of the green is a desert vegetation collection area and the area around the green is a sort of oasis of green. It is very pleasing to the eye and can seem to be very intimidating because the tee shot has to be precise, if not you wind up in the chaparral that surrounds the green or in the desert sands in front of the green
Holes number 8 and 16 are the water holes. Number 8 is a mid-length par three which wraps around the lake. You have a decision to make. Do you go for the pin, which normally requires a carry over water, or do you safely bail out to the left giving a long put but perhaps saving par? How do you feel today? Hole number 16, a short par 5, gives you that same option with the hole wrapping around the second lake. You need to make another decision depending on your nerve and the placement of your second shot, safe to the left or gamble to the right over the lake.
A unique feature to the course is that holes number 9 and 18 share fairways and greens with an area of desert vegetation separating the fairways up by the shared green. There is also a bunker in the middle of the shared green.
I had never been to Palm Springs before, so Tuesday I reserved to see the sights of the area. Since I was going to go downtown, there was no reason to fix breakfast knowing there were several good restaurants that served breakfast and I had a full day planned. I was going to visit the Patton Museum several miles up I-10 and then finish off the day taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tram up Mt. San Jacinto. The streets were empty at 8:00 AM and my stomach was growling, so it was time to find one out of the many. I stopped into The Palm Springs General Store, a souvenir shop on the main street. It is always best to ask a local person for the inside scoop.
I went into the store and Bill sitting behind the cash register. So I asked him. “Hi, I'm not from here and I would like to ask you which restaurant serves the best breakfast here downtown.”
“That's easy, Pinoccio's.” he replied quickly. “Walk to the next street and turn left. You will know you are there because there is a statue of Marilyn Monroe in the white dress from that movie.”
“I won't be disappointed, will I?” I asked again.
Bill chuckled and said, “No, you won't. Trust me on this.”
Remembering my mission, I asked him if he was aware of a golf course in the area that was a great value-green fees under $80. It didn't take him long to answer. He said Cimarron Resort in Cathedral City and explained that he was an assistant pro there before he retired from the golf industry. He called the course, and I had a time for Thursday. Great place to find information out about a place, a souvenir shop. The breakfast was all Bill said it would be and I was set to play what turned out to be a great course on Thursday.
The day was full, seeing the sights of Palm Springs and the surrounding towns. It ended with a fine dinner in the restaurant at the top of the Aerial Tram watching the twinkling lights of the valley below after sunset. Tomorrow was a working day, and had a 10:00 tee time at Mesquite Golf and Country Club. It's tough being a writer, but as the cliché says; It's hard work but somebody has to do it.
Mesquite Golf and Country Club is located close to downtown Palm Springs and is one of the first courses in the area. It was designed by Bert Stamps in 1985. It is unique in its design because it has three par threes, three par fours and three par fives on both the front nine and the back. The course is short by championship standards at 6,400 yards from the tips,and water came into play on several of the holes.
I parked my car in the lot in front of the beautiful Spanish Style clubhouse and checked in with the pro shop for my round. There was time before my round so I decided to order breakfast in the restaurant. After breakfast, I went in to talk to “Perky” who is the director of golf. Our conversation was very short and she told me that the course was not in great shape because of a pending ownership change but that the course was affordable. Green fees were well under my $80 requirement with cart, but I couldn't quite figure out their green fee schedule. They were somewhere between $29 and $59 depending on time of play.
The course was very enjoyable to play, but not necessarily memorable. Fairways were tree lined with mature palm and other trees and the course was basically flat. Par threes were a kick to play, with many of them playing over or near water but the rest of the course was sort of just “regular”. Views of the surrounding mountains were breathtaking and the orange-pink bridges over the lakes and water hazards were sort of different. Overall, the course was just average at best with no truly memorable holes . I would recommend it however, if you are looking for an inexpensive place to play in the Palm Springs area. It is a “solid” round of golf and you should have a lot of fun, as I did.
Thursday came and it was time to play Cimarron Golf Resort, located in Cathedral City. There are two courses at Cimarron, the Championship Boulder Course which plays to 6,782 yard and the Pebble Course which is more of an executive course which plays to 3,020 yards. I played the Boulder Course. Green fees were $75 for the Boulder Course and $55 for the Pebble Course both rates included carts.
Cimarron is built on land that is located in a flood wash and looked to me like it was a dry river bed. The course is basically flat, but it is contoured and your lie is not always flat. There is a stark contrast between the lush green fairways, rough and greens against the stark natural desert collection environmentally sensitive areas, their tan and whitish soil with it's natural desert vegetation. As with most of the courses in the Palm Springs area, the views of the surrounding mountains and Mt. San Jacinto are always there and bring you to a sense of awe as to their size and clarity. It is as if you can reach out and touch them.
I enjoyed playing the course. That probably doesn't come as a shock to anybody who knows me as I enjoy the game so much. But I have played courses that I was not that fond of that at this point shall remain nameless. That was not the case with The Boulder Course. I played the middle tees with the course playing 6,328 yards which was enough of a challenge for me.Greens were quick and fair with fairways being generous, rough adding to the golf experience but not being punitive. The course was well bunkered with the beautiful white sand bunkers coming strategically into play on most of the holes. Par for the Boulder Course is 71.
The round starts with a picturesque par four where you tee off over the desert and the desert environmental area cuts across the fairway about 100 yards out. Mt. San Jacinto is in front of you as if you could reach out and touch it. It is not a long hole at 368 yards, but it is very appealing to the eye and fun to play.
Hole number three is a long par five at 573 yards and the green is well bunkered. It takes three good shots to get on the green to put for birdie. Your third shot needs to be accurate given the greenside bunkers surrounding the green.
There are five par threes on the course, each tee shot has you shooting over the desert environmental areas. Again, this is a beautiful sight for the eye with the contrast of the green grass against the white and tan of the desert and the grass against the background of the desert vegetation. All five are a lot of fun. Seventeen is unique in this list of par threes in that it plays not over the desert but has a huge lake in front and another lake in back. This is another addition to the texture and color of the desert course.
Number eighteen is a shortish par five. This hole is unique to the course in that you tee off with a lake to the left and it does come into play as the fairway is very narrow. The green is once again very well bunkered and the beautiful clubhouse overlooks the green. It is a great finish to the round, on a very good course.
I returned to the condominium after my round at Cimerron just in time for the social hour. I did not want to miss the Sangria and snacks served by the mineral pool. This was time to relax, take a dip in the pool and catch up on the days happenings with the other guests. Apparently, they have a street fair on Thursday nights in downtown Palm Springs so I decided to go check it out. There were artists and a variety of vendors lining the main street of Palm Springs selling their good and foods.
Friday was my last full day in Palm Springs and I decided to-what else-play golf. I was invited back to play Desert Dunes so I returned to the course and played. The interesting thing about this was I hooked up with Walt and Barry by accident. These were two Canadians that I had met Tuesday night at the top of Mt. Jacinto after the tram ride up the mountain. We had a great round together swapping stories and me teasing them about how they end almost every sentence with “eh?”. Once again, I returned to the condominium for the “social hour” by the pool and a final afternoon of relaxation and dips in the pool and mineral spa.
I woke up Saturday morning with a great deal of sadness. My week in Palm Springs had come to an end and I had to return home, not wanting to come back to the world of reality—darn. I had played three good courses that were affordable during Palm Spring's high season. I had met some very nice people and had some great times. Mission accomplished—sort of.