La QUINTA, CALIF. – As Ol’ Man Winter tightens his grip on much of the nation, it’s the perfect time to enjoy a golf get-away … if you pick the right destination, that is.
And it’s hard to imagine a better winter destination than the Greater Palm Springs area of southern California. With more than 110 courses scattered about the nine municipalities that dot the Coachella Valley – not to mention a warm, sunny forecast almost a daily guarantee – Palm Springs, as the area is commonly known, is one of the most popular golf destinations in the country.
Even golfers who have never been to Palm Springs feel like they “know” the area, thanks to events like the Bob Hope Desert Classic and the Dinah Shore Championship being beamed into their living rooms each year. Yes, the two tournaments have different names now – the CareerBuilder Challenge and the AMA Inspiration, respectfully – but they’re still affectionately known as “the Hope” and “the Dinah” by countless golf fans. (And hopefully, that will never change, regardless of the comings and goings of sponsorship dollars.)
The Hope traces its roots to the first Thunderbird Invitational Pro-Am, played in 1952. In 1959, the renamed Palm Springs Desert Golf Classic expanded to four courses for the first time. And over the last 50-plus years, it has retained its multi-course format, taking the best players in golf to a multitude of layouts throughout the valley.
One such facility to have hosted the Hope is SilverRock Resort in the posh township of La Quinta.
SilverRock’s Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Course is a big, bold and often times breathtaking course, set flush against the Santa Rosa Mountains. The course stretches nearly 7,600 yards from the longest of six sets of tees, making maximum use of the expansive 200-acre site in the process, and was host to the Hope from 2008-2011. In fact, SilverRock, which was built in 2005, was built with the PGA Tour player in mind.
What does all of this mean to the traveling or vacationing golfer? Simple. The same features that made SilverRock perfectly capable of challenging the best players on Tour make it the perfect course for any golf enthusiast who wants to see just how good his or her game is.
At SilverRock, Palmer, himself a five-time winner of the Hope Desert Classic, and design associate Erik Larsen built huge bunker complexes with imposing bunker faces, made extensive use of water features and, as a last line of defense against par, created generous putting surfaces with both subtle and sweeping contours that can confound even the best green readers. Yet despite all the trouble, Palmer’s artistic design provides more than ample room for the skilled – or maybe more cautious – player.
Right from the tee of the first hole (photo below), a medium length par-4 where a huge diagonal bunker to the right of the landing area squeezes the landing area the farther you drive it, the design philosophy is evident: play safe and there’s plenty of room; challenge the design to set up an easier approach and you’re going to have to take on some risk. It’s Strategic Design 101, something that any true golfer can’t help but recognize and appreciate.
Palmer’s risk/reward philosophy is never more evident than at the par-4 fourth hole. Playing as a dogleg left, the fourth measures 355 yards from the blue tees (314 from the whites), but the long-hitter can shorten the distance considerably by firing a tee shot directly at the green over a expanse of native desert sand and scrub inside the dogleg. You must be committed to the shot, however, because the elevated green is tightly guarded by steep-faced bunkers right and more desert expanse left. And with the Santa Rosas forming the backdrop to both your tee and approach shots, the hole is a beautiful as it is tempting.
The Santa Rosa Mountains aren’t the only distractions at SilverRock. It’s not uncommon to find your foursome sharing a fairway or even a green complex with a herd of bighorn sheep, as our group did on several occasions during a round in early December. The sheep, several of whom were wearing radio tracking collars, seemed perfectly comfortable with golfers traipsing through their home, hardly moving as we “played through.”
The sheep may have even been doing us golfers a favor, as they busied themselves by ‘trimming’ the lush rye grass rough.
Not that the maintenance staff at SilverRock needs any help. The course, which is owned by the City of La Quinta, is anything but a muni when it comes to conditioning. And that goes for the enormous practice area, which was clearly designed with the PGA Tour in mind.
So if you’re thinking about a winter golf get-away, keep two things in mind. One, golf-wise, weather-wise, dining-wise or otherwise, you won’t find a place that has more to like than the Greater Palm Springs area of southern California. And two, no golfer who is up for a challenge should consider a trip to Palm Springs complete without testing their game against the challenging Classic Course the late and legendary Arnold Palmer designed at SilverRock Resort.