Marriott Desert Springs' Palms Course: Masterpiece in Waterscape Form

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

PALM DESERT, CA – Golf architects are kind of like Renaissance artists—they use a variety of materials to create masterpieces.

Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo was versatile—he used fresco painting to cover the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, then chiseled solid marble to create his famous sculpture, David. This broad range of talents cemented his name in the annals of time as a master of space and form—as well as demonstrated his abilities with different mediums.

Golf architects are versatile, too—they use earth, sand, water and vegetation combined with other natural features to make each course distinctive and unique. Their art involves taking golf's standards (eighteen holes, holes of par three, four or five, and a grass playing surface) and turn them into something players will enjoy, and want to come back and challenge again and again.

And every once in a while you see a designer take a special 'artistic' approach to a golf course to build something truly different. That pretty much describes course architect Ted Robinson's Palms course at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert. Not only did Robinson build an excellent resort golf course (together with the Valley Course, the Marriott Desert Springs Resort was ranked 58th best golf resort in the US by Golf Digest), he's used 'waterscapes' throughout the property to give it a distinctive 'artistic' quality.

Though Robinson probably won't attain Michelangelo's lasting legacy status as a 'master' artist, he has become known in golf circles as the “King of Waterscapes.” It's safe to say that you probably won't remember every golf hole on all of his courses—but you'll never forget the water presentations.

Drew Hudgens, the Marriott's Head Golf Professional, says the extensive waterscaping makes his property one of Robinson's favorites: “Most people when they come here are probably expecting another upscale resort golf experience, and we certainly give that to them. But what they'll also leave with are some memories (and hopefully photographs) of the beauty of the waterscapes. There are many great golf courses around, but none offer the diverse water views that we do. I guess it's for that reason Ted Robinson still lists our resort as one of his favorite projects.”

You'll get that watery flavor as soon as you drive onto the property. To your left is the par three third hole, complete with a multi-tiered waterfall and rocks accenting the tumbling waters. To your right you'll notice the fifteenth and sixteenth holes with an impressive amount of wet stuff there too. The aquatic theme is well represented all around.

The layout itself offers a fairly typical resort golf experience—extremely wide fairways, generous putting surfaces and reasonable, non-penal bunkering. The conditioning is first-rate (including some awfully lush rough), the green speeds are tepid, the golf carts are equipped with GPS, and the service is curb to curb. Palm trees surround many of the resort's green complexes, giving it somewhat of a tropical flavor.

Add in the excellent Marriott Resort facilities and you've found a perfect desert oasis. There are many luxurious delights to choose from—personally recommended is a trip to the spa for an exercise bike ride and a massage when you finish your round. Top off the day with dinner at the Marriott's Japanese steakhouse, and your culinary needs are met as well.

Hudgens says Robinson wanted a challenging course as well as one that fits into the overall Marriott resort experience. “Ted realized that the majority of players who tee it up here will be your average resort players—some who may not play regularly. So I think he took that into account when designing the back sets of tees on our courses. The resort players will have a much easier time of it from the white tees, and better players will find plenty of challenge from the black tees.”

Hudgens continues, “You'll really score much better if you pick your spots in the fairway here, because there's an awful lot of undulation. You've got to think about your tee shots, because ripping a driver's not always the best play. We have a couple short par fours, but that doesn't mean the best option is to try and get it as close to the green as you can with your drive. You'll have a lot better shot at making birdies if you approach the greens with short irons from the fairway rather than pitches from the rough.”

That's a pretty good summation. The cart's GPS system gives precise yardage, but won't utter a word to help with proper club selection. The Palms' distance won't kill you (6,761 yards from the back tees), but tricky lies will step up the difficulty if you're poorly placed off the tee.

The greens are resort sized and putt rather slow, though Hudgens says they speed up during the peak seasons. Slow greens are a benefit on many of the Palms' undulated putting surfaces, because if you're above the hole, it could be a long way down to the flag. It'd be hard to imagine these greens putting at a 10 on the stimpmeter.

The resort's desert floor location also sheds attractive looks towards the Santa Rosa Mountains. Combined with the attractive modern architecture of the Marriott Hotel, the festive atmosphere of the main resort center and the soothing sounds from the numerous trickling waterfalls, this is a resort golf experience that's hard to beat.

The view from the first tee brings it all together. You've got the hotel and a large lagoon to the left (where you'll see resort guests taking boat rides), timeshare villas to the right, plenty of room down the center and palm trees all around. 528 yards from the back tees, it's also a fairly tame hole to start off with—a mild carry over water and a smooth path to the green after that.

The third hole is one of three or four that would qualify as signature links. Stretching to 162 yards, the difficulty is two-fold. One, to hit the rather small green perched on a ledge after a full water carry. Two, to try and block out the beauty of the waterscape to the left of the green. Hit the shot first, then enjoy the surroundings!

Seven's the second par five on the outward nine, and at 575 yards is the Palms' longest hole. Definitely a three-shotter, here's a good example of Hudgens' advice to choose your tee shot landing area and lay up club carefully. Off the tee, a large bunker waits for anything lost to the right, and an undulating fairway will likely leave you with an uneven lie. Smart play on the second is to choose a club to find a plateau—that will leave you a short iron into an elevated green.

Turning to the back, the course finishes with a stretch of four holes that would rival any closing sequence in the Coachella Valley. Fifteen's a 373 yard par four with a lake down the entire right side, and a group of bunkers lurking 240 yards to the left to squeeze the fairway for long hitters. The approach is to what looks like a peninsula green with water on the left and a steep grassy bank to the right.

Sixteen measures 409 yards from the tips, but it looks a lot longer. Like fifteen, the water's to the right of the landing area—and from there it curves around to create a carry to the elevated green for the approach. Water's not really in play on the second shot, but the green's well guarded by bunkers left, right and back. There is some room to run it up, but it's more likely to catch shots left short of the green.

Seventeen's one of the most memorable par threes you'll see. Like three, it plays only 162 yards from the back tees, but you're shooting over a spectacular waterscape with multiple colors as well as layers. Miss short, and you add to the display—and there's a bunker waiting long if you don't choose the right club. Not that difficult a hole, but I doubt it's your score that you'll remember here.

The closing hole was deemed the 'best finishing hole in the Coachella Valley' by a local publication—and sure enough, it's a good one. 423 yards and a dogleg left, you'll need to carry the hotel's main lagoon to reach the fairway, and you'll also have to guard against going left. Guests using the Spa's pool area have a good view of approach shots, which once again must carry the lagoon to reach the putting surface. Consider bailing right if you think it's too much pressure.

Finishing the course brings you back to the main hotel center, where the above mentioned 'apres golf' activities await you. The Marriott Resort simply offers too many enticing post-round choices for you to want to leave right away.

The Marriott Desert Springs' Palms course is quite an experience, with beautiful water scapes and some pretty good golf. And one day, it just might be considered an artistic masterpiece.

Head Golf Professional: Drew Hudgens, PGA
Course Architect: Ted Robinson

Jeffrey A. RendallJeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Jeffrey Rendall is an avid golfer and freelance writer. After passing the California Bar in 1994, he moved to Virginia to pursue his interests in history and politics, where he's worked since 1995.

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