Bear in your mind on the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West in La Quinta, California
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The Coachella Valley is filled with resort-style golf courses geared toward the snowbird or the rusty swinger aiming for a spread of sunshine to match expansive fairways.
The Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West isn't one of those courses.
Host to the former Skins Game and the final stage of PGA Tour Q-School, the "Nick Tourney" remains as bold, as modern and as demanding as when it debuted in 1987. While Pete Dye's neighboring Stadium Course is aptly counted among the toughest tracks in the Western Hemisphere, the moguled demands of the Nicklaus are not for the nascent.
"Nicklaus really makes you hit shots out there and use your mind," says David Hagan, head professional at PGA West. "You have to think about your second shot before you hit your first shot."
While mid-handicappers should employ prudence to contend, single-digit strikers will find the design mirroring the demands its creator placed upon his own Bearish shoulders.
"Where Nicklaus may look like he's not being very fair, he's actually rather fair to the average player but not very fair to the lower-handicapper," Hagan says. "There's a reason this course is rated high and scratch golfers come out here and shoot 80."
For what the emboldened will task from better than 7,200 yards, the average player will test in fickle landing areas followed by Nicklaus' signature raised greens.
"The raised fairways and raised greens are key elements," Hagan says. "You definitely need to hit the fairway on a lot of the holes. It almost feels like island fairways out there."
Myriad greens toy with distance control on approaches and playing to the front is nary an option. Guarded by high-lipped bunkering and crowned greens, newcomers will want to study the modern GPS and regularly consider playing long on approaches.
"It's a matter of inches sometimes before a great shot turns into a horrible shot," Hagan says of the wall-guarded putting surfaces.
"I've seen several times in Q-School where a guy was doing fairly well and then make a mistake on No. 8," Hagan says of the railroad-tied, 172-yard par 3 surrounded by water.
Though the long hitter will be tempted to land the island green on the 572-yard, par-5 15th, most should consider it a three-shot hole.
"On No. 15, you just need to lay-up," Hagan says. "There's no point in going for it. The green is very narrow, so getting on with a long club is not an easy task. For most people, you'll want 3-wood, 6-iron and pitching wedge."
Islands aside, the Nicklaus is expertly bookended by lengthy par 4s on Nos. 9 and 18.
"Nine and 18 are two of the best holes out here in the desert," Hagan says. "They're very beautiful, very challenging and not only do they require a good tee shot, but you have to hit a phenomenal second shot. I've seen a lot of matches change hands on those two holes."
Of the 461-yard former sporting lake water left, Hagan says: "I try to always aim down the right side of the fairway. You can get on from the rough and it will actually play a little shorter. The players that play from the left with a long iron over the water tend to struggle."
With bunkering and water all along the right, the grizzly, 453-yard home hole presents one of the desert's most lauded finishers.
"I look at hitting a tee ball down the right side with a little draw, working it away from the water and the bunkering," Hagan says. "And then just try to hit the front left corner on your second, to get the ball to bounce up toward the left or center of the green."
Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West: The verdict
"This is right up there with the best course I've played out here, like the Dinah at Mission Hills," said Andrew Stone, a mid-handicapper from Los Angeles. "Some of the elevated greens were tough to reach, but it was very fair from the whites."
This is a true shot-makers course with nearly ceaseless demands. The skilled will revel in the test, though higher-handicap vacationers may want to first play a tune-up round at a less demanding track.
Instruction and facilities at PGA West
The grounds offer full practice facility and instruction is available to players of all levels via the on-site PGA West Golf Academy.
April 17, 2013