SilverRock Resort golf course: Great potential for Palm Springs-area's new Palmer showcase

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LA QUINTA, Calif. - SilverRock Resort is as determined to leave an impression as a comedian is to get a laugh. This new Arnold Palmer design in the Palm Springs valley goes for the gusto hole after hole after hole, alternately taking you in with the scenery and leaving you wobbly kneed over your next shot. No matter what you think of it, there's little chance you're going to forget it.

SilverRock Resort golf course - hole 14
On the 14th hole of the golf course at SilverRock Resort, it feels like you're shooting at the mountain.
SilverRock Resort golf course - hole 14SilverRock Resort golf course - hole 17SilverRock Resort golf course in La Quinta
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SilverRock Resort

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SilverRock Resort is the city of La Quinta's first municipal golf course. This Arnold Palmer Classic Course is the home course of the Bob Hope Classic. At 7,239 yards, it is the longest course in Palm Springs and one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour.

18 Holes | Resort/Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7239 yards | Book online | ... details »

It's one of those tough guys that wants you to know it's a tough guy. So there's Assistant Professional Brian Hamilton telling you in the clubhouse, "It was definitely designed with the tour player in mind." And there's the GPS mocking you on No. 10 with the reading, "The last birdie hole on the course, dare we say."

Like the average recreational golfer's been collecting a slew of birdies on the first nine holes of slanted ice-rink greens, town-sized bunkers and dirt waste areas big enough to declare their own sovereignty? (Someday someone's going to give that wise-guy GPS a nine iron off its screen. SilverRock may be very fortunate indeed famed golf-club-brandishing road rager Jack Nicholson didn't play in its recent celebrity tournament.) In a Palm Springs area with a number of courses that can raise blood pressures and put hair on a baby's chest, Palmer's 7,553-yard golf course at SilverRock Resort may quickly become one of the most notorious.

"The only thing I didn't like about it is there's just too much sand," San Diego golfer Mark McKinnon said. "There are a lot of traps out there. We were driving the ball great and still ending up in a lot of sand."

"A lot of times you'd have to hit it twice just to get it out of the sand," added Mark Gaudio of Beaumont, Texas. "The ball would get really plugged in there."

That isn't necessarily by Palmer's design. Hamilton acknowledges that a number of players have complained about there being too much sand in the bunkers. He calls it a "course maturity" issue. Which brings up another important point about SilverRock: For all its show-stopping ways, it often comes across like a celebrity who forgot to stop in the makeup chair. Parts of the course are as raw as Richard Pryor in his heyday.

On the sixth hole, there was a huge water pump roped off in the middle of the fairway, fighting an unintended pond you could almost swim in. Did you pack those galoshes on a 70-degree Palm Springs day? You could hit it smack down the middle of the fairway, right where there's supposed to be open grass, and lose a ball.

The greens also had more brown twinges than you'd like. In a Palm Springs area where a number of courses emerged from over-seeding looking like plush carpets, SilverRock came up somewhat lacking.

Drainage issues caused the PGA Tour to yank the Bob Hope Classic from SilverRock in 2006, no small PR blow for a $12 million city-owned showpiece. Still, the fact SilverRock and the city of La Quinta are so upfront about the problems - the course's Web site includes a link to a press release on Hope snafu, an almost unheard of bit of honesty in the golf business - gives hope that it's a place with a conscience about its customers.

Of course, reduced rates until the course is in top shape would be even more faith-building.

Still, the design if good enough to overshadow the stumbles. When you're standing on the 17th tee, staring across a pond at a flag so tucked in it looks like it's been put to bed for the night (along with your chances of birdie), you're not going to dwell on the course's troubles. With mountains in the near background, water in back and to the right and one of Palmer's giant four-leaf clover bunkers left, this is both a visually stunning and an intimidating (long dogleg-right) par 3.

Adding to the effect is the amphitheater hill along the hole in anticipation of future tournament spectators.

"That's one nice hole," Cincinnati golfer Dean Corbissero said upon reaching the tee.

You're liable to say the same a good half dozen times at SilverRock Resort. No. 14 is another showy par 3 where you're shooting toward a towering mountain (it's about 80 yards behind the flag and looks even closer from the tee). No. 7's 603-yard fairway is dissected by a lake that must be cleared on your second or third shot. Of course, overcompensating on the clear is going to put you in a series of sandboxes that look like playpens for King Kong. Welcome to Palmer's paradox of pleasure and pain.

"Just try and stay out of the sand," local golfer David Seiler said. "It's tiring if you get in there."

Seiler sighed and headed for a much needed 19th hole. Just another golfer who's not going to forget his encounter with SilverRock.

SilverRock Resort golf course: The verdict

SilverRock Resort is uniquely impressive enough in scope to overcome its conditioning flaws. If it gets everything together, it could emerge as one of the top three courses in the greater Palm Springs area. As is, it's still a near-must play, just to experience the crazy daring of its chest-pumping design.

You're going to need a confident drive and an ever-steady 60-degree wedge to navigate SilverRock's combination of endless sprawl and devilish nooks and crannies. This is one of the more challenging courses you'll play, but not one where you'll go through five sleeves of balls. The desert waste areas are enormous, punishing and frustratingly frequent, but they are open enough that you can usually find your ball. Actually hitting it out of the thick dirt is another matter.

It's anything but a relaxing round of golf, but it is something Palm Springs golf hasn't seen before.

Palm Springs dining

The nearby La Quinta Resort offers high-end, high-priced gourmet seafood at AZUR, an offspring of New York's legendary Le Bernardin. For a more low- key meal, the grill at SilverRock itself has good fish 'n' chips with a tasty homemade tartar sauce, and a surprising selection of beers for a small golf restaurant.

You can find the usual-suspect fast food and chain restaurants nearby as well. But the place to go for a taste of your home in Palm Springs is The River shopping center. This is a cookie-cutter outdoor mall on Bob Hope Drive with a unique setup around an artificial stream. When the weather's good, people often sit outside along "The River" and eat their meals. If you've ever seen a real river you won't be wowed, but remember, this is the desert. Water's a big deal here.

More impressive is list of draft beers - a few pages worth - at the Yard House ((760) 779-1415), a sports bar-cum-decent restaurant that's the class of The River.

Stay and play

It's hard to beat La Quinta for an extravagant fantasyland getaway. There are 41 pools and 53 whirlpools spread throughout this 45-acre celebrity hangout. You might be nobody, but you'll feel like somebody here.

Of course, it may be hard for many to afford La Quinta (the average per-night rate is $400). Keep an eye out, though: La Quinta Resort sometimes offers "super saver"; specials.

For those not on a once-in-a-blue-moon splurge, there are semi-reasonable hotels in the Palm Springs area. For "semi-reasonable," read hovering around $150. Avoid the chains: Even the usual budget joints charge over three figures here. You're better off looking for a bargain at one of the independent hotels or inns. One of the best of these is the Doral Desert Princess. There are 27 holes of golf literally in its backyard, nice mountain views and large comfortable rooms complete with balconies.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Just played Silver Rock

    golfslo wrote on: Mar 25, 2006

    I just started playing golf a year ago and took my first-ever golf trip last week - to Palm Springs. I played 5 courses in 5 days, including Silver Rock. I absolutely loved this course! The setting was gorgeous, right up against the desert hills. I found the fairways and greens to be in good condition. Best of all, I managed to stay out of the "dirt" native areas the entire round and only hit 2 of the many many traps. I managed a 40-41-81 round - a great round for me, although I played the white tees since it was my first round here. I'll definitely plan to play here again!!