Trilogy at La Quinta: New home of Skins Game could produce 'birdie fest'

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

The Trilogy at La QuintaLA QUINTA, Calif. -- Looking down the gut of the opening hole at the Trilogy actually can take the fear of God out of you; elevated tee box, California-sized landing area, and not a bunker in sight. So much for first hole nerves at this new Gary Panks designed course in the golfing hotbed of La Quinta.

Or second-hole nerves, or third-hole nerves .

The first gut-check at the Trilogy comes on the par-5, 551-yard ninth hole. Arguably the only risk/reward hole on the course, the ninth actually will play as the $200,000 final hole of the ConAgra Foods Skins Game on Nov. 29-30. That's right, one of the most playable tracks to hit the Coachella Valley in recent years is set to host golf's version of the home run derby.

"We expect a lot of birdies and a lot of carryovers," says Todd Keefer, Trilogy's director of golf. "If this were a baseball game, it wouldn't be a pitchers duel, let's just say that."

The Skins Game comes courtesy of the Landmark Golf Club in neighboring Indio where it enjoyed brief but successful stint. The Trilogy has dibs on the made-for-television event through 2004 and an option on 2005. The course's gentle nature aside, neither Panks nor Keefer want the course to lie down and play dead. A series of new tee boxes will stretch the layout to well over 7,000 yards and some additional bunkers are expected to increase the overall difficulty.

"We didn't build this course for that (PGA Tour) style of player," Panks says. "We build them for scratch golfers and active adults with double digit handicaps. When you design for a professional tournament, that is a totally different thing. So we are having to go back and add some length."

The Trilogy at La Quinta No one was more surprised to have the Skins Game fall in Trilogy's lap than Panks. Not that he's complaining. The pomp and circumstance laden event generates loads of publicity for both course and designer. If Panks doesn't watch it, he could become a household name.

The Scottsdale, Ariz. based architect is now the proud father of three professional event worthy venues. His Cattail course at Whirlwind Golf Club on the Gila River Indian Reservation south of Phoenix hosts a Nationwide Tour stop; and his Twin Warriors Golf Club outside of Albuquerque recently hosted the PGA Club Pro Championship.

"I doubt you'll hear him gloat about that," Keefer says. "He's subtle, like his course designs. You have to pay close attention to the things he's doing with his designs or you'll miss them."

The exception being Trilogy's par-3 holes. All four are as different as red and green chile, as thought-provoking as a David Lynch screenplay, and are further proof that when it comes one-shot holes, Panks is a master of his craft.

"We take a lot of pride in our par-3s," Panks says.

The 173-yard sixth is the most straight forward of the bunch, with water to the right coming into play only on leaky tee shots. The 187-yard 17th is the drama queen, with its knee-knocking carry over a turquoise green lake.

"Those are great holes, but I think No. 11 is the sleeper of the bunch," Keefer says. "It is the shortest but it also demands the most accuracy. Gary did a great job of mixing up directions, lengths and view sheds."

The Trilogy at La Quinta The towering Santa Rosa Mountains and La Quinta's trademark Coral Mountains (think PGA West logo) form the backdrop for Trilogy's postcard eligible holes. This geological magnificence is on full display on the 396-yard par-4 seventh, which features a panoramic view of both ranges. No. 7 also happens to be one of the holes being fitted for a big-boy tee box.

"That hole is going to look fantastic on TV," Keefer says. "The new tee will provide an even better vista."

The four participants in the Skins Game will grace the Trilogy's fairways for all of four or five hours. The television audience about the same. It is the other thousands of recreational golfers the Trilogy and proprietor Shea Homes will cater to on a daily basis. Pampering, stage one, will begin in earnest in July when the course's 12,000-square-foot retro clubhouse opens overlooking the practice range.

"They recognize the fact that they (the Trilogy) are located way out there and they have to go the extra mile to get golfers out," Panks says.

The course's reasonable price points should help. Peak season fees will hover around $100, while summer rates dip down to $50. Range balls and carts are included, but the $200,000 skin on 18 is for professional use only.

Where to Stay

The J.W. Marriott Desert Springs hotel in Palm Desert is centrally located between La Quinta and Palm Springs. The full service resort houses fine dining, one of the Valley's largest pools, a state-of-the-art spa and fitness facility and two Ted Robinson designed resort courses, the Palm and the Valley. Desert Springs is approximately 20 minutes from the Trilogy at La Quinta. For reservations, call (760) 341-2211 or log on to desertspringsresort.com.

Chow - where to Eat

Only the locals know about it, so you know it's good. Macario's Restaurant in Indio serves up the best authentic Mexican food this side of Las Casuelas Terrazza in Palm Springs. Located in a dusty lot off the side of a service road in Indio, Macario's is not for the hoity-toity crowd. Once inside, though, the atmosphere is pleasant and the service is efficient and friendly. The one-pound burritos are the stuff of local legend, and we recommend the wet chile colorado (red) version. 80-73 Indio Blvd., (760) 342-5649.

Divots

Trilogy Golf ClubLa Quinta recently was named "America's ultimate golfing destination" by the highly respected Robb Report. The magazine, in its "Best Places to Live" issue, cited La Quinta's "seemingly endless options for passionate golfers." La Quinta (the town, not the resort) is home to 21 public and private golf courses. To say the Robb Report caters to an affluent audience would be an understatement -- the average household income of its readership is over $1 million and the average value of its readers' primary residence is almost $1.2 million. From the rich get richer department, La Quinta city leaders recently announced their unwavering support for the 525-acre SilverRock Ranch development -- a mega planned community featuring two 18-hole golf courses, a city park, a five-star resort hotel, a 10-acre golf practice facility, boutiques and retail stores.

Fast fact

Mark O'Meara slid into last year's Skins Game by way of his endorsement contract with Toyota, one of the event's sponsors. He ended up winning his second Skins title and $405,000 in the process.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.


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