Woodhaven Country Club in Palm Desert, California is a great place to prep for Big Daddy courses
PALM DESERT, Calif. -- In baseball, there are batting practice pitchers. In boxing, there are sparring partners. In horse racing, there are workout preps.
In golf, there is Woodhaven Country Club.
The Coachella Valley offers no shortage of Big Daddy courses designed to challenge low handicappers, scratch players and professionals. But to prep for such tests, there may be no better proving ground than Woodhaven, where tight corridors match with small greens to assess the true merits of tee accuracy and lofted iron play.
"Anybody who's a 15-handicap or less who thinks this course isn't good enough for them, I challenge 'em to come out and play it," said Joe Simonds, the general manager and director of golf at Woodhaven Country Club.
Charting at just 5,800 yards from the tips and playing to a par 70, the bullish may think Woodhaven is a pushover. They'd be wrong. Consistently finding fairways and putting surfaces here demands constant control of your ball.
"It's a deceptive course with lots of little features," Simonds said. "They're not unfair, but they're there. They're always around. What you've got to do a lot on this course is just take what it gives you. Don't try to fight against it."
If you're planning a round at one of the area's larger tracks, schedule in a round at Woodhaven the day before.
"At smaller courses like ours, your distance control is everything," Simonds said. "And that goes for direction, too. Here, when you're off by five yards and into the trees, that's right center of the fairway anywhere else. It can get claustrophobic out here; it's more of a controlled golf course. We just had a pro-am with 25 pros and only three of them shot under par over two days."
Woodhaven Country Club: Little but fierce
Playing within a residential community, Woodhaven makes ample use of the grounds.
"The architecture was really well thought out," Simonds said. "There isn't a lot of space, so the space we do have is used for risk-rewards."
Two engaging runs -- one on each nine -- highlight the routing. On the front side, Nos. 5-7 present a mesh of fun and considered scoring opportunity. The diminutive 263-yard par-4 fifth presents tight tree overhang on the left with lake water to the right. Though the cruelly-lain cart path adjacent to the hazard is ill-designed, the hole remains an exceptional representation of polar strategy.
"My play on the hole is to hit driver, but play at the left bunker," Simonds said. "My goal is to get it in the bunker because I know I'll have chance to make birdie or definitely get out of there with par. It's a hole of opposites; you're either going to really lay up with a 7-iron or you're really going to go for it."
Sandwiched between the fifth and the highly-parable par-5 seventh is the earnest 152-yard sixth, sporting ample carry over water.
"If people tell me they're having trouble clearing the water, I tell them, 'The back left portion of that green is the greatest place to be,' " Simonds said. "So you're going to take more club and you're going to be left, but that's still fine. You got over the trouble."
On the latter side, the tee-skinny 306-yard par-4 16th mirrors the gear-shifting choices of the fifth.
"My line at that hole, with a long club, is the cart path left of the green. But then you can also lay up to the target portion of the course," Simonds said.
Before the dramatically-doglegged par-4 finisher, the 17th is a true three-shot hole. Playing to landing spots opposite the half-crescent lake water to the left is recommended.
"I call that the 'Bunker to Bunker' hole," Simonds said. "You hit toward the right fairway bunker off the tee and then you either hit to a bunker short right or a greenside bunker right with your second shot -- those are your targets."
Woodhaven Country Club: The verdict
"You don't need to bomb away and most players probably won't hit driver on a lot of holes," first-time visitor Matt Solinsky of Palm Springs said. "This offers a great chance to work on your game if you are headed out to a big tournament. At Woodhaven, you can work on shots in your bag that you wouldn't be afforded at some places."
Since the Woodhaven membership took over the course in recent years, conditions have seen a serious uptick. While the greens have always been stellar, employing 20 percent more seed has resulted in improved tee boxes and tighter fairway grasses.
Instruction and facilities
The grounds offer a full practice range and putting green. Post round, stop in the snack shop for a rightful homage to the Olympic Club's "Burger Dog."
July 12, 2013