Cimarron Golf Resort is a desert original

By Larry Bohannan, Contributor

CATHEDERAL CITY, Calif. -- Every golf course owes some of its character to the land where it sits. Flat, open space leads to flat, open fairways, while mountainous land produces golf courses with dramatic elevation changes.

At Cimarron Golf Resort, the character of its two courses can be traced directly to its home on a desert wash that separates Cathedral City and Palm Springs.

The two John Fought-designed courses, one the regulation 18-hole Long Course and the other the surprisingly interesting par-3 Short Course, were shaped not only by Fought's imagination but the limits and possibilities of the wash.

While many Palm Springs area courses have to use a wash for a hole or two, all 36 holes at Cimarron are in the wash, meaning Cimarron has made better use of wash land than any of the desert's 110-plus courses.

So that water can move through the wash during the rare times when enough rain falls in the Coachella Valley to cause runoff, several different paths for the water had to be left through the course.

This difficulty actually worked in Fought's favor, forcing the course to be spread throughout the wash channel and creating an open, desert feeling that has even been compared to the dunes of a Scottish links course. That's assuming, of course, that golfers can accept the breathtaking views of the nearby San Jacinto Mountains as a substitute for the North Sea.

"I think it's an open course, so if you do hit a bad shot, it doesn't blow the hole," said Cimarron director of golf Jason Janke. "You can recover from it, without the water or trees as a problem."

What Cimarron lacks in traditional landscaping (trees and their roots might block water flow during the major flooding that hits the area once every century or so), Fought's design makes up for with stylish bunkering and fairways that require precision off the tee to avoid the open desert areas that border most holes. At 6,858 yards from the back tees, the course might sound a bit short for longer hitters. But with three par-4s over 450 yards and two par-5s over 560 yards, golfers will find the course is a test for all skill levels. The course can be played from tees of 6,474 yards down to 5,127 yards.

"Some of the par-4s are pretty long," Janke said. "Out around Nos. 6 and 7, it's a long course. No. 6 is a par-5 (at 502 yards), but No. 7 is a par-4 at 485 yards. I tell people that's where the money is lost on the course is."

Even the shorter holes, like the 347-yard fourth hole, require talent to hit the fairway. Most fairways tend to slope down to the wash areas, meaning an errant tee shot into the rough can easily find desert sand instead of grass. Still, golfers can recover from the sand and might even be able to salvage a par on some of the short holes.

That par will be tougher to find if a golfer hits into bunkers either in the fairway or near the greens. Fought's bunkers are another reminder of Scottish links without the sea spray. Deep faces on many of the white-sand bunkers and even the occasional sod-faced bunker can make just getting of the sand an adventure.

"We've had many golfers tell us it reminds them of the British Open," Janke said. "For what we have in the desert, this is probably the closest course to that."

The back nine opens with back-to-back tough par-4s at the 440-yard 10th and the 413-yard 11th. The course's diversity can bee seen in the 218-yard par-3 14th, where par is a terrific score after a long iron or fairway wood into a sloping, hilly green, and the 339-yard par-4 15th, where even the average golfer will feel frustrated if greenside bunkers thwart a reasonable birdie opportunity.

The closing stretch includes the 169-yard par-3 17th, with a forced carry over one of the rare lakes on the course, and the 569-yard par-5 18th that tends to play into the prevailing wind.

As an alternative to the Long Course, Fought designed a sporty par-3 course that defies the image of the par-3 layout as a pitch-and-putt meant only for beginners or older players who can't hit a traditional par-4 in two anymore.

"When golfers see it, they are very surprised. They don't know what to expect," Janke said of the Short Course. "We tell them it is not a typical par-3. There is bunkering, there are elevated greens. We actually hold a weekly skins game on that course."

Like its longer companion course, the Short Course is required to have open channels between holes for unlikely flooding. But rather than a par-3 course that features short, tight holes that parallel each others in a confined space, Cimarron's Short Course is open, with each hole having the feel of a separate, stand-alone feel. Each hole feels like a specifically designed par-3 instead of a truncated par-4.

From the back tees of 3,152 yards, the course's 16 par-3s play from 116 to 182 yards long. Two par-3s, the 313-yard third and the 310-yard 16th hole offer delightful but playable changes of pace.

While the course can play between 3,152 yard and 2,313 yards, golfers who might doubt the challenges of the Short Course need only take a look at the two holes closest to Cimarron's clubhouse. The first hole, at 172 yards from the back tee, requires a solid long-iron into the wind to reach the green. The 18th, at 186, plays back to the clubhouse with an elevated tee. The tee shot to the large green must avoid the lake to the right that also cuts across the first hole.

"We think it's something unique to the desert," Janke said.

Where to stay

The Hyatt Palm Springs Hotel is located at 67-603 30th Ave., Cathedral City, California 92234. Phone: (760) 770-6060 or (877) 966-6233.

Sights to see

Palm Springs has a Desert Museum located at 101 Museum Drive in Palm Springs. Phone: (760) 325-7186. A great place to focus on the natural history of the desert.

Fast Fact

Architect John Fought who created Cimarron has recently teamed up with PGA player Tom Lehman to lay out a number of courses in Arizona.

Larry Bohannan, Contributor

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