Tahquitz Creek: Try the old and the new in Palm Springs style golf

By Larry Bohannan, Contributor

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Golfers visiting Palm Springs and the other cities in the Coachella Valley can play at courses that represent two very different eras of design philosophy.

There are the courses from the 1950s, the first golf boom-time in the Southern California desert, where you see relatively flat, straight holes lined with homes and palm trees. Or there are the courses from the more modern, bulldozer era of course construction, featuring sloping greens and fairways and deep bunkers sculpted from the flat floor of the desert.

At Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort, the two municipal courses for the city of Palm Springs, golfers can try the old and the new. The Legend Course is a well-maintained classic course winding its way amid 1950s homes and through and over a desert wash. The Resort Course is modern in every way, from the extensive use of desert wash and native landscaping to its clever use of bunkers and water to create challenging and fun holes.

The 6,775-yard, par-71 Legend Course was a course privately built in the late 1950s that was acquired by the city just a few years later. For the next 30 years the course remained relatively unchanged with no bunkers, no water and some serious soil erosion problems in the wash that cut through six holes.

Along came a new management contract with Arnold Palmer Golf in the mid-1990s. More than 40 bunkers were carved into the course, giving holes better definition and more challenge. Another 20 more bunkers have been added in later years.

Other improvements came from re-working the wash, adding distinctive bridges and even changing the closing hole from an easy par-5 to a demanding par-4.

"I feel the Legends Course is actually harder than the Resort Course," said Sanjeev Shandel, the head pro for the two Tahquitz Creek courses. "It's a little longer, you have to hit the ball straighter and the par-3s are all tough. And there is out-of-bounds on every hole out there."

An example of how the course has changed is the par-3 No.12, once just a medium- to short-iron to a flat, open green. Work over the last few years has pushed the hole back to 182 yards, with a new pond protecting the front of the green and out-of-bounds to the right and back of the green.

The closing hole, now a 451-yard par-4, culminates a difficult stretch of five holes. At 401 yards, the 14th is the shortest of the four par-4s in the closing stretch, but a long tee shot is required to clear the wash. The 219-yard par-3 15th is simple and straightforward, but the length forces most players to take a wood even from forward tees.

The 16th and 17th each have wide landing areas but require precise approach shots. That leads to the 18th, which was shortened from a reachable par-5 to a long dogleg par-4 with its fairway completely in the wash. A large bunker to the inside of the dogleg and a slightly elevated green make the hole worthy of most resort courses. The Legend Course is far from the pitch-and-putt image most golfers have of municipal courses.

"It's a very good golf course. The last five holes are some of the toughest holes that anyone can play back-to-back," Shandel said.

At about the time the Legends Course was being transformed, the city awarded the design for a new course to Ted Robinson, the nationally known architect who has designed or redesigned more than 20 courses in the Coachella Valley. Robinson's challenge was to build a course that could compete for attention with other desert resort courses while still satisfying the typical golfer.

Robinson delivered the Resort Course, using the natural dunes and vegetation of the wash for a desert feel while still providing length, appropriate landscaping and his trademark use of water for a layout full of character and surprises.

At just 6,704 yards from the back tees, the course is short enough for any player but has water in play on eight holes to challenge better players.

"It's the most scenic golf course in Palm Springs, there is no question about that," Shandel said. "It's got a lot of the desert areas, the natural landscape for the area."

The opening holes of the Resort hint at some of the layout's overall characteristics. Robinson's greens are bowl-shaped, meaning any shot on the putting surfaces should roll toward the center of fairly large putting surfaces. While that may help the average player avoid having to chip, balls that miss the greens will often land in bunkers or roll down slopes to collection areas below the green.

The true character of the course kicks in at the 384-yard par-4 No. 7, featuring an island fairway. While the landing area is generous, long hitters need to throttle back to avoid the water at the end of the fairway. That leaves a middle iron uphill to a sloping green with two bunkers in front and another in the back. It's hardly your typical par-4.

No. 8, at 196 yards with a lake in front and to the right of the green, can be one of the toughest par-3s in the desert when the prevailing wind blows into the golfer's face. But Robinson has provided a cushion of fairways between the lake and the green, another bow to the municipal and resort nature of the Tahquitz Creek players.

"I think No. 8 is the signature hole, really," Shandel said. "It's tough and it's one of the more beautiful holes on the course. So No. 8 and No. 17 are really the holes people talk about."

Other intriguing holes include: 317-yard 12th, where golfers must avoid the dunes of the wash to the right and out of bounds left to find the dogleg fairway, the 130-yard par 17th that requires just a short iron that must avoid a lake in front and must also find the proper tier of a difficult green; and the 562-yard par-5 14th, a hole much longer than most municipal courses offer with out of bounds all along the left.

While the two courses differ in overall design, Shandel said the improvements to the Legends have made it even more popular with the older municipal players who were always regular players; but those improvements have also attracted a new crowd that would never have played a so-called municipal course. The Resort Course, meanwhile, has achieved its goal of keeping the golfing tourist in Palm Springs while also offering an enjoyable alternative for the municipal golf set.

Where to stay

Golf packages involving the courses are available at the Courtyard Marriott on Tahquitz Creek Drive and the Hyatt Regency on North Palm Canyon.

Sights to see

Take a break from golf and rent a bicycle from Bighorn Bicycles on Palm Canyon Drive. The company also leads bike tours. Desert Jeep tours are also available from a number of companies, including AAA Five Star Adventures.

Larry Bohannan, Contributor

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