Desert Willow Golf Resort: A Must-Play in Palm Desert

By Georg von Suder, Contributor

Two spectacular championship golf courses shaped from the barren desert floor sands provide a golfing oasis that will challenge every aficionado of the game. A golfing vacation to the Southern California desert can not be complete without teeing it up on the Firecliff and Mountain View courses of the Desert Willow Golf Resort.

One of the best golf resorts in the U.S., Desert Willow is listed as one of the Top 200 "best conditioned courses" in the nation by Golf Digest's "Places to Play." The Firecliff course is one of only three in California and 50 in the entire country to receive this honor.

This fabulous venue, designed by Golf World's 1997 Architect of the Year Michael Hurdzan and PGA Professional John Cook, is made-up of two desert-style landscaped courses - similar to those in Arizona - with striking desert flora, rock-replica Indian canyons, streams flowing into lakes, and some of the most incredible panoramic mountain views in the valley. The beauty is only overshadowed by the superb golf.

Managed by Kemper Sports, Desert Willow first earned national acclaim as a cover story on Smithsonian Magazine in recognition of its outstanding natural and organic environmental design - the first golf course ever to be featured on one of its cover.

Even though a true test of skills, the courses' five sets of tees allow quality play for all levels.

Accuracy off the tee and the ability to avoid 100+ sand and waste bunkers is a must on the 7,056-yard Firecliff. Completed in 1997, the course is characterized by narrow fairways, well-guarded greens, long par 3's, eight water holes, and treacherous - but playable - waste areas.

The men's rating from the black tees is 74.1 with a 138 slope, a 60.7 rating and a slope of 125 from the whites, and a woman's rating of 69. With a 120 slope.

The Mountain View course measures 6,913 yards with the majority of the holes constructed below the surface of the desert. An excellent short game is required to negotiate the greens, which sport large undulations that come into play with nearly every pin placement. The men's black-tee rating is 73.4 with a 129 slope, a 69.7 rating and 125 slope from the whites, and a ladies rating of 68.9 and 116 slope.

Firecliff's action begins with a 535-yard par 5. The hole is fairly straight. Keep your tee shot left avoiding the bunker. The second shot should be to the right allowing for the easiest approach to the green.

Number 2 is a relatively easy 410 yards. A good drive gets it done. Three is a tough 194-yard par 3, bunkered on the right with a large waster bunker and sand on the left. Play to the left side of the green.

The 446-yard 4th hole is a player's dream. The number-one handicap hole plays long with four sand bunkers on the left and a waster bunker to the right covering the full length of the hole. A long iron to the left side of the green will put you in scoring position.

The 5th is another demanding hole of 429 yards. Your drive must avoid huge rolling bunkers on the left and the same long waste bunker from the 4th on the right. The green is a peninsula guarded by the waste bunker. The left approach provides a safe entry.

Number 6 is a short par 4 of only 331 yards. The green is derivable. However, the green in surrounded on three sides by water. Sloping from front to rear, an accurate approach is essential.

Seven is a difficult 569-yard par with a heavily bunkered, narrow driving area. The second shot needs to be played left to allow a sound approach to the well-trapped green.

The 8th is a relative easy 155-yard par 3 with a big green. Avoid the water on the left. The front nine closes with a testy 455-yard, dogleg-right par 4. You must have a good drive reaching the crest of the fairway by the beautiful palm oasis if you are to have a viable second shot to the green.

The back nine doesn't get any easier, opening with three straight over-400-yard par 4's with fairly open tee shots, but requiring accuracy to the greens.

The 13th is a tough 550-yard par 5. Distance off the tee is important, and position on the second shot, allowing for an attempt to the green. The smart play is to lay-up as the green is well guarded with sand bunkers. A very picturesque 176-yard par 3, the green is inviting with a safe area for long and right shots.

The 15th is the easiest hole on the course, but the 16th brings you right back to tough golf with a 420-yard par 4. The hole plays into the prevailing wind, but the area in front of the green allows you to roll the ball onto the flat putting surface. A large bunker, which appears to be a series of bunkers, protects the green on the left.

Seventeen is one of the best par3's on the course. At 204 yards, this hole demands long-iron accuracy. A beach bunker that is backed by a palm oasis surrounds the green.

The finishing hole is Firecliff's signature hole and will be the determining factor in many a championship. A big open drive area allows you to unwind, but one must be very careful with the second shot as a creek crosses the fairway in a strategical position. You must hit enough club to carry it for your third. The green with water on the right lies in a beautiful desert oasis.

The Mountain Course is not as challenging, but is a fun couples course with very undulating greens.

Desert Willow is home to the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational Tournament and the new National Intercollegiate Golf Invitational named "The Prestige at Palm Desert." Stanford University and the University of California at Davis host this 3-day collegiate golf extravaganza.

The new clubhouse with dramatic mountain views features a 2,000-square-foot Golf Shop with high-end merchandise and a six-foot cigar case with more than 25 brands including a private label Desert Willow Churchill cigar. The Grill offers tantalizing breakfast and lunch dishes, and the bar has select libations to go with spectacular views.

No golfing trip to the desert is complete without teeing it up at Desert Willow.

Desert Willow Golf Resort
38-995 Desert Willow Drive
Palm Desert, California 92260

Georg von Suder, Contributor

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