Desert Dunes: Earthy, Sandy RTJ II Layout Is Just Blowing In The Wind

By David R. Holland, Contributor

Desert Dunes Golf Club may be away from the glitz and glamour of El Paseo Drive, where the ritzy, wealthy and celebrities visiting the Palm Springs area go to shop, but if you seek a more down-to-earth option in the midst of valet parking, this is the place for you.

It's a Wal-Mart location, not Neiman-Marcus.

But don't go expecting a dusty, browned-out muny, either. This is the only Robert Trent Jones II golf course in this desert golf oasis. Do expect to be challenged.

When the Senior PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament came here in 1999, the best winner Ray Carrasco could shoot was 74-69-68-70--281. Former San Francisco 49ers' QB John Brodie could only manage a 74-74-75-74--297. In 1995 during U.S. Open qualifying, a 10-over-par score of 154, was the best posted in windy conditions.

"We've hosted numerous Tour Qualifying events," said Harry Sailor, Desert Dunes' general manager, "and no one has torn up this layout. But for the average golfer you can move up to the forward tees and its very playable. I think most also like that it's fair, but you can experience some really interesting challenges getting up and down from off the greens."

Desert Dunes, just a short hike from the border of Joshua Tree National Park, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains, is also one of the only courses you can play in the desert without condo-lined fairways and buzzing traffic noise. That alone should make you want to play it. Just imagine a round without the fingernail-on-the-blackboard annoying sounds of gas leaf blowers.

On some tees there are views of tall sand dunes and the nearby San Jacinto Mountains and as you take your stroll you might see a red-tailed hawk fly over, a roadrunner beg for food, coyotes or fox. If you hear a rattling sound in the heat of summer ... well, you know.

Built in 1988 on 170 acres north of I-10, Golf Digest rated it 29th best public facility in the United States. Desert Dunes measures 6,876 yards at par 72, and is carved through the desert dunes with some holes lined by tamarisk and mesquite trees.

This rugged layout has small, firm greens (Bermuda Tifdwarf) which makes a low score even tougher on days the wind blows. The electricity-generating windmills you pass on your way to the desert from Los Angeles will give you a clue. It can get windy here. But that wind can help blow out that stinky, polluted air from Riverside that is always trying to reach the desert. Unfortunately, on some days, your spectacular view of the surrounding mountains will be murky. That's just a sad fact of over-populated California, an electricity-challenged state with price-gouging gasoline dealers.

Designer Jones II inserted some impressive features into this entertaining layout. Approaching the ninth green you will see a stone bridge, reminiscent of St. Andrews' Swilken Bridge and a huge waste area that separates the ninth and 18th fairways. The ninth is a 546-yard par-5 test and the 18th is your No. 1 handicap hole, measuring 443 yards from the back, a testy par-4 with a deep pot bunker in front and two-tiered green.

You might think of Carnoustie's spectacles bunkers on the fourth hole, a 406-yard, par-4. No. 14 is a Redan-styled par-3, at 192 yards, with the mountains perfectly framed in your shot view. Many say No. 16, a par-5, dogleg-right at 530 yards with water all along the left, reminds them of Jones' dad's 16th at Oakland Hills.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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