Fertile sands: Five must-play golf courses in Palm Springs

By Travel ArticlesJanuary 2, 2013, 5:00 am

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Resting amid potent mountain backdrops cut with spare desert beauty, and sporting an all-star cast of course architects, Palm Springs and the entirety of the Coachella Valley lives as one of the country's most alluring golf destinations.

And although a novel could be penned to detail the pleasures of the nearly 125 golf courses (public and private) that encompass the region, here are five destinations that are a must-play for all desert visitors.

Firecliff Course at Desert Willow Golf Resort

Some desert golf courses thrive on beauty while others boast a beast, but few combine the balanced draw of the two courses at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert.

High-handicappers will appreciate the property's more forgiving Mountain View Course, but the skilled will revel in the test of Desert Willow's Firecliff Course. Both of these Dr. Michael Hurdzan- and Dana Frye-crafted courses are worthy of play if you have time, and the beatific surrounds extend from clubhouse, to patio, to all 36 holes.

The desert carving through native vegetation is exceptional at Desert Willow, though the routing on the Firecliff isn't merely for sightseeing. Tee boxes ask for consistent carry over trouble and stimuli, though the task is far from concluded there. With better than 100 bunkers on the Firecliff, sand is pronounced, as are testy green surrounds that protect par throughout.

Marriott's Shadow Ridge Golf Club

The setting for Nick Faldo's first U.S. course design, the Australian Sandbelt-inspired Shadow Ridge Golf Club in Palm Desert presents one of the region's best tests of short-game creativity.

Generally benign boxes serve as an invite to all comers before approaches segue to 89 bunkers and a host of massive and well-undulating green structures that grab the rest of your bag. Before Sir Nick grants some clemency on the back nine with more manageable par 4s and a stadium-style finish through the resort, newcomers should be prepped for a tough front.

Throughout, getting up and down amid engaging greenside surrounds will have the learned player deciding between employing wedges, mid-irons, hybrids and flat sticks when navigating putting surfaces that consistently defend against one-putts.

Escena Golf Club

If Miles Davis played the 'Birth of the Cool,' then Escena Golf Club in Palm Springs plays as the desert's version of the Rebirth. Be sure to reserve some time to enjoy the architectural surrounds of the mid-century clubhouse design that serves as homage to Palm Springs' of yore.

But don't get too lost in the past. The first hole on these grounds drawn by Nicklaus Design will require ample concentration of the present. A 611-yard, par-5 bear that plays as the top handicap, the first hole grabs your collar from the outset. The inspired backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains and an ascending fairway climb toward a two-tiered green demands accuracy and focus.

The early eye-opener will claim a few doubles, but don't fret: This is a thesis of what's to come over the next 17 holes. Yes, the course gets easier, but the challenge of playing toward long, skinny greens with testy pins will balance attentions throughout.

SilverRock Resort

A calculating mix of visual inspiration and intimidation, the former host to the Bob Hope Classic (now the Humana Challenge) from 2008-11 truly rocks. SilverRock's Arnold Palmer Classic Course design presents an adjacency to Santa Rosa Mountain bases that are truly special -- even in a region with myriad mountain-drawn tracks.

Course navigation, study of subtlety and prudence prove paramount to making La Quinta's SilverRock a golden experience. While myriad area courses consistently handhold from the tee toward ample fairways, this isn't one of them. It's not that finding short grass is a Herculean feat (even from the tips at 7,578 yards); rather, it's a measure of expertly drawn visual variables such as plantings, rocks and waste areas that threaten to get inside one's visor.

First-timers will perform some neck craning to ensure apt direction, and ample study of a GPS is readily suggested. Play what you can see out here, and the enjoyment will be deservedly heightened.

Players Course at Indian Wells Golf Resort

The two tracks at Indian Wells Golf Resort amply splash color and character. To enjoy both, begin with Clive Clark's Celebrity Course, which presents a host of rolling play and engaging water holes.

But if only one day is allowed, don't miss Indian Wells' Players Course. The John Fought design is equally attractive, though a far more complex task. Once on the greens, players of all levels will enjoy a host of makeable putts. Getting to that stage is another matter.

Deep, demanding bunkers and onerous distance (six par 4s play at least 454 yards) are a constant, and navigating inside barranca routing will concurrently request accuracy to complement some distance. An apt impression of the test is tattooed on the 491-yard, par-4 home hole that's sculpted toward barranca on the right and bunkering to the left and behind the long green.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.