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

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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.