Gary Player delivers golfer-friendy design to Westin Mission Hills near Palm Springs


RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Gary Player has a formidable fitness reputation for working up his heart rate. But when playing his signature golf course at Westin Mission Hills, golfers will find themselves in a pleasantly mellow mood.

Westin Mission Hills' Gary Player Signature Course is the namesake's lone example of southern California design and serves as a credit to the 'Black Knight' in that Player created a versatile track that can not only stretch out for the low-handicapper (7,062 yards) but also appease the vacationer who seeks a resort-style game.

'I think there's a little mystery about it,' said Michael Macleod, director of sales and marketing at the Westin Mission Hills. 'Player is known for courses overseas in South Africa and the Middle East. He's got some courses in the southeast of the U.S., but not much in the West at all.'

Sister course to the Westin's Pete Dye, the Player offers more space and solitude than its sibling, tenets that have resulted in a course that's easier on both the eye and the scorecard.

'The Gary Player is very different from our Dye Course,' Macleod said. 'The Player is a little bit more wide open. It's a bit longer, a little more straightforward where there are very few doglegs or 'where are we going?' sort of stuff. But at the same time, it's a couple hundred yards longer than the Dye, so if you're a better player and want to play from [the] tips, there's plenty of challenge. But if you just play a few times a year, you can play it easy as well.'

But all siblings have something in common. In the case of the Player and the Dye, it's found in exceptional greens. The Player does differ in the green surrounds, however, with low-cut grass presenting more options (a sure nod to that resort player) to keep the wedge in the bag in lieu of putting up toward the pin.

And when the staff passes along putting tips, be sure to listen: Don't over-read these greens. Play to the hole.

Westin Mission Hills' Gary Player course's holes are short, memories will last a long time

Bowled fairways will gently cup askew tee shots on benign holes, but when the Player gets demanding it does so in full. Though all four of the par 3s chart among the course's six easiest handicap holes, each has its own distinct challenge.

To wit: No. 5 plays at 200 yards from the tips and is fronted by lake water with bunkering behind and to the right side of the green. On the eighth hole, water plays to the left, as does a sneaky greenside bunker. The diminutive, 158-yard 12th presents a tee shot that requires carry over both the drink and stone. No. 15 is the lone par 3 sans water, though a massive dune stands before player and pin.

All told, the Player sports better than 20 acres of varied water features and will play at its most memorable when the drink comes into play.

Before the turn, the demanding, 447-yard par-4 ninth is the top handicap hole with water playing to the left of the deep fairway and running all along the left side of the green. No. 12 is a 558-yard par 5 that flips the senses with a water hazard that stands the length of the hole's right side before a tricky, three-tiered green takes your approach.

The homestretch serves as homage to the designer's stamina.

'No. 16 is a very long par 4 at 450 yards and No. 17 is a very long par 5 at almost 600 yards,' Macleod said of two tests that eschew water hazards for length and well-placed bunkering. 'And the par-4 18th is a great hole with water and some decisions to make off the tee with a narrow landing area and going back into the prevailing wind.'

Westin Mission Hills' Gary Player Course: The verdict

'Very playable for the average golfer and well-designed for the player of average ability,' said Richard Gary, a mid-handicap snowbird living in Palm Desert. 'The par 3s were very pretty with water and rocks. A really fun course to play -- challenging, but it didn't beat you up.'

The sticks will appreciate the Player's distance, while high-handicappers will enjoy the water challenges, wide landing areas and continuous mountain vistas.

GPS isn't in play, though 150-yard fairway poles serve as apt guides and the truly prepared will make ample use of both the supplied yardage card and the Westin's exceptional 'Virtual Tour' on their Web site.

Westin Mission Hills Resort: Instruction and facilities

Full practice facility is offered and private instruction is available to players of all levels via the Barry Clayton Golf Academy. Tip: Make certain to note that the Player and Dye Courses are located at separate sites, just about a mile apart.