RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- In a metropolitan city, it's easy to disregard dated buildings that are doused in shade by taller, more modern structures. The image may also be applied to desert golf in the Coachella Valley, where a host of public courses from bygone eras are oft-bedimmed by tracks opened in the past 25 years.
But the 27 holes designed by Ted Robinson at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa continue to flourish in the shade. Opened in the late 1970s, the grounds maintain their relevance with an unapologetic wealth of shot-making opportunities, resort-style conviviality and scoring aplomb.
This is the essence of a confidence-builder.
'It's perfect for the average golfer,' said Brad Goldberg, membership & golf group sales manager at Rancho Las Palmas. 'I see so many guys come off the course happy here. It's a great feeling for people to finish and say, 'I broke 90.''
The three nine-hole courses at Rancho Las Palmas (North, West and South) present a mix-and-match opportunity for all levels, while each presents its own character of play.
'Each nine offered its own personality and its own different challenges,' said Matt McKay, a low-handicapper from Palm Springs. 'There was enough difference for them to be different, and there was enough similarity for congruity.'
The North Course at Rancho Las Palmas
'The North Course has two reachable par 5s in the first five holes and also a couple of drivable par 4s, which makes it fun,' Goldberg said.
Drastic elevation changes define this benign nine, and first-timers will likely comment upon the lack of GPS combined with the antiquated, color-coated yardage system upon both course and cart path.
While a host of curious approaches and bunker-faced greens await, the tee player with any semblance of accuracy should feast upon the 3,115 yards from the tips and allow the mature palms to point in the direction of sound scoring.
The West Course at Rancho Las Palmas
With an early run of holes that boast sudden distance before winding through the resort property, the West Course proves the most memorable of the nines.
'Once you start going through the West Course, it intertwines with the hotel, so aesthetically it's beautiful,' Goldberg said. 'It's a great, fun nine with two par 5s and three par 3s, so it's interesting.'
With gentle, grassy terrain through the wash area, the West indeed distinguishes itself. An identity of muscle begins on the 235-yard, par-3 second hole before seguing to the 645-yard par 5 on No. 3.
'The second hole, you get out of there with a par and you run,' Goldberg said. 'Then you've got one of the longer par 5s in the Valley at the third. Especially if you have the wind into you, a player needs to hit three really good golf shots. If you can get out of that stretch, you can do some damage on the West.'
After a great-looking, dogleg right on the par-4 fourth, the ensuing two holes offer the spectatorship of resort guests. Of Nos. 5 and 6, Goldberg noted:
'You look at them on paper and see a 300-yard par 4, which doesn’t look like much, but you've got water on the right and in front of a small green. The sixth is a par-3, which is just 130 yards but with water leading all the way to the green.'
The South Course at Rancho Las Palmas
At 3,218 yards, Rancho Las Palmas' South Course is the longest of the nines and will prove most engaging for the refined shot-shaper.
'If you want to be tested, the South Course is tough,' said Goldberg. 'Just one par 5 and some good par 3s. If you can score out there, you can score pretty much anywhere.'
The South grabs the collar with the short, 343-yard, par-4 No. 5 with water guarding the green. The par-5 sixth follows with an exceptional mountain backdrop before a testy, 362-yard, par-4 No. 7 demands the long-hitter to play short while wrapping around water to the right.
The 391-yard, par-4 ninth on the South presents a fine finishing test -- especially into a prevailing wind. As the top handicap hole, a sound tee shot is required before a readily entertaining approach that's all carry over water.
Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa: The verdict
This is the thesis of playability and a reminder that golf is meant to be an enjoyable activity.
Variety abounds, though stronger players prefer Rancho Las Palmas' South-West combination.
Employ the flexibility of these grounds (ample promotions at the resort readily allow for it), as this is an ideal spot to either jump out for a quick nine or extend your play with a day of all 27 holes.