The Classic Club in Palm Desert: Still making waves in the sand

By Travel ArticlesMarch 23, 2012, 4:00 am

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- While stately in scale, it's the smaller accents meshing with the grandeur of the Classic Club that chart this golf course among the Coachella Valley's most classy operations.

To wit, the green fee experience includes: complimentary valet, divot tool, food voucher, ball marker, yardage book, bottled water on the course, and a club towel.

The Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Club was built to be an annual host to the former Bob Hope Classic, although it only fulfilled said aim for three years (2006-08). Brady Wilson, director of golf at the Classic Club, acknowledges that the track was given a windy reputation by the PGA Tour pros that once stalked these grounds.

'The initial vision for the course to be the permanent home for the Hope didn't materialize after those three years. Some unfortunate events occurred,' Wilson says. 'It's unfortunate that we've been labeled as a 'windier course' than anyone else. Yeah, we're over here on the other side of the I-10 and yeah, we're in the open. But when it's windy in the Valley, it's windy everywhere.

'People saw it on TV and Phil [Mickelson] made some comments and you get that reputation, and perception -- as we all know -- can become reality. So we fight it a little bit and we all wish we could go back and have that go a lot differently. However, the golf course is still an amazing facility.'

Much to their credit, the Classic Club has turned transition into opportunity. The facility is counted among the desert's top charitable tournament destinations, hosting nearly 2,700 such rounds in 2010 alone.

Classic Club: A mesh of flora and fauna -- and water

As one of just eight golf courses in the Coachella Valley to have earned status as a 'Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary,' a Classic Club round ensures that an errant shot won't be the only thing wild. Amid the 5,000 plantings, 30 acres of water, and flowing undulation upon these 7,300 playable yards are a host of nature sightings. Should you observe unique wildlife, make note of the observation in the clubhouse registry.

The presence of water is formidable here beyond just the bottled variety. With the hazard playing on 13 holes and fairways oft-rolling toward the drink, the Classic Club counts among the area's most water-featured courses.

The 408-yard, par-4 first hole presents a host of immediate stimuli with water adjoining the left of the fairway coupled with a deep mountain backdrop. Prep to dig in your spikes on the fourth hole. This 568-yard par 5 presents the need to carry water off the tee along with desert death to the left.

From an elevated tee box, the 477-yard, par-4 seventh offers an impressive view of the clubhouse. The hole also introduces Classic Club's demanding double-water green feature, with the drink guarding both the front and side of the green. The par-5 ninth is the golf course's longest hole at nearly 600 yards; foliage runs rampant on the right side of this fairway while a lake guards the left. Double-water again comes back into play here with a stony creek snaking before the green.

The 12th hole is among the most scenic on the grounds. The 162-yard par 3 requires a carry over water, coupled with a massive greenside bunker.

The drink winds you home. The 349-yard 15th hole is the shortest par 4 on the course, but defends with water and bunkering all along the left of this skinny fairway. A lurking lake ensues along the entire right side of No. 16; this 436-yard par 4 will prove nightmarish for the slicer. No. 18 is a true championship hole. This 564-yard par 5 from an elevated tee presents water along the entire right side of both the fairway and green, making the approach a decided test for all players.

Classic Club: Instruction and facilities

There is a full practice facility on-site, offering a short-game area, putting green, practice bunker and superb driving range. Lessons are available from a selection of five different instructors. Within the palatial, Tuscan-inspired clubhouse is Bellatrix Restaurant, offering lunch and dinner to couple with an exceptional wine list replete with regional selections.

Classic Club: The verdict

A former PGA Tour stop, the Classic Club refuses to sulk on 'what may have been.' Rather, the facility presents one of the Coachella Valley's most all-encompassing golf and dining experiences. The beginner will occasionally match undulating fairways with rolling eyes, yet this inspired mix of championship design, nature and impressive service do ample justice to one of the state's finest clubhouses. The classy ideology on which the club was founded amply endures.

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Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation

By Doug FergusonMarch 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.

Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.

He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.

''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''

Generational debates are nothing new.

Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.

Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?

''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.