No cactus on Mission Hills courses – just excellent golf

No cactus on Mission Hills courses – just excellent golf

Westin Mission Hills Resort features iconic courses by Pete Dye and Gary Player

Reid Nelson Editor
image (Photo courtesy of Westin Mission HIlls Resort)
The 13th hole of the Gary Player Course at the Westin Mission Hills Resort in Palm Springs.

In the great American Southwest, there is desert golf. And then there is Palm Springs.

Technically, Palm Springs, the specific, is a small municipality located some two hours’ drive southeast of greater Los Angeles. But more commonly, Palm Springs, the generic, refers to an area of the Coachella Valley that includes nine such townships.

More important to golf enthusiasts, the greater Palm Springs area offers more than 50 golf courses, most of which welcome traveling golfers. 

In fact, it’s arguable that the area was built and has grown around golf. Several of the nine municipalities have names that are now synonymous with the game – names like Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells and La Quinta.

Palm Springs has been welcoming golfers, including the best Tour professionals, since the Thunderbird Invitational was first staged in 1954. In 1960, the tournament changed its name to the Palm Springs Desert Classic before morphing into the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1965.

Technically, the January fixture on the PGA Tour hasn’t borne the late comedian’s name since 2012. But when the CareerBuilder Challenge is played in early 2016, don’t be surprised when golf fans everywhere still refer to it as “The Hope.”

Recently, Metro Golf Magazines staffers visited the Palm Springs area and the golf-rich Coachella Valley. In the coming days and weeks, will review some of the valley’s best, most high-profile courses. The first of this series focuses on the Westin Mission Hills Resort.

RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIF. – About two hours southeast of Los Angeles via Interstate 10, one comes to Exit 130, a concrete ramp that leads to Bob Hope Drive. If you take a right on Bob Hope and drive for another minute or so, you’ll find yourself at the intersection of Dinah Shore Drive.

One more right turn and in less than a minute, you’re at the famed Mission Hills Resort, now part of the worldwide network of luxury lodging facilities flying the Westin flag. If you’ve never been to this part of the world before, what better way to be introduced to what the greater Palm Springs area is all about than these three names – Bob Hope … Dinah Shore … Mission Hills.

Nowadays, the mere mention of Palm Springs conjures up two thoughts – legendary entertainment and golf. And why not? Both played key roles in making the Coachella Valley one of the most famous destinations in the world.

At the heart of valley, tucked against the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south is the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa, or as most simply call it, Mission Hills. A lush 360-acre oasis in an otherwise grey-brown desert, Mission Hills pampers guests with luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, tennis, swimming, fitness programs and a world-class spa.

But this is a golf publication, so it was the golf that brought Metro Golf to Mission Hills, and once again, it was the perfect introduction to the Palm Springs area.

Mission Hills Resort features two courses, both designed by icons in the golf world. The Pete Dye Course, one of several Dye creations in the valley, is a 6,700-yard, par-70 layout located just a few steps from the registration desk in the resort’s main lobby. The Gary Player Signature Course (with holes 9 and 18 featured on left), a par-72 test stretching nearly 7,100 yards from the back tees, is a five-minute drive away, thanks to the resort’s complimentary shuttle service.

And the striking thing about both is, once on the course, you’d never know you’re in the desert.

If you’ve played golf at other desert destinations, be it Phoenix/Scottsdale, Tucson, or Las Vegas, for example, you likely have a predictable image of desert  golf that involves isolated playing areas – tees, fairways and greens – of perfectly manicured turfgrass surrounded by native desert expanse dotted with rocks, cacti and scrub. Every errant shot means dealing with nature’s hostilities.

While it can be quite beautiful, desert flora, especially a thorny cactus, can be quite hostile.

But at Mission Hills’ two courses, it is literally impossible to hit your ball into the desert. That’s because both courses are carpeted wall-to-wall. It’s a practice that characterizes golf in the Palm Springs area and that’s why we say “There is desert golf, and then there is Palm Springs.”

Comparing the two courses at Mission Hills, the first thing that jumps to mind is the difference in yardage. But bear in mind, the Dye Course (with hole 18 featured to right) plays to a par-70, two strokes less than the Player, so distance-wise, there is no difference at all. The real difference is found in the demands the courses place on the golfer.

While both make sound, strategic use of water and bunkering, the Player Course is more user-friendly, with wider landing areas and greens that, for the majority, are less dictatorial in the type of shots they will accept. And maybe because it sits outside the gates of the resort, proper, the Player Course seems more tranquil and less confining, even though both courses feature their share of real estate development along the fairways.

But at the Player Course, real estate seems to blend into the background, as holes sometimes parallel other holes and approach shots are usually framed by distant mountains.

The course offers great variety, not only in the clubs it asks the player to hit but in the number of times it rewards a fade versus a draw.  And once on the greens, there are no drastic undulations to deal with, although the subtle breaks Player put in these greens can often be more frustrating than easier-to-see contours.

One of the best holes on the course is the 558-yard 11th, a true risk/reward par-5 where water is in play on every shot. If you take a more cautious tack, generous landing areas await both the drive and second shot. But if you want to reach this one in two, you must fit your drive into the narrow part of the hourglass fairway, pinched by water from the right and big trees on the left.

Find the narrow target off the tee and you’ll have a reasonable chance to reach the green in two, provided you can carry the water that guards both the front and right side of a three-tiered putting surface.

Though the majority of holes on the Player Course feature water, few, if any, put water in play to the degree the 11th does. For the most part, the designer gives you plenty of room to play golf without drowning any balls.

Great examples are 13 and 14, two relatively short par-4s with water to the left of more- than-generous fairways. In both cases, Player could have brought the water up much closer to the green but didn’t, something the resort player no doubt will appreciate.

And at the par-4 409-yard finishing hole, water to the right adds a stunning visual feature, complete with rocks and numerous waterfalls. But only the most poorly executed shots risk finding the hazard. That’s because the already wide fairway – one of the most generous on the course – plays even wider because of the angle of the tee shot.

It’s an altogether appropriate way to end a round at a resort that makes guests feel welcome at every turn.

(All photos courtesy of Westin Mission HIlls Resort)

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