PGA West Resort, La Quinta. Pete Dye Mountain Course by Pete Dye, 1981. Previously known as La Quinta Resort, Mountain Course.
A bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde course. The stretches of holes on each nine that touch the mountain are really excellent and dramatic—there’s nothing quite like how the San Jacinto Mountains rise steeply from the flat desert floor in the Palm Springs area—some of the best Dye holes I have seen.
On the other hand, there are stretches of mundane holes here you just don’t expect from Dye, since one of his hallmarks is the way he typically makes uninteresting pieces of ground into interesting golf holes.
The first two holes play through boring ground but with typical Dye flair—the first has an angled fairway and a small, elevated green, the second is a par 3 with water, dramatically shored up by railroad ties, hard down the entire left side.
The third heads straight toward the mountain. The drive is a position shot but the green is more elevated than in seems and the deep bunker in front deeper than it seems as well.
The fourth is the first of two par 5s here that artfully wrap around the mountain, using the steep edges themselves as obstacles. The hole is only 508 yards from the longest tee but the drive needs to flirt with the bunker down the right side in order to have an angle to go at the green in two. Drives in the center or left of the fairway are blocked by the steep edge of the mountain wall that the hole doglegs around.
The fifth is a short par 3 played in the looming shadow of the hills and the sixth again hugs the hillside, with mountain left and water right on the drive before an uphill second shot to a shallow green, again, more above you than it seems, protected by a signature Dye pot bunker in front and the desert mountain just long.
The course heads back toward the clubhouse from there with a trio of solid but unspectacular holes, typical ’80s Dye fare with small greens and dramatic hazards and angles that demand you face the music sooner or later. Fine holes but lacking in drama after those that came before.
It’s the start of the back nine where the course really loses its mojo. Not only do 10-13 suddenly break away from the open field where the course has been and play between homes, but they are oddly uninspired holes. Dye built plenty of courses in residential areas and on flat ground (all of the PGA West Stadium course is this) and created interest, so it’s sort of inexplicable how bland this run of holes is.
Things pick up at the 14th, which heads back up the mountain, in dramatic fashion. The 15th may be the course’s most famous hole, the other par 5 that twists around rocks. This one is a bit of a mirror of the fourth, bending left to right. Like the fourth, 15 is reachable, just 517 from the back tee and like the earlier hole you want to err to the outside edge of the fairway if getting home in two is your goal. But unlike the hole on the front nine, the mountain here intrudes closer to the green, the last 70 yards or so of the hole are tucked back into a pocket, so a good fade can help get you home even if your drive is in the middle or right of the fairway—you’ll just be hitting blindly around the edge of a mountain is all.
The 16th is essentially an island green, but unlike at PGA West down the road, the surrounding here is all desert. The tee is elevated and the green is big enough but when any wind picks up this becomes a difficult target to hit. But it remains one of the best views in Palm Springs.
The 17th and 18th here and not the most dramatic finishing holes that Pete Dye ever built, but I rather liked this short par 5 18th. It’s short enough that eagle seems possible, but there’s enough trouble that getting greedy could still lead to disaster. Certainly more unique than another version of the 18th at Sawgrass.
The course is showing its age a bit in bunkers and shaping, and the first few holes of the back nine feel like they belong somewhere else, but the holes that touch the mountain are good enough to be worth the price of admission. Dye rarely got really good, natural sites. Here he shows off what he could do when he had one.
California 2nd Quintile