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|The waterfall on Eagle Falls' 18th isn't Niagara, but you'll remember it. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)|
Get on Eagle Falls Golf Course while you can: With a "postage stamp," a waterfall and beautifully devilish wildflowers, the new golf course at Fantasy Springs Resort near Palm Springs is a fun play few golfers have discovered yet.
INDIO, Calif. - It's hard to hide a 44-foot waterfall, but Fantasy Springs Resort does a good job of it. The Native American casino's Eagle Falls Golf Course gets about as much promotion as Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign.
It looks like plenty of money's been pumped into the course itself. Eagle Falls looks, feels and plays like a high-roller retreat. But it's as public as your average neighborhood muni, and the peak $115 green fee is hardly a Coachella Valley high.
Yet hardly anyone appears to know about it. On a recent beautiful Friday afternoon, the last twosome finished up shortly after 3 p.m. The staff seemed to outnumber the golfers.
"Most of our play has come from word of mouth," Head Professional Robb Mihelic said.
The word's all good, once you find the place. Eagle Falls is set back from the $200 million casino, behind even the bowling alley where kids hold birthday parties while grownups gamble down the hall.
There are signs of construction and dust on the way, but once you make the final turn into the golf course, you'll find a new sparkling parking lot. On this day, Eagle Falls big lot had about three cars in it.
The clubhouse is a big temporary trailer. But it's a nice trailer and there is a separate one that houses a snack bar with plenty of seating. When Mihelic and I walked into it on this Friday afternoon when a huge music festival had packed the Coachella Valley with tourists, the only person there was the smiling server.
Tim Hurja, a well-respected Palm Springs golf packager and former area head pro who's seen it all in this region, had a similar experience when he played Eagle Falls earlier in the year in celebration of a friend's birthday. Hurja and his friend played midmorning and had tons of elbow room.
"It's this sweet new course with almost no one on it," Hurja said.
Which is, of course, sweet music to golfers' ears. What's better than a neat new play where you're not going to be spending all day waiting on backed up tees?
Mihelic says that Eagle Falls has actually done 3,000 rounds since it opened.
The golf course is definitely ready for golfers to enjoy.
Designer Clive Clark turned a flat piece of desert into a mildly rolling terrain of bends and curves. His crew planted enough wildflowers to make Martha Stewart dizzy. You feel like you have a lot of room out here, until you send another ball plopping into the thick, swaying grass.
"It's all about position," Mihelic said. "If you miss a fairway on the front nine, it's going to be a penalty."
Eagle Falls comes in at an almost old-school-quaint 6,751 yards (when was the last time you heard of a new course measuring less than 7,000?), but the best score through the first month of play here was a 71.
It isn't just thinking your way around the tall grass that trips you up; often you need to blast over it or daringly cut it.
"It's an interesting course, a little different," Hurja said.
Once other golf writers find their way here, two holes are sure to dominate the clippings.
No. 6 is Clark's take on the infamous Postage Stamp at Scotland's Royal Troon. Eagle Falls' version includes the requisite small-but-deep pot bunker below the green, but the thick wildflower grasses might torment you even more.
No. 18 is a marketer's dream. Some self-professed purists will decry any waterfall hole on general principle, equating it to shooting through a clown's mouth, but Eagle Falls' closer is a fun par-5 play.
There is a sizable water carry right en route to a green that juts out on a dramatic peninsula; many golfers lay up to leave themselves with a flop pitch. The cataract, back and to the left, is impressive, but unless you're as wild as Lindsay Lohan on a night out it's not going to factor into your score.
The rest of Eagle Falls offers several memorable shots involving raised tees and large, twisting greens. This isn't a course of gimmicks, 44-foot waterfall aside. It is a course you'll be happy you found.
Eagle Falls might never be as fun as it is now. There are no houses as yet (the owners, the Cabazon Band of the Mission Indians, have sold 295 lots to an outside developer). The tee sheets are wide open. The greens are fast but not too fast (around 10½ on the stimpmeter on this visit).
And the designer, who lives nearby, remains interested enough to come by and try tweaks.
"When Clive stops by - and he still stops in a lot - he'll always have something like, 'What do you think of moving a bunker over there,'" Mihelic said. "He has a real vision for this course and he's very hands on."
Underrated Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage gives you a retreat feel in the heart of the action, across the street from outdoor mall The River and close to the high-end downtown shops. Best of all is a pool scene with shooting water streams for the kids and plenty of lounging nanny babes.
Fantasy Springs has a number of sit-down restaurants and a Starbucks, but you're better off going to downtown Palm Springs and choosing from among the distinctive places on Palm Canyon Drive.
Fantasy Springs casino players can trade in points on their frequent gambler cards for rounds of golf.
July 11, 2007
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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