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Firecliff Course at Desert Willow Golf Resort: The beautiful brute of Palm Desert, California

Judd SpicerBy Judd Spicer,
Desert Willow Golf Resort - Firecliff Course - 18
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Desert Willow's Firecliff is the most challenging of the resort's two fine golf courses. (Courtesy of Chris Miller/Imagine Imagery )

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- When packing for a golf getaway, it's sometimes important to store a little hope alongside your dopp kit and sock rolls.

Those who travel to the Palm Springs region to enjoy the spectacular grounds that make up the Desert Willow Golf Resort will soon discover what locals have embraced since the resort debuted in 1997: Pack your sunscreen for the Mountain View Course and pack a lunch for the Firecliff Course.

While both of these Dr. Michael Hurzdan and Dana Frye (along with PGA vet John Cook) tracks impressively mirror the allure of the top-notch clubhouse, Desert Willow Golf Resort's Firecliff Course has to be counted among the Coachella Valley's most demanding venues.

"Mountain View is a little bit more playable for the average golfer," says Bruce Nation, director of sales and marketing at Desert Willow Golf Resort. "On Firecliff, all the tee boxes have forced carries, more similar to what you might see in Scottsdale, with little patches of grass and desert area before the tee. There are a few holes, even from the white tees, where you've got to carry it 190 yards to reach the fairway. For the good player: not really that big a deal. But for the player that's struggling to hit it 180 yards in the air, Mountain View might be a little friendlier for them."

Few courses in the area combine the test, manicured turf, wildlife sightings and wealth of desert vegetation offered by the Firecliff. Playing at more than 7,000 yards from the tips and sporting the afore-noted challenges from the box, the Firecliff truly lights the wick with ample bunkering and a host of trying green structures. Really, aside from a benign run on Nos. 13-16, the average player will battle all day.

"The greens on Firecliff are more protected, with more water and more heavy bunkering around the fronts of the green," Nation says.

Desert Willow Golf Resort's Firecliff Course: Be ready for desert sands

Though the beauty abounds on this canvass, the mid-to-high handicappers will find themselves painting the scorecard with a sandy brush. But while the sand is prevalent throughout the round, the astute routing through acacia trees, oleander bushes, varied cacti, desert willows and bearded fan palms combine with the bunkering and occasional water hazard to pacify the intimidation of trying to par most of these holes.

"It a theme throughout the course -- there are a lot of bunker complexes out there; over 100 on the Firecliff," Nation says. "You've got to have your good sand game out there."

Letting you know the challenge to follow, Firecliff is ablaze from the outset. Though charting as the No. 11 handicap, the 535-yard par-5 first hole seemingly throws half of the 100-plus traps at you within the first 10 minutes of play. Bunkers guard both sides of the fairway and then reappear greenside en mass, requiring a shot both high and long to be putting in regulation.

Beginning with the 446-yard par-4 fourth, the impressive use of desert carving emerges. The look and feel of said directional routing finishes the front in style on the 455-yard par-4 ninth featuring lake water along the left side of the fairway and green. The seamless carving ensues at the turn, guiding toward a raised green on the par-4 10th and along the bowled fairway on No. 11.

As it does throughout, the Firecliff brings you home having made a special impression with two water holes.

"No. 17 is a very good hole with water all down the right side," Nation says of the Firecliff's toughest par 3. "It's over 200 yards from the tips and even can be about 185 yards from the whites, depending where the pin is positioned. And No. 18 is a great par 5. Not super long, but it's protected well with a creek that protects your second shot and water around the green. You have a little thinking to do on that hole."

Desert Willow Golf Resort's Firecliff Course: The verdict

Without question, the duel golf courses at Desert Willow combine for one of the truly choice golf destinations in southern California. If you're planning to play both, start with the Mountain View before ascending to the more challenging Firecliff. Both present some of the desert's most manicured, native beauty, though the latter will prove a consistent test for the average player.

"The Firecliff was challenging and you had to play your shots right, or else you'll be in serious trouble and really run up a score," says Jag Delal of Hartford, Conn. "This is one of those golf courses that has both the scenery and the great course conditions."

Desert Willow Golf Resort: Instruction and facilities

The grounds offer full practice facility, and custom club fitting and instruction is available to players of all levels via the on-site Palm Desert Golf Academy.

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Judd Spicer is an award-winning, veteran freelance writer hailing from St. Paul, Minn. After 12 years of covering MLB, NBA, NCAA and the active golf landscape of the Twin Cities, he relocated to the Palm Spring, Calif. region to further pursue his golf work and Champions Tour dream. Sporting measured distance off the tee, Spicer refers to his pitching wedge as his "magic wand." Follow Judd on Twitter at @juddspicer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • desert willows

    bill wrote on: Feb 22, 2012

    We played there last week(2/19/12) it was not the sqaem place we played two years ago. It seemed as though there have been cuts int he budget of the maintenance staff. The first couple holes around the clubhouse looked great. however by the back nine the tee boxes look like they have not been looked after in a couple weeks. Around the greans wwas the same thing.
    The round took 5 hoiurs as there was no ranger in sight. We had a foursome with two women with high handicaps and still waited on every shot. The ranger drives by on 18 and askes how the round was.
    They are very proud of there rates and for these rates we expected more. We played the classic club the day before and it was way better. Will not be running back.