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Palm Springs: Golf courses for architecture junkies

Judd SpicerBy Judd Spicer,
Classic Club golf course
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The Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Club is among the staunchest tests of golf in the Coachella Valley. (Courtesy of Classic Club)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Celebrity architects may still be a relatively new concept in golf, yet the "Authors of AutoCAD" are now as much an attraction to a course as playing conditions, historical reference or clubhouse amenities.

To conquer a hole is to fell a designer in name, an interpersonal bragging right to say to your buddies, "I just handled Pete Dye." Few regions on the planet offer such a collective celebrity designer gauntlet as Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley region.

Here are four area tests that are certain to peak the interests of those with an ardor for architecture:

Classic Club

Host to the Bob Hope Classic (now the Humana Challenge) from 2006-08, the Arnold Palmer-designed grounds of the Classic Club count among the staunchest tests of golf in the Coachella Valley. The Classic Club was removed from the Hope rotation, in part, because of a windy rep. But don't let that blow you away from experiencing the gravity of these grounds.

The mosaic of 5,000 plantings softens the course's overt muscle, but mid-handicappers will still stand on many tee boxes considering just how good the pros were to have conquered some of these holes. Among the stoutest are the par 5s at Nos. 9 and 18.

The front-side finisher is the top handicap hole at 595 yards, featuring water along the left of the fairway and creeking before the green. At 564 yards, the home hole plays from an elevated tee and will prove a monster should a prevailing wind blow over your visor. Water runs the entire length of the right side and fronts the green on the 18th, serving as a reminder for whom this track was crafted.

South Course at Indian Canyons Golf Resort

Ready for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro? Sure, golf's return to the Games after more than a century's absence is still a few years away, but true design junkies will relish in the opportunity to prep for the 31st Olympiad with a round on the South Course at Indian Canyons Golf Resort. Redesigned in 2004 by Casey O'Callaghan and representing the first design-consulting project for LPGA Hall of Famer Amy Alcott, the South is regarded among the top courses for women in the country.

Now, Alcott will team with architect Gil Hanse to design a new track in Rio for the 2016 Games, and to hear Alcott speak toward the Rio course is to envision a similar degree of playability that makes the South such a pleasure for shorter hitters.

Marriott's Shadow Ridge Golf Club

With 22 courses in locations as diverse as Vietnam, Canada, Germany, and Cyprus, Nick Faldo's course design career has begun to mirror the worldwide influence that defined his playing days.

Marriott's Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert represents Faldo's first American project. Inspired by the Australian Sandbelt region, the grounds are a readily enjoyable mesh of pronounced bunkering and resort playability, a boast that too few courses in the desert sport with such seamlessness. Finding landing areas is generally a benign pursuit for the average player, as most fairway traps serve as signs that your driver is out of sorts.

Approaches are a different story, however, as sizeable, well guarded greens combine tricky undulation with testy collection areas. A studied and creative short game is required to score and players will want to prep for greenside sand and the aim of ample two-putts.

TPC Stadium Course at PGA West

Aptly regarded among the most difficult courses in the country, the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West plays as if Pete Dye woke up in a foul mood one morning and designed a track to mirror a rumpled bed sheet from a restless slumber.

It's not just the mass of dune bunkering or nine water holes that pronounce this a monster; rather, it's the endless rise of moguls and retreat of depressions that roll your way toward very subtle greens. It's truly a challenge to find a calm lie on the grounds. Given the continually penal design, PGA Tour pros petitioned to have the course removed from the then-Bob Hope Chrysler Classic rotation after just one year. The Stadium has been softened in years since, but this is still the toughest track in the Valley.

The finishing three tests offer a blunt challenge for the best of players. No. 16 is a 600-yard par 5 with long and deep bunkers that play to the left of the tee before reappearing before the deep left fairway. The 17th is Dye's homage to his design at TPC Sawgrass, sporting an island green with a green depth of just 27 yards. Coming home, No. 18 is a beast of a par 4 at 439-yards, presenting water along the entire left side of the fairway and green, coupled with bunkering running all along the right.

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Classic ClubShadow Ridge Golf ClubShadow Ridge golf course

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • PGA West TPC Stadium Course

    Harold wrote on: Jul 10, 2012

    I played this course in June of this year. I don't know what all the fuss is about. My brother-in-law, who has a place in Palm Dessert, told me the same thing: hardest in the valley, 5th hardest in Ca., and 15th hardest in the US. I am a high handicapper (25) and I shot a 97. Keep the ball in the fairway and there are no problems. My problem is I can't putt, anywhere... lol