Golf in the desert
I recently enjoyed the opportunity to play golf in the desert.
Part of the experience certainly differed from my usual game in the Cape Region, but there was quite a bit of the familiar as well.
My brother Dave and his wife Maggie invited us to join them at Marriott’s Shadow Ridge II - The Enclaves resort in Palm Desert, Calif., a 10-mile ride from Palm Springs International Airport.
Nick Faldo designed the Shadow Ridge golf course on the property. His first course in North America, it opened in 2001.
In my experience with golf layouts designed by famous touring professionals, their course elements often coincide with their own distinctive and successful playing tendencies.
For instance, Jack Nicklaus tended to favor a high fade. Darned if that isn’t a great way to play Bayside Resort or The Peninsula, among other Nicklaus courses I have played.
Faldo’s design company website says, “Our fairways are typically generous and our bunkering style is strikingly bold with greens that have plenty of subtle undulations to reward and encourage a variety of approach shots.”
In his competitive heyday, Faldo developed a reputation for precision play, especially with his approach shots. The greens complexes at Shadow Ridge reflected those skill requirements, in my opinion.
In fact, on the back side of the Shadow Ridge scorecard Faldo is quoted: “Miss the putting surfaces here and your ball will invariably roll into a tightly mown collection area or into a greenside bunker.”
He was not kidding.
I slightly pulled my approach shot on the first hole. It landed in the left greenside bunker, about five feet below the green level.
I hit a thin eight-iron approach from 125 yards over the left greenside bunker on the 328-yard par 4 eighth hole. The hole was perched on a small tongue at the front of the green. My ball headed straight for the pin but disappeared. I found it at the bottom of the closely mown deep swale separating the bunker from the elevated green, about 40 feet from the hole. From down there, I had to jump to see the hole location.
Chipping was out of the question. The ball could roll back to my feet if too short and roll well past the hole if hit too hard.
I am normally fine with putting from off the green, but it was a total guess how hard to hit this one. It felt lucky that my first attempt stopped 6 feet from the hole. In retrospect, the eventual bogey was perhaps the best result of the mishit eight-iron.
Dave put his tee shot on the short par 3 17th hole on a steep slope in the left rough, about 6 feet above the green. However, he made a great chip and the ensuing par putt.
Palm Desert is relatively flat, but the course had some surprising elevation changes, and not just around the greens. At many locations on both sides, the rough and the area beyond created a bowl-like effect, helping to redirect shots toward the fairway if they weren’t hit too far offline. These features reminded me of the Green Course at Golden Horseshoe in Williamsburg, Va., a Rees Jones design also designed for the resort/vacation golfer.
We played on Nov. 8, a bit more than a week after the course reopened after the annual Bermuda-to-rye turf switchover. As a Marriott staffer explained, each October the course superintendent oversees the “scraping” of the Bermuda grass, as relatively cooler nights trigger its dormant cycle.
The layout is overseeded with rye and watered regularly for about a month, until the new grass sprouts and fills in. The return of hot weather in the spring kills the rye and restores the Bermuda grass.
Playing so soon after the switch meant we had to keep our carts on the paths, which lessened the utility of the GPS units in the carts. Better access was expected as winter approached.
The turf still seemed a bit thin in some spots but with signs elsewhere of vigorous growth. The greens were smooth, if a little slow.
The golf course, putting green and practice range were the only green areas in the entire resort. The rest was xeriscaped, with multiple shades of brown predominating.
Despite temperatures around 90 degrees, very low humidity made for a comfortable round.
The need to change planes in Denver, Colo., in both directions convinced me to use Ship Sticks to bring my clubs to the desert. I wrote about the popular club delivery system in this column several years ago.
The process was painless and not too expensive, especially with the company’s email discount offer for free return shipping if I used ground freight. The folks at Parcel Plus on Route 1 north of Rehoboth Beach were very accommodating. I used their boxing and packing service, and saved more dollars by having FedEx pick up the clubs at their shop instead of my home.
The clubs went out seven days before our round and returned five days after FedEx picked them up at Shadow Ridge.
We had a fun time, and I would like to return someday.