Built in the mid 1980’s as part of the PGA West lavish vacation home development, the Arnold Palmer Private course nestles at the foot of the scenic Santa Rosa Mountains. This is an array of wonderful visual holes that weave among manmade water hazards and manufactured rolling desert topography to present a onerous challenge emulating the TPC design tradition propagated by PGA Commissioner Dean Beman at that time.
The course has been a regular feature of the tour’s Bob Hope Desert Classic (and it’s later commercial iterations). You may remember it as the place where you saw David Duval shoot his remarkable 59 in the final round to win the 1999 event.
An oasis sculpted out of the desert for your recreation and enjoyment
Arnold was obviously keeping up with the Dye’s who created the neighboring the PGA West Stadium Course at the same time in following the TPC formula of cookie cutter driving areas, flanked by ominous water and deep bunkers, and tight green complexes with large undulating surfaces. It is not a track for the meek of heart or those who lack trajectory and spin in their game. For the pros the slope is an impossible 143 and mere mortals face a stiff 133 from the 6500 tees.
The approach on the drive and pitch 8th is anything but easy to negotiate
This course was designed to be taken on full bore. The only way to play it is Arnold’s way, roll up your shirtsleeves and be aggressive. The biggest challenge is in the four pars and not necessarily the longest ones. The par fives are relatively mundane and similar in design except the finishing hole which has some chutzpah (Duval hit driver, 5-iron to 8 feet and drained it for eagle to cap off his 59). The par threes have lots of visual interest but not that much bite. The front nine works clockwise away from the clubhouse to the north and back. The back nine mimics the pattern in a counterclockwise direction which means that given the day’s desert wind direction you should have the same difficulty factor on half the holes on each side.
One of Arnie’s many cape holes-water all the way up and a forced carry to boot
The real treachery is in the multitude of forced carry cape par fours strewn throughout the layout. Holes like 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, and 16 all use the same combination of harrowing water adjacent the full length of the hole with a tight green complex cordoned by water as well. When you get deep into the back nine you reach the Venetian section of the course from the 14th on where the canals haunt every shot and the only thing missing are the voices of gondoliers humming a sad tune if your shots get wayward right.
Part of the Venetian Stretch approach to the 16th must contend with the canal
These final holes are spectacular to look at, set up against the foot of the mountains with towering sheer rock faces looking over your right shoulder on every swing. At least the short holes are short and it ends with a Par 5 so maybe you can find some redemption for your scorecard at the end.
Duval hit 5-iron to 8 feet and made eagle-the cherry on top of his 59 Sundae
This is a high end facility so the conditioning of the course-fairways and greens-is impeccable. They keep them on the pacey end of the Stimpmeter so you will have to mind your approach position to try to leave yourself uphill putts you can handle. Cavernous bunkers throughout are real hazards as are some of the grass mogul fields that abut many of the green complexes. As I have seen on other TPC style courses most of your recovery game is with a sand iron or a loft club.
This image of the Par 3 15th will cling to your memory long after the round is done
The rest of the facility is first class as well. They have a wonderful informal dining area that overlooks the staging area and sprawling natural grass practice grounds which you should take advantage of for a post game lunch and lick your wounds session.
Palm Desert, California
Designer: Arnold Palmer (1986)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Black 72 6950 74 143
Blue 72 6492 71.4 133
Bl/Wh 72 6217 70.3 129
White 72 5995 69.3 126
Red 72 5226 71.2 133
To see more photos: Click to check out our Postcard From PGA West