California has long been my favorite state to visit. Diverse and spectacular natural settings, often-perfect weather, great food and a lineup of iconic attractions all make it an incredible state for travel. There aren’t many better states for golf than California, either. While the state’s impressive number of famous, top-ranked private clubs is practically unrivaled in America, its public golf scene is also extensive and excellent.
My wife and I have been out to California several times in the last decade, including destinations such as San Diego, Monterey, Los Angeles and the Bay Area. However, I hadn’t visited the popular Palm Springs region since early childhood, and it seemed like the perfect place to escape Wisconsin’s brutal mid-winter season this year. With temps topping out around 70 each day, unlimited sunshine and no humidity, we spent a long weekend late in January soaking in the rays and enjoying the picturesque setting of the Coachella Valley.
While this was a shorter trip, I of course found time for a couple rounds at nearby public properties. First up was SilverRock Resort, just blocks away from the main PGA West facility. This layout has made appearances in some notable course rankings, including Golfweek’s Best Public Courses in California. With a setting butted up against mountains and no residential development on site (unlike the vast majority of Palm Springs-area venues), this course seemed right up my alley.
SilverRock has a unique, ever-evolving history as an upscale public facility owned by the city of La Quinta. Since its inception in 2005 under the direction of Arnold Palmer Design, the course has constantly gone under the knife to enhance both regular and tournament play. It was the home course of the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic from 2008-2011, before the event moved on to PGA West. After years of tinkering with the design, the back nine underwent a more comprehensive redesign in 2017.
A luxury resort development has been in progress on the property for several years. Due to delays in the construction schedule and financing issues, the resort remains unfinished, with partially built structures bordering several holes. This unfortunately took away from the otherwise stellar aesthetic of the course when I played it, but I can imagine that once completed the resort will look fantastic next to the beautiful golf property. The amenities and overall experience should also improve with a new clubhouse included in the project plans.
La Quinta, CA
Architect: Arnold Palmer
Par 72: 7239/6809/6313/5669/5089/4542 Yards
It had been two months since I last played outdoor golf on grass, so the state of my game was certainly a huge question mark coming into this round. In that regard, SilverRock may not have been the optimal choice for my first round on the trip – it can be a penal course. Nonetheless, I came out of the gate swinging well, hitting the first four greens in regulation to fuel a nice even par start. Golf is easy when you hit fairways and greens!
The par 4 fourth hole was my favorite of this opening stretch, a short dogleg left with an intimidating tee shot over desert and around a large waste bunker to the left. Trust is the key word on this tee shot, as the optimal route is over a palm tree up the right side to a hidden portion of the fairway. Accurate drives will be rewarded with a short iron in from a flat lie, vitally important to approaching this well-defended elevated green.
Unfortunately, once rusty swings inevitably started making their appearances, I found out why SilverRock is such a challenging layout. While the fairways are generously wide, the approach shots are demanding and don’t offer many options. Most of the green sites feature infringing steep-faced traps and many are closely guarded by water hazards, as well. Recovery shots from around the greens proved to be especially daunting, as bailout areas usually came with tricky chip shots over ridges and down slopes.
The course features a mix of short and long par 4’s, but very few of the mid-length variety. As a result, my wedges and long irons/hybrids were tested significantly, but my mid-irons didn’t get as much action as I would expect in a normal round.
The toughest approach shots came on the longer par 4’s, which often featured large bunkers fronting greens. The first of these beastly par 4’s came on the sixth, an uphill 430-yarder. From 200 out, my hybrid from the fairway came up just short in the front bunker. After taking three hacks to get out of the sand (note: my sand play was super rusty), my round went from very good to mediocre in one fell swoop with a crushing triple bogey.
The recently redesigned back nine featured many of the same themes found on the front, but the penal features and lack of strategic options on some holes were even more severe. Those spots were mixed in with a few interesting holes located in pleasant natural surroundings that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The 11th was one of the my favorite holes on the back nine, a newly-created par 3 from the 2017 redesign. After clearing a large pond, players will find an incredibly deep and narrow green. The putting surface is so deep that pin placement could account for a 5- or 6-club difference between front and back locations. The pin was all the way back for us, making this a 200-yard shot. While this certainly added difficulty to the hole, it did allow my mishit hybrid to find the green, albeit far from the pin.
The 14th is a fun par 5 playing alongside the mountain and a canal to the left, before finishing at an elevated green bordered by sand and palm trees to the right. This well-defended green complex and abundance of trouble surrounding the hole will sets up a solid risk-reward proposition for longer hitters.
The 17th is a long par 3 over water that frustrated me with its lack of strategic options. Its “pick your poison” design forces golfers to either take dead aim at a tough pin placement or bail out to an extremely challenging angle.
The back tee is a 240-yard, all-carry proposition – don’t go there unless you’re a true ringer. Even from the more reasonable tee I played, I found it tough to commit to an aggressive line with my five iron, and pulled the tee shot left and long into the sand. I thought it might be a decent spot to miss with green to work with, but instead I was faced with a near-impossible flop down a steep slope with water in play long.
While SilverRock has its flaws, most notably the penal design and lack of strategic options for the mid-handicapper, I still enjoyed the property and would recommend it on a visit to the area. A greens fee of just under $200 on a peak season weekend is reasonable considering the much higher price-tags found across the street at PGA West.
SilverRock’s setting against the mountains feels truly secluded in a hidden corner of an otherwise bustling tourist region, and it’s a memorable spot that I’m glad I experienced. The course was also in outstanding shape when I played it, with lush fairways and quick, smooth greens.
SilverRock didn’t quite crack my Top 50 Rankings, but it made the honorable mention section and would likely ascend several spots once the resort development is completed, which would improve the property’s look and amenities.
All-in-all, this is a solid city-owned public layout that complements the region’s other offerings quite well, and most golfers won’t come away disappointed from a round at SilverRock.