Just Deserts: Where to Play in a Dry Heat

DS Golfer in Bunker 6107

A Great Escape at Marriott's Desert Springs Golf Course, Palm Desert, CA.

The desert is hot and full of sharp things like cacti, yuccas, pyramids, scorpions, and Las Vegas.  But it’s also home to some of the most beautiful and well-crafted golf courses on the planet—which isn’t to say that these won’t poke or bite you, as well.  Following are nine of my favorite places to seek green oases and the shimmering mirage of par.

Amen Corner

West of Tel Aviv on the shores of the Mediterranean, lies Caesarea Golf Club, Israel’s only 18-hole course.  Designed in 1961, the layout has been resurrected recently by Pete Dye.  The new course stretches to a nearly biblical 7,400 yards and playa through ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins.  The renovation included installation of salt-tolerant paspalum grass, new bunkers, elevation changes, and other features that will help to redefine the term, “hole-y land.”

Shadow Play

At Shadow Ridge Golf Club, in Palm Springs, architect Nick Faldo sought to recreate the flavor of great Australian Sand Belt courses.  He crafted generous fairways protected by bold, steep-lipped bunkering, all with a perky accent.  Faldo says, “I wanted a golf course that not only looks different from all the other courses in the desert, but which plays differently.  I sought to design a course that not only tests a player’s skill, but also his imagination and character.”  Golf.marriott-vacations.com.

Desert Islands

No pair of golf layouts defines desert target golf better than the 36 holes at Troon North, in Scottsdale.  The Pinnacle and Monument Courses— both designed by Tom Weiskopf— demand laser accuracy to islands of fluffy grass surrounded by seas of desert dangers such as rocks, cacti, arroyos, waste areas, and more.  Both courses were recently renovated and reconfigured to improve walkability.  Troonnorthgolf.com.

Play it Again

In Rabat, Morocco, Robert Trent Jones designed 45 holes at the Royal Dar es Salaam golf complex in 1971.  The name means “house of peace,” but playing the Red course from the back tees will suggest a different moniker: house of pain.  The muscular venue routes through cork and oak forest, mimosas, bougainvillea, palm, ficus, and banana trees.  It’s been designated as the toughest course on the European tour.  Royaldaressalam.com.

National Treasure

In the Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, Robert Trent Jones II’s Arizona National Country Club encompasses 6,916 yards of mesquite-lined arroyos, wide desert washes, stark rock outcroppings, and nine natural springs.  During construction, a biologist walked in front of bulldozers to help protect desert fauna, and horticulturists salvaged thousands of saguaro cacti, which now stand as a symbol of the course. GOLF Magazine described the 625-yard eleventh as “the best par six in Tucson.”  Arizonanationalgolfclub.com.

Native Grasses

No golf course is more closely aligned with Native American culture than Twin Warriors Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort, outside Albuquerque.  This tribally-owned Gary Panks masterwork routes in and around 20 ancient cultural sites.  Twelve arroyos and a sacred butte known as Snakehead lend further character to 400 acres of juniper, pinon, wildflowers, grassy knolls, and ridges.  An extinct volcano provides a startling backdrop to 7,736 yards of terrific golf.  Tamaya.hyatt.com.

Culling the Herd

At the Palmilla Resort, in Los Cabos, Jack Nicklaus designed three golf nines that are all tens, incorporating ocean, desert, and mountains into holes with an unbelievable fright quotient and daunting carries from the back tees.  Many of the bright green fairways are defined by golden arroyos.  Deep, wide chasms dare you to be a hero but may leave you bleating like a sheep.  Oneandonlyresorts.com.

Sandy Dunkin’

If your notion of deserts includes lots of sand, you’ll find exactly that at Quicksand Golf Course, a short camel ride from the airport in San Angelo, Texas.  The Hurdzan/Fry track provides an opportunity off every tee box to drive into the sand, though you might not be so quick getting back out.  Thegolfcourses.net.

Man in Black

The Westin Mission Hills resort, outside Palm Springs, is home to the Gary Player Course, which GOLF Magazine called “difficult, well-designed, and joyful.”  The 7,062-yard delight of stonework, waterfalls, receptive greens, lovely humps, and strategic bunkering is as elegant as Gary himself.  The fifteenth hole includes an island green surrounded not by water, but sand.  Westin.com/missionhills.

Nines that are Tens

Sixteen miles from Manzanillo, Mexico, Robert Von Hagge’s three nines at Isla Navidad Golf Club provide 27 reasons to play through this Chihuahuan Desert oasis.  The Lagoon, Mountain, and Ocean layouts combine classic golf course architecture with classic Mexican architectural features such as niches with hand-made folk art and stained glass doors and windows in the clubhouse and on houses around the course.  Islanavidad.com.

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