A popular retreat for “snowbirds,” which swells the population in the cold winter months, Palm Desert is reckoned to have around thirty golf facilities available for those who like to tee it up all year round. One of the better local golf complexes can be found at the 36-hole mountainside Bighorn Golf Club, where the Arthur Hills-designed Mountains course made its debut in 1991, followed seven years later by the Canyons course.
Bighorn has been the venue of choice for a number of prestigious golf tournaments, such as The Skins Game, The Battle at BIGHORN, the Senior PGA Match Play and the LPGA Samsung World Championship so it’s no stranger to hosting important, nationally televised professional events.
The Canyons layout is a rather polished Tom Fazio design where fairways have been set out on less demanding terrain than that of its older sibling. The course also relies less on water hazards to provide a genuine golfing challenge in a more typical desert environment.
Big Horn provides for 36-holes of golf and in my initial review of the 1991 layout called Mountains by Arthur Hills I assessed the course at four golf balls. The follow-up effort -- coming in 1998 is the handiwork of Tom Fazio -- is also rated four golf balls. However, if given a preference with ten rounds to play I'd choose the Fazio no less than 8 times to play.
Fazio is one of golf's gifted course creators. He and his talented team have been able to design courses that truly are entertaining and provide a glorious landscape especially when crafted for private clubs who often are more enamored with how a course "looks" to the way it ultimately "plays."
The initial Hills Course is unfortunately bracketed by its close proximity to the mountain range and the claustrophobic array of houses that butt in far too often near the golf. Fazio was given property on the other side of the Pines to Palms Highway and the additional space provided allowed for a much more freer effort devoid of the issues encountered with the Hills effort.
Canyons is impacted by housing but the Fazio team has smartly provided for enough buffer to keep the feeling of being cramped at bay.
The outward nine is a good mixture of different hole types -- with the longish par-4 2nd and 8th requiring a good mixture of distance and accuracy.
The inward half is clearly the superior of the two sides and commences with two quality par-4's -- one going one direction and the other coming back the other way. The Canyons concludes with a fine mixture for the final trio of holes. The par-5 16th plays slightly uphill and is a birdie hole but far from an automatic situation. The par-3 17th features a modified Redan-type green with a series of bunkers on the left side. Playing 220 yards calls upon a deft skill with either a long iron or hybrid club.
The concluding 18th is a quality closing one par-4 of 449 yards. Set alongside a hillside to its right. The 18th descends downhill to a tapered fairway diagonally cut-off by a desert wash from lower left to upper right. Long hitting players will need to keep the driver covered and opt for a lesser club choice. Positioning, not brute strength is an absolute must. The green, set on the other side of the wash, concludes the round in fine fashion.
The Canyons is exquisitely pleasing to the eye. The Fazio team -- as they do with many of their projects -- applies all the right architectural make-up so the "look" is clearly present. Where the Canyons misses out is the lack of consistency in terms of the architectural dimensions. Details matter and the Canyons provides little real depth consistently showcasing compelling design that holds throughout the 18-holes. Nonetheless, for those able to play at Big Horn, head to the Canyons because the entertainment level of the golf, while not consistently compelling architecture, has enough fun moments to keep one's attention.
M. James Ward