An adventurous Arthur Hills design, the Mountains course at Bighorn Golf Club sits high above Palm Desert, the popular “snowbird” retreat in the Coachella Valley. It was the venue for the now defunct PGA Skins Game between 1992 and 1995 when its spectacular location made it the ideal place for some captivating TV golf.
Opened for play in 1991, seven years ahead of the Tom Fazio-designed Canyons layout, the 18-hole Mountain course occupies the ground at highest elevation on the property, though water also comes into play on occasion. Feature holes include the par three 2nd and par five 3rd, then the short par four 14th and drop-shot par three 17th on the inward half.
The club unveiled its new 80,000-square-feet clubhouse at the start of 2018 – sitting 1,000 feet above the valley floor to accentuate the desert views – and this mightily impressive building incorporates four large penthouses for the use of members and their guests. Taking more than a year to construct, the clubhouse is said to have cost an eye-watering $70 million.
As home to the now defunct Skins Game between 1992-95 -- the 18-hole layout received plenty of attention during that event held at the Thanksgiving time frame. Designed by Arthur Hills and opened in 1991, the Mountains course is a quality layout and uses the existing terrain well. What's missing is that the holes are not exactly memorable -- one blending into another. You also have greensites that are functional but not especially detail oriented where approach shots are seriously tested.
Hills has also overly crafted the final product. While it may have the "look" with all the obvious landscaping insertions but the strategic elements are just not consistently front and center. In sum -- there are a number of pedestrian holes in the mix. If anything -- the companion Canyon Course which Tom Fazio designed and opened in 1998 is by far the better of the two and shows how to combine landscaping and strategy in a far finer fashion.
The Mountains is akin to the restaurant which has the best curtains and the finest cutlery and tableware and misses out on the food side of the equation. That sums up what the Mountains provides.
by M. James Ward