Located on the edge of the Wenatchee National Forest, half way between Seattle and Spokane, the Lakes and Desert nines comprise the 18-hole golf course at the Desert Canyon Golf Resort in Douglas County.
Designed and built by owner Jack Frei in the early 1990s, the course lies on high ground above the Columbia River, back dropped by the Cascade Mountains to the West, with fairways routed across genuine desert terrain.
Notable holes on the Lakes nine include the 411-yard 2nd – rated stroke index 1 – which plays uphill to an elongated putting surface, the 425-yard 6th, with a tricky back-to-front green, and the 224-yard 8th, where a canyon fronts the three-tiered green.
On the Desert nine, the 690-yard 15th is one of the most outrageous par fives you’ll come across anywhere. The fairway runs downhill, along the edge of a deep canyon, offering fabulous views of the river below, but approach shots can’t afford to miss the green left or long.
Part of the issue why Desert Canyon receives far too little attention is tied to its location. Being in the middle of the State isolates the course although its location is known to those who savor apples as its well known in producing them. A friend of a friend recommended I play the course during my initial visit nearly 20 years ago and I have back a few times since.
The layout features two distinct sides -- Lakes and Desert. The Columbia River Valley is a gorgeous setting but the golf provided rests its laurels on far more than top tier off-course eye candy.
The opening series of holes is a good mixture. At the 1st you're invited to take the bold drive as the hole heads downhill. Just don't pull it left. The uphill 2nd is a good contrast -- playing uphill and sporting a very long green. The par-5 3rd is simply vanilla and is the only drawback on the outward side. The par-3 4th features a green shaped like a heart -- when the pin is cut in either the far left or right corners the distance control needed will have to be exact. The downhill long par-4 5th is very good. The key is keeping the tee shot near to the right side even though from the tee it appears there's more room and a better angle from the left side.
Once you cross the road you come to the par-4 6th. Strong hitters need not hit driver and the approach can be testing when the pin is cut on the far right side. The par-5 7th does not succumb to birdies without the execution to back it up. The tee shot faces a tapered fairway with trees pinching in from both sides.
At the par-3 8th you face a long green with three distinct tiers. When the pin is cut in the rearmost position it takes a solid combination of length and pinpoint accuracy to land nearby. The finishing hole for the outward half is a quality par-4 -- playing 410 yards and featuring a green shaped like the number "7". Good pin placements can be in either the front portion or the back left rear area.
The inward half is completely different from a presentation standpoint. Here you intersect with the high desert area and the array of different holes is quite interesting and fun to play. The 10th gives you an opportunity for a quick birdie but be mindful of being too greedy as the fairway tapers and a back right pin location is protected by a fronting water penalty area.
The par-4 11th is short hole but a fine counterpoint. One has to avoid the canyon on the right and the green does have two tiers so the pitch has to be executed with precision.
The long par-4 12th is helped considerably by the inclusion of a desert wash area that mandates respect with the approach. A far left pin clearly commands respect. The uphill 13th again features a desert wash that will clearly catch your attention -- ditto if the pin is cut to the far left on the tiered target.
At the downhill par-3 14th the issue is one of club selection. Generally, the prevailing wind direction can be in one's face and being able to gauge the elevation drop and where the pin is located can prove to be quite vexing.
The par-5 15th is certainly one of the best holes at Desert Canyon. The tee shot plummets downhill and the backdrop of the Columbia River gorge is certainly eye-catching. The fairway does taper and I only wish the alleyway provided were a bit wider to tempt the boldest of plays from the tee. The hole turns left and one has to be always mindful of the canyon creeping closer and closer from the left side. This is particularly so when the pin is cut to the extreme left side.
The par-3 16th is a solid contrast. The par-3 sports a devilish green with different tiers. Once again, club selection is pivotal -- failure to keep the approach nearby is a clear recipe for a fast three-putt.
At the penultimate hole you need to hit one's tee shot over the corner of the desert wash to secure the best angle into the green from the right side.
The closing hole caps the day in fine fashion. A long par-4 just under 490 yards and can often play into the prevailing wind. Hitting the fairway is paramount because the approach will need to clear a frontal canyon. Taking sufficient club is crucial because when the pin is placed in the rear areas -- especially the left side -- the execution has to be letter perfect.
What would help Desert Canyon is a bit more detailing on the conditioning front and some renovation of the existing holes. The layout is clearly very good and the contrast between the two nines is certainly present. It also helps matters not to have the congestion and clutter that would take away from the experience.
With just a bit of extra attention the overall assessment of Desert Canyon would clearly rise. For those heading to the Spokane area from Seattle or vice versa it's certainly worth including -- just be sure to pick up some apples and cherries when there. Incredibly delicious with golf high on the agenda!
M. James Ward