Robert Trent Jones II has several golf courses in the Coachella Valley, one of which is the public-access Desert Dunes Golf Club. This standalone property advertises Jones’s architectural expertise, as well as the scenic views of the desert and mountains rising around the property.
One of Jones’s signatures is the sharing of a double green for holes nos. 9 and 18, a tactic he uses perhaps more than any other designer. Often there is a lake separating the two fairways but, being in the desert, he was limited to a creek in this instance. When players reach the green on this par five and par four, respectively, they’ll find that the bunkers haven’t quite ended. Although it's always problematic to end up on the wrong end of a double green, it’s doubly troublesome when the two sides are guarded by an additional pot bunker that sits in the middle of the green. Approach carefully!
One of the last places you might expect to find the Canadian Tour is in the arid Coachella Valley, and yet the best players from that relative tundra came to the desert for a few years during the "aughts" for competition.
I was a bit worried about this course when I first arrived…..not much if any landscaping in the parking lot or near the clubhouse and the golf shop was nearly void of any merchandise. I assume all this may have been due to the COVID status when I played. It also didn’t help my confidence when I saw the barber pole marking the center of the #1 fairway (not a blind shot). The first three holes seemed a bit average, but then I felt things really started to take a turn. By the time I got to the double green 9th (shared with #18), I was in love with the course. And then came #10 and #11, which are lined by beautiful tamarisk trees that are so dense you might start to forget you are in the desert. The green complexes are quite undulating and I felt the bunkering was superbly done by RTJ Jr. To top it all off, not a house or condo anywhere in sight. It was just me and the golf course…..maybe a few other golfers. What a great time. To those who want a bit of a different golf experience in the desert, I highly recommend making the short drive out to the west of Palm Desert to play this gem.
The best way to explain Desert Dunes is to visualize the manner by which the pants are flapping violently when a crew member is directing planes to land on an aircraft carrier. When playing Desert Dunes be very prepared for a similar type situation as the course is perfectly -- or mistakenly -- located in a gap area just off I-10 where major wind happens routinely. Define major wind? Try 5-6 club differentials aren't uncommon. You'll know the location by all the wind turbines located nearby!
Much of the golf you find in the California desert -- particularly in the Coachella Valley area is tucked behind the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains. Courses in the area may get some wind but never at the velocity level encountered at Desert Dunes.
Listed yardages are frankly comical because mega wind speeds distort them so significantly.
There really isn't much of the "dunes" at Desert Dunes -- it's more manufactured green grass on top pf the desert floor.
Among the better holes is the final trio closing out the outward side. The dog-leg right 7th requires two well-played shot on the 394-yard par-4. The par-3 8th can be devilish when played in a crosswind and having to contend with a pond that hugs the entire right side of the green. The par-5 9th generally plays back into the wind and be a very, very long 546 yards. One of the real interesting features is how the 9th and 18th share the same mega-large green.
The inward side starts off with a very narrow par-4 10th. Trees bracket the fairway on both sides so the appropriate choice of clubs is anything that keeps one's ball on the short grass. The 11th and 12th that follow are not long as par-4's but each plays in a different direction so wind will clearly impact club selection. The par-5 13th usually plays downwind and strong hitters can get there in two shots -- just be sure to avoid the prickly mesquite that lies to the left of the fairway. Anything that ventures in that direction is usually a lost cause and for those who treat it cavalierly be prepared to be pricked by finger length thorns!
The final five holes are a good mixture of different tests. The par-3 14th generally plays back into the prevailing wind so the listed yardage of 192 can be far longer. The par-4 15th is well-served by two pesky fairway bunkers -- one has to decide is the risk in going with the big stick worth the effort. Should you lay further back the length and demands faced on the approach ramp up considerably. The par-5 16th plays in the reverse direction and there's a greenside water hazard that clearly looks to inflict pain on the haphazard approach - either with the 2nd or 3rd shots.
The par-3 17th is also well done -- a very narrow green with fall-offs for those unable to hit a precise approach.
The closing hole is listed at 443 yards but into the prevailing wind can play far longer. The key is working the ball right-to-left off the tee which if successful can provide the best approach angle and shorten the overall distance. The green is quite wide but not especially deep and a number of bunkers -- including one within the green itself can influence matters greatly before players depart for 19th hole libations.
Desert Dunes can be so unpredictable. Those teeing off early in the morning may face only 1-2 wind speeds. While those teeing off later can face a fury where golf hats need to be stapled to one's scalp. The overall architecture quality is present on a number of holes but roughly one-third is simply satisfactory.
M. James Ward