Opened in 2001, the 18-hole Palmer course at La Cantera Golf Club is a wonderful complementary layout to the Resort course that Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish completed six years earlier at the same venue.
Arnold Palmer had a legendary career as a golfer and clearly is responsible for the ascension of professional golf to the dizzying heights we see today. Palmer dabbled in plenty of off-course pursuits and his name was widely associated with a range of efforts.
Arnie also attempted his hand at course design but unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the net result was a plethora of layouts that were likely to induce sleep than cause a positive rush in one's blood pressure.
His effort here at La Cantera -- aptly named for him -- is one of those exceptions with plenty of sizzle and well worth checking out when in the area.
The Palmer Course is segregated away from the main entrance to the resort. The land the course occupies has plenty of movement and the routing is done well to incorporate all that it so ably provides.
The opening series of holes unveils an appropriate challenge without being overwhelming. At the par-3 4th you encounter a beautiful setting -- the green sitting just on the other side of a protecting creek. The uphill par-4 is a gem of a hole. There is a menacing creek which runs parallel to the line of play down the right side. The hole turns right slightly and also tapers down considerably as one's length off the tee increases. You can play away from the creek but in doing so you only cause more angst on one's approach with trees impacting one's line of play. The putting surface is well done -- more landing space in the front but getting considerably narrower when placed in the rear section.
At the downhill 6th it is placement -- not brute strength -- that's called upon. Playing under 400 yards the key is securing the best angle into the green which is protected by a water hazard on the left side and features bird wing pin placements to the far right and left.
The par-3 7th is positioned in a different direction than the 4th so proper club selection is called upon to hit the elusive green.
The inwards half closes out the side in fine fashion. The uphill 8th moves to the right in the drive zone. Players have to decide how far down the fairway is prudent as the landing area does narrow considerably. The green is perched nicely and requires a deft touch to set up a birdie opportunity. The par-4 9th is one of the best Palmer holes I have played. At 436 yards the closing hole for the front nine turns right in the drive zone and it's imperative to find the fairway as the green sits high above the fairway and set on a diagonal angle. To the left is a creek that seeks to gobble up any feeble approach. In the rear right is a solitary bunker. The green is also appropriately contoured and the hole yields nothing except to superior execution.
The inward half keeps the momentum going. The uphill 10th swings right and while there's plenty of fairway it pays to favor the right side to secure the better angle into the green. A rock wall fiercely protects the right side of the green and any shot that's pushed too far to that side will mean a quick reload. The genius of the hole is how simple but also how confounding it can be.
The short par-4 11th is good but a bit more effort on the strategic dimensions would have been a real plus. The 12th and 13th, are nothing more than basic holes. When you reach the 14th the final stretch is truly something to savor.
The par-5 14th is well done -- forcing players to be their best on all swings. No birdie is yielded without being earned. There's a bit of a reprieve at the 449-yard 15th hole but only with sound execution.
The par-5 16th -- plays uphill towards the green and it calls for a thoughtful tee shot played down the left side. Those going too far right will be challenged with a far more difficult playing angle on their 2nd shot. The par-3 17th is short at 156 yards and plays downhill. The key is dealing with the abrupt nature of the dropshot encountered. The key is securing the right club to the angled green.
The closing hole --a maddening par-4 of 490 yards -- caps the day in a brilliant manner. Usually played into a prevailing headwind -- the player faces a blind uphill tee shot. The key is shaping a right-to-left ball flight because at the crest of the hill the hole does turn left. Upon reaching the crest of the hill you encounter an 80-foot dropoff to a green set in front of the magnificent clubhouse. Adding to the demands is the same creek encountered earlier at the 9th. Here at the 18th the entire right side is protected both by water and bunkers. In addition, strong players have to be wary in leaving the safe confines of the fairway as the terrain can force one's ball into perilous lies making the approach shot even more daunting. Walking off the green at the 18th with no more than a par should be rightly celebrated at the nearby 19th hole.
The Palmer Course does have a few lull moments but when the layout catches stride the quality of the shots needed certainly intersects a high degree of fun and execution urgency.
M. James Ward