Situated in Southern California’s sun-kissed Coachella Valley, in the shadow of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the PGA West golf facility in La Quinta lies within an enormous 2,000-acre property, where half a dozen 18-hole layouts have been in play since the end of the 1990s.
Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf and Greg Norman have all left their architectural mark on these six courses, with the Private Clubhouse serving members who choose to tee it up at either the Palmer, Nicklaus or Weiskopf Private courses.
The Palmer Private arrived first in 1986 and it was quickly added to the roster of courses hosting the Bob Hope Classic event on the PGA Tour, appearing most years between 1988 and 2014 – David Duval shot a final round 59 when he won here in 1999 – so the tournament pedigree of this course has never been in doubt.
There are loads of good scoring holes for the professionals on this course but one that always trips up the field is the 233-yard 5th, played over water to a large but heavily contoured green. Set in the middle of a front nine that regularly yields plenty of birdies, this long par three has statistically proved to be one of the toughest on the Tour.
As far as the PGA West complex courses are concerned, Palmer Private is a leisurely walk in the park compared to Stadium. The houses are set back a bit farther off the holes, the fairways are wide, and the rough areas are not too thickly maintained, so with the general receptiveness of the greens you can afford to spray it around a bit more. The green complexes are mostly small and flat, although there are some which are oddly shaped. The mounding is quite tame compared to other nearby courses (among others its sister course, Nicklaus Private).
The highlight of the course is playing along the rocky mountain face and drainage canal from holes #14-#17 (par: 5-3-4-3) but there are a few other good ones. The highlights include #6, a par five with a constricted layup area and a funky skinny green, #8, a relatively easy short par four, and #18, a risk-reward par five requiring a carry over water to reach the green in two shots.
All in all, it’s a pleasant resort course – not too difficult, meant for an enjoyable round in the desert sun. It’s certainly no wonder it’s one of the handful of courses to yield a 13-under-par score on the PGA Tour (done by David Duval in 1999).
Arnold Palmer's place in golf history is clearly secured -- as a player. However, in the role of architect his firm sadly cranked out countless examples of formulaic golf and unfortunately very few are truly memorable. The course is not helped by the endless interference with housing enveloping the landscape. This is the layout David Duval broke 60 during the previously named Hope Classic in 1999. Credit Duval for the fine score but let's be clear while that score is four shots better than what Johnny Miller carded at Oakmont during the final round of the US Open in 1973 the latter is infinitely miles ahead of the former in its place in golf history.
The course provides little architecture of a compelling sort -- save for the demanding par-3 5th hole. In a complex in which all of the courses are designed by a top tier array of key players it is the Palmer Course which falls woefully short.
The holes are simply predictable – and candidly dull with few exceptions. Arnie played the game in grand attacking fashion full of bravado and gusto. Far too often his designs provide a picture in the opposite manner of its namesake. A pity.
M. James Ward