One of more than thirty golf courses located within ten miles of Palm Desert, Stone Eagle Golf Club occupies a spectacular setting above the Palm Springs valley where its construction was one of the toughest projects undertaken by Tom Doak’s Renaissance design company prior to its debut in 2005.
It’s an engaging layout, routed over a steep and rocky landscape with dramatic elevation changes occurring on many of the holes. The terrain is often tortuous, offering golfers plenty of opportunities to take in the wonderful downhill vistas.
Stand out holes include the 418-yard 5th (where the fairway falls away into a ravine on the left), the 386-yard 10th (played uphill into a canyon) and the strong par four 18th (which drops back downhill to the home green).
If you can secure a game here, be sure to play the "settle-the-bet" par three 19th hole, which should be a doddle at a mere 150 yards, but the green is benched into the desert landscape and the sanctuary of this pulpit-like stage is notoriously difficult to find.
Stone Eagle is a golf course that stays relatively under the radar given it's story. With a $50M budget and Tom Doak at the helm, you'd think this would be gracing every top 100 in the USA list. Somehow it isn't. It's a very private club with only 225 members and the controlling member likes to keep things relatively quiet.
I'm here to tell you it is without a doubt one of the best golf experiences in the country. It doesn't have history, PGA events, it wasn't built in the golden age. But it makes up for all that with it's incredible overall experience.
You start by driving up a private drive to the clubhouse. When we showed up with had 3 people waiting to greet us by name. Though it was only 11AM on a literally perfect day (70 degrees and little wind), we were told we were the last group of the day and probably wouldn't see anyone else. (Almost correct, we saw 2 other carts on the other side of the course at one point.)
The clubhouse is relatively small and I'd call it classy, but nothing earth shattering. Standard free refreshments and snacks were available and the pro shop was stocked with lots of goodies to buy. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, though we were unaccompanied guests.
The cart ride to the range takes a few minutes and you are going straight up the mountain. The anticipation builds quickly. Now, technically you can walk the course and a tiny percentage do, however this is NOT a walkers course. It's crazily hilly and the walk to and from the course from the clubhouse would take 20 minutes alone and leave most gassed. (Though surely you could hitch a ride.) This would be considered a bad thing to golf purists, but I'd argue, given the land, it was either carts or no golf course. Very few would want to play if they had to walk.
The range had the standard pyramids of balls and was in great shape. The putting and chipping greens also very nice, though certainly an overall smaller practice area than many elite places. When you see the landscape, you understand why.
After the range, you start to crest a hill and then all of the sudden you are overlooking the golf course. It's jaw dropping. This opening salvo is one of the best course reveals on earth, it's that good. It builds the anticipation as good as any course (sans history) possibly could.
And now the important part, the golf course.
Conditioning: 6 Perfect tee to green. Lush, but firm and fast. With the low amount of play, you see few divots or ball marks. It's about as good as it gets.
Routing: 6 The way the course flows works in all ways. You rarely see cart paths from the tee box, you rarely see other players, you have amazing mountain backdrops to many shots, you get multiple crescendos where you come upon great views. It's perfect.
Greens: 5.5 Awesome large greens with huge contours make for lots of fun. Be ready for the hill effect, without a caddie I would have read virtually every single putt wrong. You have lots of room to work your chips and pitches, but you have to be ready for the hills that can push your ball off the green. Safe is relatively easy, pin hunting is dangerous, as it should be.
Tee Shots: 6 Amazing disguising of fairways makes you believe that every fairway is tight and scary, while actually being wide and quite forgiving. However, you must contest with constant contours and bumps that can make even fairway shots interesting.
Approach: 5.5 The same disguising works for the greens. Some are wide open and large, but others make you feel like they are tiny. In reality, the approach shots are mostly very fair and reasonable. If you are playing decent, you can hit a lot of greens here, though you will get some 3 putts.
Aesthetics: 6 Gorgeous from the moment you get there to the moment you leave. Views of the entire city, views of the mountains, views of the course. Just constant sensory overload.
Amenties: 5.5 Practice facility and clubhouse are relatively small. The upper restaurant was closed due to Covid, but looks AMAZING. Based on it's views and reviews from people I know, it's supposedly one of the best 19th holes around. (BTW, the course has a 19th hole for settling bets. It's nothing special, but a nice bonus.)
Overall Stone Eagle is an incredible experience and maybe the most underrated golf course in the USA. If it was top 50 tomorrow I wouldn't argue. If you can find a way on, get on!!
Given the lack of history, its not quite perfect. But the course and the golf are. Members call it a 2nd shot course. Very tough second shots and greens are tricky, but enjoyable. Excellent course.
Located high on the hills overlooking Palm Springs, Stone Eagle is routed through the most unlikely and unwelcoming golfing landscape I can imagine.
However, Tom Doak & his Renaissance team have sculpted a golf course that is clearly a level above its competitors.
Stone Eagle opened in 2005, and I was fortunate enough to play the course then. I was fascinated then, and nothing has changed.
Having since played most of Doak’s better courses world wide I still rank Stone Eagle in the upper echelon of his work.
There are no weak holes, and the dramatic terrain offers a variety with holes that turn every which way.
Some require carries to greens tucked behind gullies, the positioning of the greens in this landscape is a real feature of the course.
And those greens have enough movement to test anyone’s putting stroke. The bunkering is a highlight, each hole is framed by delightfully artistic shaping that complements the rugged stone surroundings perfectly.
I think the par 3's are outstanding- including the tricky short par 3 nineteenth hole.
There is no rest and no end to the fun on one of the most entertaining courses I have ever played.
The entire site is devoid of housing, there are houses on the property, but they are further down the mountain. So the ambience of Stone Eagle is pure, it is just the golf course and the raw terrain it was carved out of and all it just adds to the character of the course.
Stone Eagle GC is a private members course and as such only playable as a guest of a member. It really is worth the effort of getting to know a member!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
The first among equals for me in rating a course is the land a course occupies. In my mind, the quality of the land is no less than 60% of my total evaluation. There's no set guarantee but often when you have a great piece of land the probability is that the golf there will be really special. There are exceptions to this -- Old Head in Ireland is blessed with incomparable beauty but the overall golf product is not in the same league as what Mother Nature provided.
On the flip side you have places like The Old Course at St. Andrews nearly dead flat yet utterly magnificent for the range of obstacles a golfer must avoid in order to score well.
The Coachella Valley area in the California desert has an incredible array of golf courses -- roughly in the neighborhood of 125. The golf originally was created as a seasonal getaway for snow birds eager to enjoy the comfort and warmth of the desert. Being located near to large metro areas such as Los Angeles and San Diego respectively provided a steady base of customers wanting to enjoy what the area provides.
Unfortunately, much of the golf design that exists in the area is simply formulaic and pedestrian in character. The courses are often non-descript and frankly nearly indistinguishable from one another. Much of that has to do with the land which is often dead flat, and, as a result, architects have had to create numerous features which clearly are either overdone or simply completely forgettable once the round concludes.
Finding quality land is no easy chore since many developments have used such land for real estate purposes.
One of the most striking aspects when going to Stone Eagle in Palm Desert begins with its location. As you trek up highway 74 from the downtown area you must pay close attention to the small entrance way that leads to the facility. It is so easy to miss it and believe the nearby development at Big Horn is where the course is located.
Stone Eagle is tucked away -- located on rolling terrain high above the desert floor -- and nestled in a cove of land that is part of the San Jacinto Mountain Range. The isolation plays a key role in setting the mode for the round ahead. The facility is also blessed with no major housing intrusions -- the adjoining mountains you see throughout the round allow for a true "disconnect" from daily life.
The acclaimed architect Tom Doak designed the course and if there's one thing Doak attempts to do with his designs is to provide a "fun" connection through hole diversity and clever routings. Often times Doak eschews courses where the measurement is strictly on over-the-top slavish desire for overall difficulty. The Doak mantra often involves complex putting surfaces where recovery is often far from elementary.
Stone Eagle is not long by today's standards - coming in just under 6,900 yards. However, the elevation change is present with a few holes playing noticeably uphill and downhill.
When you arrive at the 1st tee you see an expansive piece of land -- not segregated by the predictable fairway cuts often seen at countless other courses. Stone Eagle blends from one hole to the next -- often with expansive fairways that carry over to adjoining areas with nothing more than isolated circular desert areas sprinkled about and must be avoided whenever possible.
The unique element of Stone Eagle is that even with its noticeable elevation changes you don't feel as if there is major shot distortion between uphill and downhill holes. The first three holes get the juices going and when you arrive at the 4th and 5th holes you encounter two superbly done par-4's The former is listed at 464 yards but it is the latter which is listed at 418 yards that plays quite a bit longer because of the elevation change uphill in the opposite direction.
The risk/reward par-5 8th is another well-crafted hole -- stronger players need to decide if carrying the desert-surrounded green complex is worth the gamble. At the downhill 9th you encounter the encroachment of the aforementioned desert islands which restrict the fairway the deeper the tee shot is played.
The inward half begins with a quality par-4 -- playing uphill and likely adding 1-2 additional clubs. At the downhill par-4 11th Doak brilliantly narrows the fairway to prevent long hitters from simply slugging away with impunity. The key starts at the tee -- does the player take an aggressive play or follow a more cautious route avoiding two pesky fairway bunkers wonderfully positioned.
Stone Creek constantly provides quality hole differentiation -- the short par-3 12th is followed by another risk/reward par-5. Here the players must decide how close to play to the more demanding right side -- fiercely protected by a bunker on that side. Assuming players get tee shots to where the fairway comes to an end you're left with an uphill shot to a contoured green. Birdie is doable -- just never given away.
The finishing five of holes at Stone Eagle is well done. The uphill 14th is Stone Eagle's finest hole in my mind. The tee shot is challenged with a progressively narrowing fairway -- you have to be especially straight as the desert pinches in from both sides and eventually cuts the fairway off. The green is well done -- protected by a lone bunker left and with falloffs to the sides. You make par here and you've done yourself proud.
The 15th is a good par-3 -- desert pushing in from the right and the green hugging that side. The short downhill par-4 16th once again tightens up the more the player opts to get closer to the green off the tee. Just a solid strategic hole where birdie is possible but a quick bogey is very much a reality.
The uphill par-5 17th provides a clear counterpoint to the last few holes played. This time you ascend the hill and the desert circular areas encroach at different positions. The green is protected by two frontal bunkers and any shot hit deep into the green will have a difficult two-putt situation.
The closing hole at Stone Eagle ends the day in rousing fashion. It's the longest par-4 -- 490 yards and all downhill. At the tee the player must decide just how risk to take. The deeper the tee shot the more pressing the need for accuracy is required. The green is diagonally angled and the back left portion is especially hard to reach. A very deep bunker guards that side like a junkyard dog.
For those so inclined Doak added a "19th hole" -- a short par-3 of 151 yards to settle any remaining wagers. It's a fine way to conclude the day's play.
Stone Eagle will likely never host any major championship or PGA Tour event -- the logistics would not make that possible. Unlike so many other courses where such hosting big events is crucial to their identify such as not the case with Stone Eagle.
Doak has made his mark on maximizing character as the central motif of his designs -- not the single minded pursuit of sheer difficulty. Often times desert courses have been labeled as being one-dimensional with little playability. That's not the case here. Stone Eagle is one of those rare places where the land and shotmaking merges in a scintillating fashion. Anyone coming to the greater Coachella Valley area that has the opportunity should by all means play Stone Eagle. This bird certainly flies high in a big time way.
by M. James Ward
Great review! This course has been on my radar for awhile but it is very mysterious as I don't know anyone who has played it, any members or really anything about the course other than the stray picture online. Still though, you get a sense through the pictures and now this review how special it is. Would love to play it some day for a true desert experience!