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.
lovely views, and atmosphere.
Stone Eagle might be the most difficult golf course in the USA for me to review and rate. I do not know if I have played a more breathtaking inland course in the USA. Although Stone Eagle sits only about 1000-1200 feet above sea level in Palm Desert, it looks and plays like a mountain course given the steep banks and slopes. It offers long views of the various cities in the Coachella Valley. Surrounding the course are a series of mountains that crest higher and higher peaking at just under 11,000. Since I have not played enough mountain courses in the USA to state whether Stone Eagle offers the best views, I will state that I believe it offers the best views of desert terrain, easily exceeding what is on offer in Arizona despite some amazing views near Sedona and Scottsdale. There are nearby hiking trails including one that goes to the Palm Desert Cross, reminding one of the Pinnacle Peak Trail adjacent to Estancia in Scottsdale. There are at least six holes on the course where you want to linger for ten minutes to take in the views as they are breathtaking. Nearly all of the other holes often merely “great” views of the surrounding mountains and valley.
As such, given the club’s initial failures with ownership, as I recently played three rounds on the course, I wondered whether it would have been more successful as a resort course with an attached luxury hotel built at the bottom, or associated with one of the nearby higher end resort hotels. I have read the other reviews and have some additional comments. We were told the initial investors spent $75 million to build the course, not the $50 million referenced. It was then purchased by a current group of owners for approximately $12 million. There currently is no initial membership fee as the members pay an annual subscription which includes everything except food and beverage. There is not much of a clubhouse here beyond the very fine professional shop. The clubhouse currently offers a small bathroom, small changing area, and one shower. The clubhouse sits at the bottom of the hill just past the entrance gate. One takes a 5 minute shuttle to get to the range, which is situated facing lovely mountain peaks. From the range there is a small short game area and putting green. Nearer the first tee are a small building for additional bathrooms (no showers), a gorgeous dining area overlooking the valley and the 19th hole, and a small putting green that is worthless as it is too small and steeply banked to offer anything instructive that one would find on the course. If one wants to return to the club in the evening for dinner, they have to park at the bottom and take the 5 minute shuttle both up and down.
There was little dynamite used to build this course as Tom Doak and his team had to essentially flatten as much as possible to build the course. Dynamite is too disruptive and can also cause damage to nearby homes and buildings. Instead, his team relied on the use of the biggest bulldozes and earthmoving equipment to try to create corridors for the holes and pads for the green sites. Once completed they brought in their normal equipment to finish shaping the fairways and green complexes.
The course offers a lot of cart path. While a few walk the golf course after receiving permission from the pro shop, I would not attempt to walk it given the number of uphill and downhill holes that are steep, as well as several long walks to the next tee. There is zero tree cover on the course so on a sunny day one is exposed to the sun and the dry air for the entirety of the round. Finally, the routing can lead to some confusing cart path rides to the next tee. Even on the third round, I took one wrong turn and was often thankful for our caddie pointing out the way to go.
In a sense, this might have been both the most frustrating routing but also the simplest routing for Mr. Doak given the slope of the land. Nearly all of the holes play up and down the mountain, the exceptions being the par 3 third and the par 5 eight which go horizontal to the mountain behind it. There are several “blended” fairways on the course and perhaps that saved some money or even the $75 million would have been higher. Hitting an errant shot into this contiguous fairways saves a lost ball, but definitely puts one out of position.
The routing did leave a couple of curious thoughts in my mind. First, all of the par 3’s play essentially downhill with the twelfth probably the flattest while the seventh, the longest par 3 at 218 yards, has a substantial drop which seemed in excess of 100 feet. The green complexes on all of the par 3’s are very different, but I wondered why some of the par 3’s were not uphill. Second, the par 4 uphill holes appeared to be shorter in actual yardage, but obviously played 40-60 yards longer due to the slope. The longer downhill par 4’s obviously played shorter than their listed yardage. Yet the design of the uphill holes which seemed to play longer had more of their fairways shrink in size with smaller entrances to many of the greens. Some of us thought that was genius, others thought it to be unfair.
One aspect of the course that none of us liked was the heavy use of moguls in the fairway. For the uphill tee shots, they often stop a ball from propelling forward and sometimes they even make a ball roll backwards. Thus, in addition to the 40-60 additional yards of length due to slope, now you have an added factor of not getting an expected rollout. One could obviously move up a set of tees but the White tees are only 5502 yards. I did understand the use of moguls on the downhill holes are they can present both an opportunity for additional distance but also will eventually serve as a break. Sometimes, though, the ball will catch the wrong side of a mogul and fall off 40 yards horizontally to a semi-blind approach shot to the green. I would point out that there are combination tees available to mitigate this.
The best design features of the course are the green surrounds. There is really good bunkering throughout the course but particularly near the greens. Not all of the greens are defended by bunkers. Mr. Doak and his team often allows for the possibility of running balls onto the greens if one can hit the landing zone. Several of the greens have no bunkers although the desert and stone outcroppings are nearby. It is difficult to pick my favorite because nearly all of them are excellently done.
Probably my second biggest disappointment following the overuse of fairway moguls are the green surfaces. There are some where the swale/fall off eat into nearly half of the green which reduces the chance for a recovery shot when chipping or putting, but also can be very punitive. If one gets slightly in the wrong area versus the cup location, sometimes the best play is to try to hit a putt within seven feet rather than bring a calamity into play. There are also central plateaus and several severe spines and swales on the green surfaces. If the greens surfaces were slightly softened, the course would improve. All of us were frustrated by the greens. I had one putt of perhaps eight feet that I thought broke 5 feet but I listened to my caddie who said it broke twelve feet. The down valley putts are very speedy while the uphill putts need a firm strike. I had one down valley putt of 20 feet that I hit about 18 inches. This putt nearly holed out but stopped a foot away. I will say that I had two very good caddies who saved me multiple shots with both pace and line. If one is not good with a putter, they will likely have 5-10 three putts and perhaps even some four putts such is the severity of the slopes on the surfaces.
As for standout holes, there are many. The eight, a short par 5 of 518 yards offers the largest and deepest bunker off the right for the tee shot. As is the case on most of the holes, Mr. Doak offers ample room to miss the danger, but if one gets a bit too greedy, they will find this bunker. The green sits behind a wide ravine and is also protected by deep bunkers built into the side of the ravine. This green slopes both away and to the left. The thirteen is the longest par 5 at 586 yards playing to a wide fairway downhill. The fairway is interrupted by a wash/ravine about 20 yards wide that cuts diagonally to the right across the fairway. This green then sits uphill placed off to the right with no surrounding bunkers but protected by a rise to either side and a sharp fall off behind the green. The seventeenth, another uphill par 5 where the fairway narrows due to mounds of sand/rock to either side about 175 yards from the green is another fine hole. This features a better green surface.
The par 4 eighteenth features a downhill tee shot to a green perched on a ledge with deep fronting bunkers off the left side. This green has a steep tier near its front that one can use as a backstop to a front cup but if one ends up in this bowl and the cup is in the back it makes for a very speedy down valley putt. Off the tee there is a large valley down the left side that will lead to a semi-blind shot to the green. This is probably my favorite hole on the course other than the beautiful fifteenth. The tenth, a par 4 of 411 yards plays uphill with the fairway being pinched by desert mounds about 160 yards from the green. It narrows by the green with the green angled to the right. The green surrounds on this hole are terrific including the two bunkers on the right front and two going down the left middle. The fourteenth is one of five fairways that share grass and has a diagonal to the right split in the fairway across a 20 feet deep ravine. This green sits high behind two center-line bunkers and another bunker on the left side. Although listed at only 418 yards, this hole is sharply uphill. It also features one of the better greens as long as you do not miss left where that bunker awaits as well as a fall-off. The fifth hole plays sharply uphill as well and we felt it played the longest although only 423 yards. (The downhill par 4 fourth is the longest at 484 yards). The fifth’s green is placed well off to the left and surrounded by five bunkers on the sides and another hidden bunker behind the green.
Of the par 3’s the short twelfth and fifteen are simply gorgeous golf holes looking down the valley with the twelfth fronted by a deep bunker that actually is set away from the green. The other five bunkers nearer the green are more dangerous. For the fifteenth you hit downhill to a green perfectly placed on a pad with three bunkers off its right side. The third hole, playing downhill sitting behind a ravine and large bunker with another bunker left and two at the rear would likely be the best par 3 on most courses but here it is merely the third best.
For beauty and experience, I would rate this course as a six. There are many holes I really liked here. The use of bunkers is nearly perfect for this course; restrained on some holes and terrifying on others. The green surrounds are very well done. If the fairway moguls and the green surfaces on about seven holes could be softened a bit, this would be a top 100 golf course in the USA.
Stone Eagle probably deserves a higher rank amongst the golf courses in California. I'd like to say it's a classic Doak, but I've heard the stories of the amount of dirt that was shipped in to help supplement the construction. Regardless it's a fantastic routing through a site that few would ever conceive a golf course to be, much like Cape Kidnappers.
The best design feature about Stone Eagle is that it requires the golfer to think and problem solve, especially around the greens. A lot of creativity is required to score well and not a lot of golf courses offer that. And that makes the experience fun and enjoyable, even when you're not necessarily playing well.
Most of the fairways are as wide as runways, typical to Doak designs, but rather than gripping and ripping it every hole, the golfer has to think about where specifically to place the ball in the fairway, similar to Streamsong Blue, to set himself up with the best angle into often strange and perplexing green complexes. Perception runs wild here as well as a lot of approaches look longer than they actually are which forces the golfer to find the distance and hit a club that visually doesn't seem right. This is a golf course that gets easier the more you play it.
And if the golf wasn't enough, the 19th hole (I guess 20th hole in Stone Eagle's case) has the best view I have ever seen in the lower 48. I think having a drink on the patio post-round is probably enough reason to play this golf course. It was worth the year wait for me. I'd recommend figuring out a way to play it.
Played here many years ago and I really enjoyed it there. People around the club were friendly and the course was very tough. Putting was very tricky with a lot of two-tiered greens. Believe that it has gone in another direction and is very exclusive now, but I only have positives for this course.
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!