6,392 yards, 125 Slope from the Championship/Regular Tees
Heritage Palms resides in Indio, California, which in general is part of the Palm Springs/La Quinta Coachella Valley. Arthur Hills designed the course, which opened in 1996. I grew up in California and La Quinta is some where I played a lot of golf when I was new to the game. It’s been at least five or six years since I visited, but was able to finally return earlier this year. The area is one of my favorite places to visit in the world, especially in the winter. Quartered by mountains on all sides, there’s a majestic stillness in that valley that I love to enjoy. Some times the wind will get up, but otherwise the perfect days for golf are aplenty out here. The air seems clearer, the views more vivid and the food tastes better.
As for Heritage Palms, it’s a semi-private course with terrific conditions that is representative of Hills’ design style; easy on the bunkers, a lot of risk/reward and undulating movement on the greens. Hills puts a lot of visuals and framing in his courses as well, which is evident here. Heritage uses contours off the greens, water comes into play often and one thing I noticed is there was a lot less emphasis on target aerial golf here than I’ve encountered at other Hills courses. It was not terribly strategic, but there were options available in approaching some of the holes and Hills created some interesting angles and blind shots I enjoyed. It’s a gentle ride of a course, like a big old Cadillac on one of the desert highways.
Getting a reprieve from the winter and glad to see the sun again, I took advantage of the range, short game area and putting green to shake off as much rust as possible. Maybe it was the joy of being able to get some golf in, but the swing felt free and easy. So with that, I stepped to the First tee, and promptly topped my tee shot 100 yards into the rough. And the second opening tee shot of the year is just as bad as the first. With that, however, my father, brother and I were off for a romp in the desert.
The First is a 349 yard par 4 (from the Championship/Regular hybrid tees). A gentle handshake, straight out to a wide fairway with a sprinkling of trees on either side. The right side starts falling off, especially closer to the green. The green runs from back to front and there’s a single green side bunker, on the right. The mountains and pine trees look on.
The Second is a 522 yard par 5. Things ramp up a bit with a narrower fairway, this dog leg right narrows even more at the turn. The fairway slopes from right to left as well, but then tilts in the opposite direction at the turn. The wide green looks inviting and with yet another single green side bunker, the temptation is not to take it on at all, which will leave you on the quick side of the green.
The Third is a 179 yard par 3. The wide green is on a shelf, with a bunker on the front right and the back sloping down and away. The hole is in its own area surrounded by houses, with grass and mounds any where off the green for the wildest of shots. A good hole to take advantage of for sure.
The Fourth is a 376 yard par 4. And just like that, the warm up is over. Lulled into complacency with palm trees, mountain views, wide fairways and gentle greens, the course has you right where it wants when it decides a swift punch to the gut is in order. One of the toughest holes on the course awaits, where water is hiding from the tee off the left and the fairway moves in that direction. A bunker on the right further forces the issue off the tee. Ironically, the more left you are off the tee, the better angle you have into the green, which also takes the water out of play for the most part. When the wind is up (which it was when I played here), it can come in from several directions, so keep that in mind as you advance to the green. The green is actually on the narrow side and slopes towards the water. I enjoyed the sudden fluctuation in difficulty.
The Fifth is a 374 yard par 4. Another one of the toughest holes, back to back with the Fourth nonetheless. The water seeps in form the left a little and is necessary to carry off the tee. The fairway cants from right to left and the green is narrow and moves quickly from back to front and right to left. More bunkers than usual grace the green as well, with the left side much lower and right side higher. The course is applying a bit of pressure early on and this green is quite demanding.
The Sixth is a 368 yard par 4. A gentle dog leg right with two larger waste bunker areas, the first on the right and the latter on the left. No green side bunkers, with the fairway rippling right into the green. Lots of width here and on most of the holes, but the fairway is deceivingly narrow compared to the rough areas on both sides. The rough, however, is fairly manageable.
The Seventh is a 489 yard par 5. The elevated tee surveys the hole beyond, with a longer bunker running along the first half of the left side, nudging you to the right side even though the hole becomes much longer there. A tougher approach shot to a green that’s elevated and set at an angle to the fairway. The fairway ends at a bunker, then there’s a landing area that bottles up to the front of the green. The hole isn’t long, so take advantage of setting up a shorter approach shot to the slippery green.
The Eighth is a 165 yard par 3. Another elevated tee with a forced carry over water to a wide green, with bail out room on the right. The green moves towards the water as well. A target green for sure.
The Ninth is a 384 yard par 4. The hole is relatively straight but has some definition based on the fairway shifting and placement of trees and mounds. The green is sunken from the fairway, with the right side falling off from the green. I actually liked the approach, which could be blind with the sunken nature of the green.
The front nine certainly has a rhythm, with the first few holes ramping up to the much tougher middle holes before mellowing yet again with the last couple. There were some fun par 4’s and 5’s. I’d rank them 5, 9, 4, 7, 6, 2, 1, 3, 8.
The back nine starts with the 501 yard par 5 Tenth. A straightaway hole with a longer bunker running along the left, as we see the bunkering start to get a little bolder than the earlier holes. The cart path splits the fairway, which narrows considerably leading up to the green. Another bunker spills off the right side of the green. I hit probably the best 3 wood I can remember here, measured at 254 yards. Yeah I’m bragging because I don’t know if it will ever happen again.
The Eleventh is a 191 yard par 3. A little more creativity here, with an elevated tee shot yet some brush makes it semi blind on the right side. The green is wide but runs from back to front, with a deadly bunker on the back left side. Taking on the blind side of the green is rewarded with a better position on the green while those trying to stay safe on the left risk going into the death bunker.
The Twelfth is a 420 yard par 4. The right side sinks down below the fairway while mounds and trees run along the left. The tee is a little elevated and the fairway landing area is fairly generous. On the approach, the fairway starts to tighten and wiggle to the green, which runs from right left and front to back. The green has a little bit more movement and was one of my favorites on the course.
The Thirteenth is a 350 yard par 4. Another straight hole that gets creative with the left side sweeping out a little as the fairway cants from left to right. Another great green that is uncharacteristically protected on the entire front side by a bunker, and runs from left to right as well, which also happens to be front to back. Coming in from the right side is probably ideal, even though there is all the room you can ask for on the left side.
The Fourteenth is a 199 yard par 3. An elevated tee shot over water to the green, with a bunker on the right side for those who try to steer away from the water. We’ve been here before.
The Fifteenth is a 363 yard par 4. Bunkers are once again toned down, as a single fairway bunker on the left is all that is on this hole. Lots of width in the fairway, which should be used to set up the approach. The mounds start heaving more as you get closer to the green, which moves from left to right.
The Sixteenth is a 331 yard par 4. The waste area to the left near the tee is basically superfluous but the larger bunker area to the right is very much in play off the tee. The fairway spills wide right after the bunker, providing a wide landing area for those who can get it out there. Staying left off the tee leaves a good approach line into the green. So really, lots of acceptable places to go except in that bunker on the right. The green is actually protected more than usual with bunkers but the rear is more inviting since there’s nothing back there other than rough. I love when there’s incentive hitting to the back of the green. Desert Forest comes to mind, as the greens there are challenging, yet the back of the green is the member’s secret to the best set up for putts. Here, I would give it a shot if you can.
The Seventeenth is a 495 yard par 5. A straight hole where the right side juts in once the water encroaches near the green. The fairway ripples and, going against the grain, widens as you get closer to the green. Water runs along the right side of the green. The green undulates nicely and moves from back to front. Getting out of position is a little tougher here than other holes, so keeping it on the fairway even if it means forsaking distance could work out well. Especially if you have a match on the line, I could see short and accurate beating long and wild most of time here.
The Eighteenth is a 336 yard par 4. The closing hole tees off over water on the right to a fairway that is wide, yet the water and a creek on the right give it an intimidation factor. The approach is another forced carry over water (even though there’s a small entry point in the front), ensuring you need to earn your score a little and again adding a little bit of panache to the closing holes if a match is still going on. The clubhouse is steps from the green, so no time is wasted going from one sanctuary to the other.
The back nine is a little easier than the front but is also has a nice mix of holes in terms of the challenge and hazards presented. There’s more of an emphasis on the aerial game with this set of holes and the closing stretch is good for a match. Ranking them for me would be 12, 13, 15, 11, 17, 10, 18, 16, 14.
Generally, Heritage Palms is an enjoyable course with a nice set of greens that does a few things to distinguish itself from a lot of other courses in the area. There’s a lot more grass than bunkers or native areas, so the aerial target golf that dominates desert courses is not as prevalent here. As a result, the ground game is available in a lot of spots while there’s a lot more freedom off the tee because of the forgiveness the grass provides. While you’re never asked anything too difficult or complex, there’s enough different looks and risk reward situations to keep the round engaging and the greens themselves keep things lively. The width helps the course play just as well with the wind, as well as allows more lines and flights to the green.
Importantly, the course yields to views of the mountains early and often. With terrific conditions as well, I found it a great place to enjoy my time in one of my favorite corners of the world.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Well sized and stocked, while the clubhouse is big enough inside and out to cater to many, with views of the Eighteenth and range.
Practice area: Driving range, large putting green and a great short game area, everything you need to sharpen up.