6,838 yards, 130 Slope from the Blues
Pete Dye seemed to enjoy working in La Quinta. A number of his courses dot the valley, like one of those cluster charts that shows you incoming storm fronts. In a way, my education into course design began out here in the desert. Both my Dad and I starting out in the game, he’d always let me know when we were going to a Pete Dye course. That was code for we were going some where of note, yet it also meant we probably needed to grab another dozen balls.
While the density of Dye courses in the Philadelphia area is a lot less than La Quinta, my appreciation for Dye remains, um . . . dense. More to the point, “A Dye-Gone Era” https://golfadelphia.com/2019/09/28/a-dye-gone-era/ outlines my thoughts on the Dyes, whom I think are a lot more important to current design trends than most know or will admit. Perhaps all the rounds at those Dye courses way back when planted the seeds of inception for my enthusiasm of course architecture. Bunker shapes, greens nipped here and ruffled there, angled mounds; showing early on how vibrant it all can be and how much the soul of a course can resonate with you. Perhaps, even back then, it all struck me like it does now, without me entirely aware of what was happening.
Yet today is now and I’ve had a lot of time to learn and play plenty of Dye’s courses. The Citrus Club is one that we always drove by but never had a chance to play. Having heard good things about it and remembering all those years ago driving by, I had the opportunity to finally see it for myself. I also love the name.
Coincidentally, I believe it’s part of the La Quinta Resort family of golf courses with Mountain and Dunes, but is private. Built by the Dyes in 1987, six years after the Mountain and Dunes. The Citrus is a much different layout than these other two. Orange trees line a lot of the fairways at what is more of a parkland that you would find back East in the wooded hills of the Appalachians instead of the desert oasis of La Quinta, it’s one of the closest things you can find to a traditional Dye work of art. Loosely tied to a rolling parkland layout, his mark is with the bunkering, ground contours and mounding. In fact, the mounding is notable for its big and bold impressions on some of the holes, which drives a lot of the character of the course. Fun entry points to greens, more rough than you’ll find at just about any course out here, a healthy dose of water and even one of the only template holes I’ve seen on a Dye course, there’s plenty of intrigue here. As a self proclaimed Dye connoisseur, this is worthy of study for Dye’s balancing of his own style with traditional parkland tenets. . . in the middle of the desert. I don’t think he would have it any other way.
The club was lively and unless you looked at a calendar, you could have talked yourself into thinking it was the middle of June instead of January. Fresh off a round at the Mountain course, I was eager to compare and contrast. There was a lot of that, as the courses are very different from one another, which shows just how versatile the Dyes were. Content and grateful to get a few days out west, the journey continues.
The First is a 379 yard par 4 (from the Blues). Starting off with the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa in the background, the fairway takes a mini dog leg right before straightening out then narrowing towards the green. The bunkering stood out almost immediately. From their shapes to the larger gradual bare lips, many are set a lot more below the fairways and greens than it appears at first glance. The ground contours near the green likewise stood out. Very much engaging the ground game, here there was a good amount of room to miss to the right of the green for those opting for an up and down from that area. The greens move here though, so tread carefully. Indeed, the greens were much faster than what I saw at the Mountain and an adjustment was necessary. A wide open opener with well placed bunkers and a configuration between fairway and green that allows almost any type of play, a great way to start off.
The Second is a 542 yard par 5. Like most of the courses out here, houses line most of the course. How those houses interact with the course, whether they’re too close that interferes in both sight and sound, as well as how often they come into play on mis hit shots. Here, they’re set off far enough and otherwise positioned where I didn’t think much about them, which is always the intended effect. The course stretches its legs early on with this par 5. The fairway is wide at the tee landing area, then dips and narrows before rising and widening again well before the green. Bending slightly to the left, the green is placed off to that side, above the fairway. Again, the bunkers and ground contours impressed. The left side of the fairway pulls downwards, with mounds full of rough on that side, above the fairway. It’s not an enviable position to be but a measured rebuke for the misplay in getting over there in the first place. It’s best to attack from the right side, which remains so through the green. A versatile hole allowing various strategies.
The Third is a 203 yard par 3. A forced carry over water and a large bunker complex, this is more characteristic of the more popular Dye style throughout his career. The angles from the tee, which face the extreme left of the hole, are interesting, as short of the green essentially dog legs right around the bunker and feeds into the green. Those who know this hole well are surely familiar with this area and could take advantage by hedging left over the smaller part of the bunker, leaving a nice run into the green on short grass. The more adventurous, or skilled, or those who simply don’t know any better, will challenge the larger part of the bunker and water to reach the green. With the mountains as the immediate backdrop, it’s a punctuation on a great opening sequence.
The Fourth is a 438 yard par 4. A slight dog leg right, bunkers on the left rap the wrist from trying to venture too far on that side for an ideal angle into the green. Then, it switches and Greenside the bunkers are on the right, rapping those who avoided the left fairway bunkers too ardently. So it’s a pick your position situation and I’ll go right center every time.
The Fifth is a 384 yard par 4. The hole is straight until the very end, when the green decides to all of a sudden duck left behind some very dramatic mounding that can best be described as a towering ramp, blocking views of the green for everyone except those on the extreme right. It’s almost as if this mounding didn’t want to be undone by the hillside on the right off the tee, which partially blocks the view of the fairway. The fairway itself joins in the fun and ripples throughout, all of it heaving towards the green, which is a larger affair, with a drop off on the left side. A fun hole with not so subtle strategy in large part due to the bold grandiose shaping.
The Sixth is a 439 yard par 4. More visual toying from the tee as the bunker on the left and water on the right almost meet, which pinches the fairway just before it spills out in both directions in such a way that hitting off to the right seems like the best play. Yet that simply takes us further away from the green and instead, flirting with the left bunker or even trying to carry it is ideal to set up a shorter approach. Water continues down that right side while larger bunkers stagger the left, all while the fairway narrows as it heads to the green. The green is small and there’s very little room to miss off of it unless it’s short, so plan that approach carefully.
The Seventh is a 142 yard par 3. At a corner of the property, a large bunker dominates the left side while the right is full of moguls. They are moguls, not mounds, based on their size and severity of crevices between them. Two entirely different recovery shots depending on what side you end up on off the green, as well as short or long. Just hit the damn green and you don’t have to worry about all that. It’s certainly large enough with nice movement and with its angle from the tee, even a short right shot has a chance to hit it.
The Eighth is a 532 yard par 5. When the course straightens out, Dye is able to massage strategy with tee placement, narrowing/widening, uphill/downhill and of course bunker and green placement. Here, the green is set on the right while the wider fairway unfurls ahead. A mellow fairway accounting for its length, near the green is another story. Smaller bunkers on the left, hidden from the fairway, while much larger and longer bunkers are on the right while the green has a long and gradual run off on the right side. The blind left side of the green is actually safer, yet again showing us the adventurous among us will be rewarded . . . or go down in spectacular fashion.
The Ninth is a 380 yard par 4. We come up on the opposite side of the driving range, a perfect loop from where we started. Once again, the straight hole is varied with the tee placement on the left while sizable bunkers roam that left side. The wider right side calls to us from the tee but bear in the mind the tree line and beyond that, the driving range. After the tee shot, the fairway narrows and the green is likewise small, the entry point also set to the right. Accuracy in placement on both shots becomes more urgent than before and by all means, dodging the range ball shots on that right side is infinitely better than getting caught in the bunker abyss on the left.
The front nine is very much flowing, with the fairways spilling around bunkers and mounds while greens have a lot of gentle sloping and run off areas. Angles, lines and sides of holes bring in strategy and what I’m self-coining, “hazard selection,” which means what type of hazard would you be more willing to deal with if your shot is mis hit. I would rank them 5, 4, 2, 1, 6, 3, 7, 8, 9.
The back nine starts with the 384 yard par 4 Tenth. If you look behind your should while standing on the First tee, you’ll see the Tenth tee, heading out in the opposite direction. Another group waived me through so I didn’t have time to photo the tee shot, but it’s a bit different than others in how it forces you to decide between laying up to the shorter wide part of the fairway or try to carry a larger bunker sitting below the fairway on the left. I hedged and went right of it, into the rough, which seemed to work out fine as well. Another deeper bunker is greenside left while a grass bunker is squarely front and center of the green. I’ve said it before and will say it again, the grass bunker is criminally used too infrequently. Here, it throws caution to those who want to run their ball on to the green and instead, will need to approach in that manner from the sides. Lots of options here and the back nine is off to a great start.
The Eleventh is a 418 yard par 4. On the left side beyond the course is good old Jefferson Street. Among those courses running along Jefferson are here, PGA West Stadium, The Hideaway and Rancho La Quinta. Not too shabby for a road only a few mils long. As for the Eleventh, it wanders ever so slightly to the right from the left tee placement. This flow comes into play with the hole essentially showing you where to get your tee shot; off to the right. The green is set off to the left, in line with the tee, and the entry point is from the right. So the ideal angle if right and there really is nothing stopping you from swinging wildly in that direction.
The Twelfth is a 380 yard par 4. Large, bunker ponds on the right again are enough of a visual cue to favor the left side off the tee. This is fine, but there’s also a nice fairway cut out between the bunkers on the right you can’t see from the tee. The fairway then tightens and goosenecks to the green. Bunkers are on both sides, close enough to choke the goose. The bunkers creates a visual of have the fairway essentially disappear (if you’re on the right), so yet another reason to stay left off the tee. The green is deep and fatter at the front, falling off sharply on both sides. Really liked the shaping here.
The Thirteenth is a 174 yard par 3. I feel like Dye couldn’t take it any longer and needed to inject some tough love into the round. This forced carry over water all the way to the green, set at an angle, could come straight from Harbour Town. There’s room to bail out on the left, but mind that bunker. You could blast out, hit the green and then watch your ball keep rolling into the water. That’s not from first hand experience or anything though. The green is deep, allowing enough room for shots to release and rest.
The Fourteenth is a 521 yard par 5. Tee is on the right and so is the water but no matter, plenty of room off to the left. We move up the fairway where theft side falls off a bit, almost telegraphing you S-O-S that a monster bunker on the left is coming, so get over to the other side. The fairway bottlenecks and leads to the green, falling off into a bunker off to the left and rough on the right, a smaller green amongst a swirling of trouble.
The Fifteenth is a 385 yard par 4. I started wondering why the 380’s seemed familiar. That’s because this is the SIXTH hole with that distance. The First is 379 (close enough), Fifth is 384, Ninth is 380, Tenth is 384, Twelfth is 380 and this one. Just comes to show you how different the Dyes can make the exact same distance holes, even when there’s six of them. The immense bunker on the right, then the one on the other side of the fairway, makes it seem like there’s no room between them and all must be carried from the tee but there’s actually a good amount of room. And in that area, the fairway runs downhill, bunkers surrounding but a large ramp wrapping around the left front side. Another nice play, in the 380’s.
The Sixteenth is a 147 yard par 3. Coming up to the tee, I looked at the green and what immediately came to mind is a Short, the template short par 3 that typically has a raised green and surrounded by bunkers below. Indeed, when compared the other Shorts out there, the wavy bunkers are similar to what’s at National Golf Links of American while the green undulates unfettered, even dropping off in a few spots where the ball could potentially fall into the bunkers. Surrounded by Spanish style haciendas, with open yard courtyards, clay tile roofs and ceramic here and there, it’s almost intended to appear like an oasis, isolated from the rest of the course. It was an exciting discovery, as I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a template Dye has done other than this. I promptly hit my tee shot in the bunker, so, you know, I could examine things more closely, and had blast on the green. A real treasure.
The Seventeenth is a 535 yard par 5. Hills and mounds abound here, with the fairway tightening where the cart path crosses over, then widens again, climbing to the green, room and entry point to the left, large deep bunker on the right. A long hole, the challenge is mostly at the green.
The Eighteenth is a 455 yard par 4. Take the visual cues of the mongo bunker on the left and field of green to the right. Of course, the green is set to the left over water so the more left you end up, including carrying the bunker on the left, your approach will be that much more manageable. Yet the right side might be a bit longer approach but I like the angle into the green more. Alas, there’s options. The approach is a risky one, a do or die proposition unless you want to try and engage the ground and run it on. Bunkers are on the far sides, just so you can’t belt it as far as you can over the trouble with no worries. Finishing mere paces from the Tenth tee, the loop is complete. Walking off to the green, I was hoping to be brought out an Orange Julius, just thought it would have been the perfect moment for one. Maybe that’s just me. Another foray in the desert complete, the early winter eve slowly blanketed the horizon as I bid adieu. Moving on, still so unaware just how quickly things were about to change.
The back nine is a little more diverse and tougher than the front. Some hillier terrain, more forced carries and creative bunkering as well. My ranking would be 16, 17, 10, 12, 15, 14, 18, 11, 13.
Generally, The Citrus Club is a much different Dye course than many of the others you’ll find out in the La Quinta area or even in general. Difficulty is not the calling card here, even with his TPC PGA West Stadium down the road, where the PGA players banned it from play for that very reason. Instead, Citrus is strategic with an interesting ground game, hunting for angles and knowledge of ideal sides and contours. There are foreboding areas to avoid from tee to green and getting to know the course is the only way to figure out how you prefer navigating them. It seems Dye was aiming for different concepts here. In fact, the template Sixteenth raises the course to a whole other level of intrigue for me. Staying with the theme of a more east coast type layout, templates are seen more often back east and midwest; they are certainly the exception out west. Void of any type of native desert terrain, the rough and ample grass kind of raises hints of Shadow Creek, only in the sense of instilling a certain type of course that starkly contrasts with its environment. Following this, the playing style and shaping here is more parkland than desert, again emphasizing this contrast. For those who may think Dye was hell bent on difficulty above all else, simply try for a round here, demonstrating Dye’s versatility was evident even back in his heyday of the 1980’s.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The clubhouse is a striking Spanish mission style estate, courtyards and cathedral ceilings abound. The pro shop is well-sized, adjacent to the range and First tee.
Practice area: Full range, short game area and putting green.