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A golf weekend in Palm Springs, California: Give yourself a Q-School challenge at PGA West

By David R. Holland, Contributor

La QUINTA, Calif. -- So you watched the Golf Channel's coverage of Q-School and you are itching to try out the courses of PGA West.

PGA West - Stadium Course
Even though the PGA West Stadium Course is difficult, the tee-time sheets are always booked.
PGA West - Stadium CoursePGA West - Nicklaus Tournament CourseCimarron Golf Resort - Pebble CourseLa Quinta Resort & Club - suite

You're in good company -- even though the PGA West Stadium Course was designed by Pete Dye to be the toughest golf course of all-time, the tee-time sheets are booked heavily when the temperatures lower in the California desert.

Talk about a challenging weekend. You can tee it up at the Stadium Course and the other venue of the 2002 Tour Qualifying School -- the PGA West Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course. Only the top 35 and ties get promoted to the PGA Tour from this nerve-wracking week at PGA West. At least you won't have that kind of pressure.

And while you are in town, for variety sake, travel over to the 36-hole Cimarron Golf Resort for a more affordable round with excellent service and one of the best short courses in the country.

PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and Stadium Course

If there was ever a motto for playing the challenging golf courses of PGA West it would be: "pay attention."

In the 2000 Q-School, Cliff Kresge gained instant recognition. During the final round he was toiling over a menacing long par putt, backed up just a little too far and tumbled backward over railroad ties into a lake. Kresge climbed out, missed the putt and made bogey. He trotted briskly to the clubhouse, put on his rain pants and finished the 108 holes of competition 18-under par, good for his tour card.

Others have suggested "blowing it up," bulldozing it and "it just makes me feel uncomfortable.

This year's tour school included three rounds on both the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Stadium Course. These layouts are stern tests of golf but the Stadium Course played about two strokes tougher.

Try a par 3 with a 200-yard carry and a bunker 20 feet deep. Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neal, former Speaker of the House, will never forgot that cavernous bunker at the Stadium Course. He took 10 shots to get out of the deep, deep bunker on No. 16.

Q-School stories are legendary -- Rolaids, white knuckles strangling shaky putters, club-tossing, angry looks and frustrated dreams are realized here. One golfer called it the Bermuda Triangle of golf.

It has been home for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in 1995-1996, the Skins Game from 1986-91, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1987 and has been a PGA Grand Slam of Golf site. The tour players squealed bloody murder after the 1987 Hope, ending that short run.

The Stadium Course is one challenge after the other. But No. 17, Alcatraz, is stunning. It plays 168 from the back or 83 yards from the front and is much like Sawgrass' No. 17 island green. During Q-School the pros say it is just as brutal as is its sibling at Sawgrass, especially with the high tension and pressure. Some say the green at PGA West may even be tougher and a fraction smaller. On days when the green is firm you will see many balls in the water.

But Alcatraz has produced one legendary televised shot. Remember Lee Trevino with an ace in the 1987 Skins Game? He hit a 6-iron 166 yards, turned and hugged his caddy. A plaque beside the tee box commemorates the achievement.

"Tiger Woods shot 74 from the tips at the Stadium Course," said Greg Raleigh, head pro. "The Stadium Course is one of the strongest tests of golf on the planet. The Nicklaus Tournament Course is fair and straight up. If you hit a good shot you will be rewarded, but if you miss a green you could be looking a bogey or worse.

The Nicklaus Tournament Course presents plateaus or table-top fairways. Not all features are visible from the tee boxes, but just simply hit it down the middle to avoid the drop-offs, where you will find challenging second shots to greens that are now elevated.

The grass is also shaved around the greenside sand traps, so if you mis-hit one short of the putting surface most likely it will roll back into the steep traps.

"Nicklaus presents angled tee boxes on this course so you have to pay attention," Raleigh said. "I think the Nicklaus Tournament Course is one of the best resort layouts ever built. Pace of play is super. It may appear to be narrow with the plateaued fairways, but there's plenty of room to get up and down.

From the black tees the Stadium Course measures 7,261 yards, a rating of 75.9 and slope of 150. The Nicklaus Tournament Course is 7,204 yards from the back at par 72 and a rating of 74.7 and slope of 139.

Cimarron Golf Resort

Opened in 2000, Cimarron Golf Resort features 36 holes designed by John Fought. Named for the Cimarron, a purple flower found here, this is a welcome escape in the desert.

"Golfers like the fact we stand alone out here," said Jason Setterlund, Cimarron's marketing chief. "You won't be hitting in the back yard of someone's house. You get curb-to-curb service and we have the best greens in the desert.

Cimarron utilizes European-style characteristics such as sod-wall bunkers filled with white crushed marble in its par-71, 6,858-yard Long Course (called the Boulder Course).

And folks around here think the par-56, 3,156-yard short course (called the Pebble Course) ranks among the best short layouts in the nation. It features 16 nifty par 3's and two equally classic par 4's and is ideal for players looking for a quick round, for family gatherings or for beginners.

Where to stay

The La Quinta Resort & Club provides the type of desert getaway fantasized about in old movies. Palm Springs represents the "Golden Era" of Hollywood, and La Quinta models the luxurious surroundings the stars used to inhabit.

Stars such as Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, William Powell, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, and Errol Flynn have paid Palm Springs a visit.

The resort was built in 1926 for recreation and relaxation amid an atmosphere of exclusivity and privacy, and years later became Frank Capra's inspiration for "It Happened One Night".

If you're looking to stay at one of most exclusive botique hotels, make sure to check out the Lake La Quinta Inn.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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