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My Turn – Shadow Mountain GC

A winter golf trip—at least in the confines of the U.S.—takes one to the Southern regions of the 50 states and one of the prime areas is Southern California, where the desert territory just outside of the Los Angeles basin known as the Coachella Valley has earned a reputation as a golf haven.

With over 120 golf courses in this 45-mile area, there is no shortage of new adventures for those looking to hit the links in this winter resort area—be it the famous PGA West complex in the eastern end of the valley or the many private and public courses scattered throughout the area.

But one of the most underrated classic courses that is the third oldest in this golf-centric location is a golf course that should be played on a visit to the Palm Springs area.

Shadow Mountain Golf Club, located in the heart of Palm Desert, opened in 1958 as the first golf course in that city that now has dozens.  It was designed by Gene Sarazen, known as  “The Squire” for his dapper dress and ever-present two-tone wing tipped shoes, and the first to win the professional Grand Slam of golf with the US Open in 1922, the PGA in 1923, the British Open in 1932 and the Masters in 1935 at the age of 33. Only Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have done the same.

What sets this course apart is the fact that by today’s standards, with a maximum length of 5,375 yards, it would be considered an executive course even though it plays to a par 70—71 for the women. But Shadow Mountain certainly doesn’t play like an executive course.  As the starter noted prior to a round there, even single-digit handicap players have been challenged by this course and literally come away shaking their head.

It is old school—flat, lots of trees and rough and you better hit it in the fairway if you want to score.  It is also one of the few courses in that area that is very comfortable to walk.  Tight and tricky are good descriptions, and Sarazen himself alluded to the challenges when the course opened:

“The new modern course of this type is shorter than most, but is not easier to play,” said Sarazen.  “It will give the golfer who uses his brain a chance against the competitor who hits with power, and I think it will be one of the sportiest and most challenging courses in the entire area”.

The history of Shadow Mountain Golf Club reaches back to just after World War II. It was the vision of developer Cliff Henderson, known as the “Father of Palm Desert”. It started with the purchase of 620 acres in 1946, the Club was originally conceived as a planned community for those wanting to enjoy the club’s planned tennis, golf, swimming, horseback riding, dinner and dancing amenities. Sixty-four years later the City of Palm Desert proclaimed it an historic landmark and the first golf course in the city.

The course meanders through the neighborhoods of South Palm Desert and around the Shadow Mountain Resort–and is tucked in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains which offers a good amount of wind protection that many courses in the area do not have. Shadow Mountain is located just blocks from the famous El Paseo shopping and dinning district and many hotels and resorts are just a few minutes away.

A treat to play, Shadow Mountain is a course where you will want to use irons or hybrids off the tee on most holes as opposed to a driver, since the rough, which looks pretty benign from afar, can influence approach shots more than you can imagine. There are over 600 mature palm trees along the course, and the greens are well protected by the sand bunkers, so a good short game with crisp iron shots is critical to be able to score well here. Shadow Mountain is well maintained and manicured, and the ability to walk there—especially in the cooler months—is a nice change.

It is definitely a course that should be included for a visit to the Southern California desert this winter.

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Story by Terry Ross