DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. -- The Coachella Valley and Palm Springs area is, without question, a golf oasis, sporting 120 courses across its desert sands.
But a note to the newcomer: Many of the tracks across the beauty and bounty are either of the private or resort variety, meaning that while diversity is indeed abundant, the presence of home or hotel-lined courses is the norm.
For some variation in your Palm Springs itinerary, blow on over 10 miles to Desert Hot Springs, where a re-polished gem is finding new life in recent years.
Opened in 1989, the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Desert Dunes Golf Club enjoyed a decade-plus of accolades for its unique, remote and rustic links-style layout before slowly falling off "Best Of" lists come the new millennium.
But new leadership in recent years arrived in the form of a man familiar with sporting greatness.
Grant Fuhr -- five-time Stanley Cup champion, best known as a great goalie with the 1980s' Edmonton Oilers -- is part of the course's ownership group and the director of golf at Desert Dunes.
"We've been working to get the course back to where it should be, to playing more like a links golf course again," Fuhr said of the area's only public RTJ2 design. "And, for a while, they overseeded everything, so it played like your basic golf course. It wasn't a links golf course, it wasn't hard and fast -- it was soft and lush."
Desert Dunes: Second-shot savvy required
Coupled with the links layout across these untamed grounds are some serious lofted-iron demands to score around well-protected green. Wind and wildlife compliment a sneaky play that (with just three par 4s more than 406 yards) always plays longer.
"The yardage will never overwhelm you," Fuhr said of the 6,876-yard length. "But most players still won't go out and shoot a great number here. Which is the perfect golf course. It lets you think you can shoot a great number every day, but it won’t just give it to you. It needs to be earned. You'll hit a lot of wedges out here, but if you can't put it in certain places, you're still not going to shoot a good number. The golf course defends itself well."
While those testy green structures and surrounds are evident from the outset, the course really awakens on the 398-yard seventh, where water appears blindly past the downhill approach right. The hole brings more water, with the lake fronting the entirety of the 181-yard tee shot.
Rounding to the back, Desert Dunes' open feel gets a complexion change, with back-to-back, short par 4s squeezed by tree-lining.
"It's a different feel, and you're not going to spray it there," Fuhr said, smiling.
The back nine at Desert Dunes Golf Club
Ample challenge follows on much of the latter side.
"On 13, it depends which way the wind is blowing; if it's down wind, and you can squeeze it past those bunkers right, you can get to the green," said Fuhr of the getable 586-yarder. "The fairway slopes left-to-right, so it feeds toward those bunkers. If it's into the wind or a calm day, hit three-wood between the bunkers, hit a lay-up shot and then a controlled wedge to a green that's 50-yards deep with a big saddle in the middle. Pin placement really dictates how hard that is."
The final par 5 is a beauty of a design with water fronting the approach.
"If you hit a good drive, it bates you into going for it," Fuhr explained. "But you have to hit a perfect shot to that green; you miss left, it's not a bonus, you miss right and you get to go swimming. Don't go to sleep on that hole, play it as a conservative three-shot to score, and know that the green really feeds from left-to-right. The minute you get aggressive, the hole will bite you."
Heading back home, the muscular 18th is Desert Dunes Golf Club's longest par 4, finishing with a seemingly massive, shared green that holds a bunker in the middle.
"It just a good, old-fashioned hard finishing hole," Fuhr said. "There's that trench to the right there that has a name we won't repeat. It doesn't look like it's in play -- but it's in play. You've got room to hit a good drive, but if you come up short and find the big bunker in front, you're dead. You play right of the green, you're dead. So the best play is going long and left."
Desert Dunes Golf Club: The verdict
Chase Herschman, a low-handicap, first-time player from Los Angeles, said the course wasn't too windy and played fair.
"You can lose some balls out here with bad driver play, so I found myself hitting a few more irons off the tee, which isn't a normal thing for me," he said. "But it's really nice out here, and you kinda' feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, which you don’t get on most courses in the Palm Springs area."
Fuhr pointed out that the course is close to all that Palm Spring has to offer, but it's far enough away that you feel like you're in your own world here.
"It's not designed as a resort-style course," he said. "An average player can enjoy it, because it's friendly that way, but the good player will need to work. And that's the fun out here."
Back on the upswing in recent years, Desert Dunes provides some excellent solitude to go with very fair rates that span all year (including the desert's high-season, winter months).
Beautiful in its rustic feel and spare, links-style layout, the course often proves a great test of second shot play and, despite its lack of distance, yields few birdies across most cards.