Sometimes playing a round of golf can become blurry. It seems to happen more frequently when playing a course for the first time. While playing on vacation, many times there’s only one opportunity to play a golf course. Several things go into how positive the experience might be. Mission Hills became slightly chaotic on the day we chose. Distraction in and around the clubhouse can periodically find their way onto the course. Still, it’s important to clear the mind, concentrating on golf. Pete Dye is one of the more famous course designers. Having never played one of his designs, there was excitement going into the day. The longer I’ve been playing golf, the more interest I’ve gained in the designers. Some of these designers have similar aspects to each of their courses. Going into Mission Hills some of the distinct features of a Pete Dye had been mentioned. It left me wondering how my game and eye would fit in with a Dye design.
Mission Hills is a Westin resort in Palm Desert. The golf shop isn’t far from the main resort and activity around the pools. We weren’t staying as guests at the resort and didn’t understand what we were walking into. During this week, the resort was hosting a U.S. kids junior golf event. The event seemed to discombobulate their staff, causing folks to experience frustration. We weren’t the only players being blown off by the staff, as you could listen to other golfers complaining. There was a group of us waiting to get started and a staff who seemed completely overwhelmed. One of the bummers about having cerebral palsy is during times of perceived disrespect you think about the disability. Wondering if we are being treated poorly because of CP. However, when you look around and everyone is complaining, it pretty much rules out cerebral palsy.
The situation still brought about a feeling of not belonging. It’s been a long time since questioning my place in a golf environment. But, with many kids and parents around preparing to play in a seemingly important tournament, the looks made me feel slightly out of place. When we finally settled into our first tee, which ended up being the 10th hole, we were asked by a youngster’s parents if they could play ahead of us. Their tee time was scheduled after ours, but they wanted to be in front. The situation can’t help but leave me in a place to wonder if people at a resort course like Mission Hills, view my movements, listen to my speech, and question my ability to play golf. The emotion can sometimes leave me questioning my ability to play and I’ve been playing golf 30 years. We held our ground, teeing off in our scheduled spot before the group of irritant, never holding them up. It was time to focus on the challenging Pete Dye layout.
Some design features Pete Dye seems to use are slight elevation changes, railroad ties, steep embankments, and difficult bunkering. The features I’d heard about going into the round were elevation changes and steep embankments. After playing Mission Hills, Pete Dye has many distinct features separating his designs. His course at Mission Hills was one of the more challenging I’ve played. Beginning our play on the back nine worked out nicely. The final nine holes were the less exciting of the course. Without the excitement of interesting holes, playing the back first brought to light his designs. The slight changes in elevation were quickly noticeable. Many of the greens were elevated above the fairway with steep drop-off into deep greenside bunkers. The elevated greens place a premium on the golfers’ ability to chip and pitch. Also, becoming clear through the first few holes was the importance of steering clear of all bunkers. The steep embankments surrounding many of the bunkers made it appear that hitting out of them would be a task. They seemed designed as true hazards, meant to cost the golfer a shot or two. There were some good holes on the back nine. The 14th and 16th were eye catching, the 18th ran alongside a lake, making it visually appealing. But, the beauty and uniqueness of the golf course was in the first nine holes.
Like any of us who work creatively, sometimes we simply hit a sweet spot. Maybe it can be referred to as being in the zone. Well, when designing the front nine at Mission Hills, Pete Dye seemingly found some magic. Obviously, the way a golfer feels about a course design is subjective. You could read this blog, go play the front nine of the Pete Dye at Mission Hills, and think to yourself, “what on God’s green earth is Peter talking about!” But, that’s the fun of different personal takes on different golf courses. It can lead to fun conversations and debates around shared experiences between golfers. There were many unique holes on the front nine. The course began with a simple par-4, dogleg left. It was inviting to the eye, then was followed by another par-4 with an elevated green. The third was a par-3 with a uniquely large sand trap covering the entire length of the hole from tee to green. These holes seemed to get the golfer off on a good note. The great thing about them was how different each hole was, giving the player a different look and different perspective. Another great hole was the par-3 8th, completely over a pond and the 9th had another nicely elevated green. There were inviting views all over the front nine, with soft inviting angles. It was a joy to play.
It’s a blessing to play golf at places like Mission Hills. Even with cerebral palsy causing difficult challenges, the experiences are awesome. Playing golf on these new courses causes exciting anticipation. Many times, you hear about a course before you play it. Usually through word of mouth, many courses and designers gain reputations. Some reputations live up to their billing, others bring shock by being more fun than anticipated, while other courses might let a player down. Hoping to be awed by a golf course when it doesn’t happen. Players probably look upon courses differently to determine whether they like the course or not. It seems many times it might be about a courses condition or playability. With cerebral palsy, just playing golf is a challenging task, so it’s about the unique design of a course. Whether or not a golf course can have me admiring the pictures it creates. The breathtaking admiration of a course can cause an escape from the challenges of coping with CP each day. The Pete Dye at Mission Hills did just that for me. Especially playing the front nine, took me on a delicious excursion through a well-designed nine holes. Even with the trouble getting started, it was a course to be seen.