After a couple of weeks off from golf, I traveled to California for the second time during my quest. The first time was to play The Shores Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach Golf Links and The Preserve. I’d come this time to play a private course in Los Angeles, the Valley Club of Montecito, and The Quarry at La Quinta. It turned out to be a very tragic time to be in California. It rained like it rarely does in Southern California. The rain caused mudslides that resulted in several deaths in the Montecito area. It goes without saying that the people had a lot more to deal with than some guy trying to play golf. We and our planet are a resilient lot, but incidents like this show just how fragile life can be. My heart goes out to the people of Montecito and I wish them well in their recovery.
Despite the heavy rains on my first day in California, I was able to play one of the private courses in LA that is ranked in the 100 Courses as rated by Golf Digest for 2017-18. On the next day I drove to Palm Desert.
Golf in the desert is a beautiful thing. My first experience with desert golf was at The Estancia Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was impressed with how manicured the fairways were and how green and lush the course a whole was. They joked about watering the grass Evian. If the Estancia Club uses Evian, The Quarry at La Quinta must use Dom Perignon to water their fairways. The fairways and greens were perfect. They rivaled the manicured nature of Augusta National. Not surprisingly, I believe The Quarry has finished in the top five rankings for course condition every year since it was built. There have been years where it has out ranked Augusta National.
I don’t recall seeing a single divot in the fairway. The ones I made seemed to somehow disappear all on their own. The grass seemed to replenish itself.
I came to the desert to play this course because Brent Teunis, the Head PGA Professional was very supportive of my quest to in one year play the top 100 Courses in the US as ranked by Golf Digest. He agreed to host me and allowed me to play the course with one of his young assistance, Justin. Justin’s and my path had crossed months before when I played at Castle Pines in Colorado. Justin spends a part of his year as an Assistant PGA Professional at The Quarry at LaQuinta and part of it as an assistant at Castle Pines. He is from Norfolk, Nebraska, the home of my late night hero, Johnny Carson. He was born in Iowa, but his family moved Nebraska when he was 8. I loved watching the Tonight Show as a teenager, when he was the host. Like Mr. Carson, Justin attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Just like my caddie at Sand Hills, Riley. I asked Justin if he knew Riley. Riley played golf at the University of Nebraska. I don’t recall whether he knew him or not. As you will discover later, my memory from my day of golf at La Quinta was less than normal.
When I arrived at the entrance to the community that The Quarry at La Quinta is in, I was greeted by a legend. The security guard, Bill is 80 years old. Bill has been greeting folks at the entrance since the construction of the community started. He provided directions to the clubhouse and wished me well during my round.
I was met at the clubhouse by Matt who put my clubs on a cart and directed to me to the driving range. I must admit that there were some divots on the driving range, but not nearly as many as you see as most driving ranges. There were however no bare areas.
My swing was fluid and my clubs seemed dialed in. I was looking forward to a great day of golf on a well maintained beautiful and scenic golf course. After my warm up, I returned to the pro shop to meet Brent and thank him for hosting me. He introduced me to Justin. Justin and I then headed to the first tee with our forecaddie Quintin. Justin and I agreed to play the blue tees. They measure almost 6650 yards with a rating of 71.6 and a slope of 128.
The Quarry at La Quinta opens with a 510 yard par five. While the fairway is narrow ranging from about 35 yards at its widest point to less than 20 at its narrowest point. There is generous low cut rough on both sides. There are trees beyond the rough. There is but one fairway bunker for the first 400 yards and its on the left. There are three more on the left starting at about 100 yards from the green. There is also one small one off the left front of the green. I hit my drive 220 yards to the right rough. I thought I hit a good drive and was surprised that the ball didn’t fly farther.
I laid up to 125 yards out but missed the fairway on the right.
There was a tree with over handing branches that blocked a direct line to the pin which was position in the left middle part of the green. I tested the angle and it appeared that a shot with my pitching wedge would clear the tree. With a bunker off the front left of the green, I didn’t want to risk a fade not cutting and landing in the bunker. I chose to aim directly at the flag and hit over the tree. My ball clipped the top of the tree. That took just enough off the ball to cause it to land in the fringe just a few inches from the front of the green.
My 35 foot putt held its line while it rolled directly toward the hole. Unfortunately, it rolled just 33 feet leaving a two-footer the par. I made the putt to open my round with a par.
The second hole is a beautiful and wide-open par three that measures 185 yards, 110 of which are over desert landscaping. There is 40 yards of fairway immediately in front of the green. The green is a typical Fazio design with a false front. The pin was positioned just beyond the false front. There is a long bunker along the right side of the green. I hit my tee shot a couple of yards short of the green.
I pitched on to eight feet but missed the par putt and made a bogey on the hole.
The third hole is a short par four. It measures just 345 yards. The fairway is just 30 yards across as it curves its way along the desert floor past fairway bunkers on the left and right at about 250 yards from the tee, to a pinto bean shaped green with three bunkers along its left side and one along the right. My three wood tee shot missed the fairway by five feet to the right and landed in the rough, 140 yards from the middle of the green.
The pin was positioned on the back of the green, 155 yards away. I hit my approach shot directly at the flag. The ball landed one foot short of the flag, hopped over the hole and rolled off the back of the green.
I putted from off the green to three feet short of the cup. I made the putt for my final par on the front nine. After a par-bogey-par start, my game deteriorated rapidly.
The fourth hole is a 370 yard par four. It has a sweeping narrow fairway that curves right to left. The fairway shrinks from about 35 yards down to 25 yards after it clears a long bunker along the left side. There is very left room between the left edge of the fairway and the desert. There is ample room to miss the fairway on the right, but that brings trees into play. I pushed a short drive to the right rough.
The ball came to rest on slope off the right side of the fairway. This made for a very awkward stance. I topped my second shot. It went left into the bunker along the left side of the fairway. It traveled just 70 yards.
My third shot landed short of the green.
I chipped on to five feet but missed the putt and recorded my first double bogey of the round.
The fifth fairway is shaped like a snake slithering along the warm ground. The fairway on this 500 yard par five is only about as wide as boa constrictor. At least that is how wide it looked while I was standing on the tee box with driver in hand. In actuality, it is barely over 20 yards at its widest point and narrows less than 20 yards across on the approach to the green. There are fairway bunkers on the left and right in the landing zone and more in the layup zone. Why did Mr. Fazio decide to make such a beautiful hole with mountains in the backdrop of the green, so treacherous? Because he could, and this is golf. I hit my drive about six feet off the right edge of the fairway, just left of the first bunker. In four drives I had not hit a fairway. On practically any other course, all four drives would have been in the fairway. To say the fairways at The Quarry at La Quinta are narrow is much an understatement as saying it’s warm in the desert.
My three wood caught the top part of the ball on my second shot and the ball hit the lip on the bunker just ahead of me. It popped up and landed just past the bunker.
My third flew the green and rolled into a dirt area with desert landscaping.
I chipped onto the green and two-putted for a bogey.
One could be awe struck standing on the tee box of the sixth hole taking in the beautiful view and looking out over a fairway that appears to be a shorter version of the one on the fifth hole. The hole measures 435 yards and is rated as the most difficult hole on the course. The hole started out well with me hitting an excellent drive and finally finding the fairway. My drive traveled 260 yards, leaving just 180 yards to back right pin position on a long narrow green that bent left to right around a bunker off the front right side.
I sliced my approach shot. The landed well right and short of the green.
I pulled my third shot, chipped on with my fourth shot and two-putted for a double bogey. Golf can make you look really silly somethings.
I hit another drive on the 385 yard par four seventh hole, that on any other course would have been in the fairway. At the Quarry at La Quinta, it was in the left rough. This on a hole that has what is probably the widest fairway on the course. It’s a whopping 45 yards for about 30-40 yards between the beginning of the fairway and the bunkers on the right. There is a creek that runs along the left edge of the fairway. My ball landed between the left edge and the creek.
I missed the green to the left on my 150 yard approach shot.
I chipped onto the green and two-putted for a bogey.
My swing was just slightly off. I was no longer dialed in and fluid like I’d been on the driving range. My drives were just missing the fairway, my approach shots were landing short of the green, and my putts were sliding by the hole. I’ve had bad rounds before, but something was different this time. I wasn’t hitting really wild shots, but ever since the ball on the third hole hit short of the flag and rolled off the back of the green, my timing just seemed off.
The tee box on the 140 yard par three eighth hole provides one of the most expansive views on the course. There are views of the first, ninth and tenth holes from the eighth tee box. The hole plays way downhill to a green with bunkers off the left and right sides and the back. The front of the green slopes right to left. My tee shot landed short and left of the green.
I pitched on to three feet but missed the par putt and made a bogey on the hole.
The front nine finishes with the third hardest hole on the course. The hole measures 410 yards and requires a 180 yard carry over a pond to reach the fairway. The fairway is narrow like all the rest of the fairways but doesn’t have a lot of room for misses on either the left or right. There is a bunker on the left and trees and the cart path on the right. My drive hit the cart path and kicked right. There were several trees between my it and the fairway.
I made a tactical error when I tried to hit a low shot with my driver that would stay below the tree branches, get back to the fairway and run up to the green. I had successfully executed this shot many times before. But on this warm January day near Palm Desert with my timing in disarray, it was not to be. I topped the ball and it never made it through the trees.
I punched my third shot back into the fairway. I hit my fourth shot over the flag and 20 feet past.
I missed my bogey putt and made my third double bogey to finish the front nine with a 46.
The back nine was a complete disaster. It did not start well. I think maybe I was overswinging. I’m going to have look back over the previous courses and see if there is a strong correlation between my score and the length of the course. I suspect that when I play more than 6600 yards, I somehow get it into my head that I need to swing harder. And the harder I swing, the worse my ball contact is. Smooth swings equal square club face which equal good contact. Consciously I know this. Subconsciously I must not believe it.
The back nine opens like the front with a par five. The tenth hole measures 490 yards. It has a narrow winding fairway with very little rough to act as a buffer between it and the desert and ponds to the left and the right. There is also a creek that follows the contour of the right side of the fairway. But who cares, it is another beautiful hole that plays toward a mountain. I hit a low drive that found the fairway, albeit about 325 yards from the middle of the green.
My second shot looked great leaving but took a hard kick when it landed and rolled into the creek off the right side of the fairway. I took a drop and left my fourth shot short of the green.
I pitched onto the green with my fifth shot and two-putted for the first of a series of double bogeys.
The eleventh hole continues the march toward the mountains that started with the tenth hole. The hole measures 385 yards, has the customary narrow fairway, but without the generosity of wide buffers of low cut rough between the edges and the desert trouble. None of this mattered. I topped my drive. It came off the tee low and hit on the bank of the creek just in front of the tee box. Quintin and I were able to find the ball.
I chopped the ball out of the deep vegetation into the fairway.
I tried to hit my driver off the deck to reach the green in three but hit it as poorly as I had hit it off the tee. The ball killed every worm living between me and about 100 yards out from the green.
I hit my fourth shot onto the green to eight feet right of the flag. It is a shot that could be described as putting whip cream on poop. To compound matters I missed the 8 foot putt and made double a bogey on the hole.
As if things weren’t bad enough, they got even worse on the short 360 yard par four twelfth hole. The hole should be played with a 200 yard shot off the tee over the dry rocky desert with wild vegetation. The tee boxes and the green are aligned. The fairway is off to the right and makes a dogleg left to get aligned with the green. There is a bunker on the outside of the dogleg to catch long straight shots. That’s why a 200 yard shot is optimal. I hit about a 160 yard shot off the tee with my three hybrid. The ball landed in the desert. I pitched out of the desert back into the fairway.
My third shot missed the green. I chipped on and two-putted for my third double bogey in a row. It was my final double bogey of the round, but the damage had been done. I’d started the round with confidence and high expectations, both had been swept away in the barrage of double bogeys.
The thirteenth hole is the last of the short par fours on the course. The hole measures 340 yards. The tee boxes are set to the left of the fairway. The carry over the desert is much shorter. There is a long bunker along the left side of the fairway at the start. The fairway bends slightly from right to left. The group ahead of us was in the fairway. They waved at us to play through. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway, right of long bunker.
After we reached the fairway, we had a chance to chat with the group that had waved us through. One of the guys in the group, Scott was on a quest to play the top 100 courses in the world with his son. He was the second person I’d met who was also on a quest. The other was John whom I met at Bandon as I was about to play Pacific Dunes. It is always great to meet fellow wanderers and share stories about our quests.
I left my approach shot short of the green just as a group of big horn sheep scamper across the fairway. You would think that by now I would have realized that I needed to club up on every shot. Maybe I was finally experiencing jet lag. I had spent several weeks in the same time zone. That is something I rarely do and now I was in a different time zone for the first time in weeks. I will have to keep that in mind for future trips and make sure I do the appropriate things to deal with it effectively.
I pitched on and two-putt to end the long nightmare of double bogeys.
As we approached the tees for the par three fourteenth hole, Justin pointed out a plaque that commemorated the first hole in one on the course. It was made by Payne Stewart on January 15, 1994, almost exactly 24 years ago. Was this a sign that I would finally reach my goal of a hole-in-one during my quest. It would certainly savage my round.
The hole measures 160 yards and plays over the desert to a green with one small bunker off the left front. The pin was in the middle of the green and to the right. I hit my tee shot on a line right at the flag. I watched as the ball head straight for the hole and then fall from the air just short of the green. It then kicked slightly to the right rather than kicking forward.
Again, I needed one club more, but sadly this was not the day for my hole-in-one. I didn’t even par the hole. I chipped onto the green and two-putted for a bogey.
The fourteenth hole completed our march toward the mountains and the far reaches of the course. After the 14th hole, we made the turn back to the clubhouse. The fifteenth hole is the final par five on the course. It measures 585 yards and is easily the longest hole at the Quarry at La Quinta. It is also rated as the second more difficult hole on the course. Not surprisingly the fairway is narrow and curvy. There is just one bunker and it’s on the left at about 230 yards from the tee. I hit my drive just short of the bunker. It was a nice drive, but I still had 350 yards to the green.
A tree in the middle of the bunker blocked my line for a direct shot to the middle of the fairway. For one shining moment I pretended like I could actually play golf. I could choose to hit over the tree with an iron that would clear it, hit a straight ball to the right of the tree, or draw the ball around the tree. The first two options would leave a very long third shot. I chose to go around the tree. I hit a three hybrid on a line just right of the tree. The ball drew just enough to land in the fairway inside the right edge leaving 170 yards to a pin tucked behind the long bunker on the right front of the green.
I flushed my approach shot. The ball flew over the flag and rolled to the back of the green. I guess I had two shining moments! Justin did even better. He hit his approach shot right at the flag, leaving the ball three feet below the hole. He birdied the hole.
I on the other hand three putted from the back of the green and made another bogey. There was no third shining moment!
It is a long way between the fifteenth green and the sixteenth tee box. It is one of the reasons that it makes sense to play the course with a cart and a forecaddie. You can walk and let the forecaddie drive the cart when it makes sense and ride on the cart when it doesn’t make sense to walk.
The sixteenth hole is a 430 yard par four with a creek running along the left side. The creek turns right and cuts across between where the fairway ends, and the green begins. There is a bunker on the right at about 250 yards from the tee. There is absolutely no room to miss on the left side of the fairway. I hit my drive to the left fairway just a few yards from the creek. I laid up with my second shot to the right side of the fairway.
My third shot landed on the green well short of the hole.
I two-putted for a bogey.
The last par three on the course is the 190 yard seventeenth hole which plays downhill over rocks and a pond to a green with a bunker along the right side and one off the left front. There is a bail out area to the left of the green. The pin was on the back of the green behind the left bunker. I hit my tee shot to the 18 feet right of the flag.
I two putted to finally make a par on the back nine.
The finishing hole at the Quarry at La Quinta is a 425 yard par four. It is a beautiful hole with water to the right and the club house and mountains in the background. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes on the hole, but my scorecard shows a four. Based the photo I have, I believe I hit my drive to the right side of the fairway.
I think I hit my approach shot on the green or just short of it and two putted for a round ending par. But honestly, I really don’t remember. This is rare for me, but something was definitely off on this day in the desert. I remember almost every shot I have taken during my quest. Perhaps because I played so poorly on the first three holes on the back nine, I blocked all the ugliness of my play out and just remembered the beauty of the course. We will go with that! I shot a 46 on the back nine for a total score of 92.
Following the round, Justin gave me a tour of the 10-Hole short course. The course has 10 par threes that range in length from just over 100 yards to just over 200 yards. It would have been a great course to play if I’d had time.
After our tour I returned to the club house to catch Scott. Scott is the fellow wanderer that I met on the 13th hole. We agreed to catch up with each other after the round and discuss our respective quests. It was great talking to him and seeing how he loved golf just as much as I do. We agreed to try to play a round together during our quests.
I’d like to thank Brent for hosting me at The Quarry and for getting Justin to play with me. It has been great having the opportunity to play with young assistant pro’s during my quest. Their flexibility and fluid swings are a thing to behold.