What Is a Desert Golf Course? (And Considerations When Playing One)

Estancia in Scottsdale is a desert golf course

A "desert golf course" or "desert course" is a golf course that is built in a desert setting. But it's more than that, actually, because desert courses have a specific look to them — and not all golf course built in the desert actually qualify for the term "desert course."

A desert golf course is one situated in a desert environment, whose teeing grounds, fairways and greens — the playing corridors — might be the only greenery around. Those green playing corridors are surrounded by shades of brown or tan, either the surrounding desert sands (as with desert courses in the Middle East) or the rocky terrain of the American Southwest.

The rough on desert courses is usually turfgrass, but beyond the various cuts of rough the desert encroaches, and golfers who miss the playing corridors might find their golf ball (if they find it all) up against rock, or cactus, or scrub brush, or in sand.

As we mentioned, though, a golf course simply being built in a desert area doesn't necessarily make it a desert course. Mission Hills Country Club's Dinah Shore Course, where an LPGA major championship is played annually, is built in the desert environment of Rancho Mirage, California. But the land over which the holes of Mission Hills run is fully grassed and maintained, just as any golf course in any other setting.

The desert courses that are most famous in golf are those in the United States — Arizona, Nevada, Southern California — and those in the Middle East. The world's top golf tours all stage tournaments that are played on desert golf courses.

Considerations When Playing a Desert Golf Course

The setting for desert golf courses — in deserts — means that golfers have to be aware of certain factors. First is weather. Of course, golfers always need to be aware of weather, but even moreso when traveling to the desert for a round.

Deserts, obviously, can get very, very hot, and the sun can feel brutal depending on the time of year and time of day. Just keep that in mind and act accordingly (sun screen, hydrate, proper attire). But even during the hot seasons, desert golf courses can be very cold places in the morning. A round of golf in the desert that starts in the early morning can start off requiring cold-weather gear, but end in blazing hot sun.

Another thing to keep in mind: many deserts are full of plants, insects and other animals that are best avoided. If you happen to hit a shot outside the manicured parts of a desert golf course, you might want to think twice (depending on where your ball ended up) about going after it. Watch out for cactus, watch out for (possibly) scorpions or even snakes.

The cactus, which can be quite painful if you get into it, will usually be obvious if it is present. The possibly biting or stinging animals might not be. If there are such hazards outside the playing areas on a desert course, there should be warning signs posted, cautions printed on the scorecard, or advice offered in the pro shop.

Some desert golf courses require golfers who hit a shot outside the manicured playing areas to treat such balls as lost in lateral hazards, and to drop a new ball rather than search.

Photo credit: "Estancia Golf Course - Scottsdale AZ" by Scottsdale Agent is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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