Completed in 1998, the Canyons course represents a prodigious achievement by renowned architect Tom Fazio. Its wide, rolling fairways and astonishing water features provide for a completely different golfing experience than its towering, mountainous counterpart. Meticulously designed and manicured, each hole gives players the impression of traveling through a desert oasis.
The meandering layout climbs in altitude and intensity to an ultimate three-part challenge that many consider the best three holes in the desert; the long, uphill par-5 at the 16th, nestled in a deep canyon; a tricky par-3 at the 17th which requires competitors to carry over a canyon to a well-bunked green carved into the hillside; and finally, the daunting par-4 at the 18th with dramatic downhill carry and breathtaking valley vista views.
The Canyons course was immediately heralded as the Best Course in Southern California and earned national recognition when it was showcased in the Battle at BIGHORN. Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia played their first match under the lights and on prime time television in 2000, followed the next year by the teams of Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam vs. David Duval and Karrie Webb in 2001, and ending with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus vs. Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino in 2002.
In October 2004-2007, the top 20 ranked ladies in the world traveled to BIGHORN to compete on the Canyons course for the Samsung LPGA World Championship. Annika Sorenstam captured the title in 2004 and 2005, while Lorena Ochoa was victorious in 2006 and 2007. And Michelle Wie made her LPGA debut in 2004.
Course Hole by Hole
|Hole 1 |
|From its first flower-ringed tee box, the Canyons extends an open invitation to an unforgettable experience. Set against a desert landscape with distant mountain vistas, this relatively short opening hole offers a wide landing area and a gentle down slope. Two sand bunkers guard the left fairway. The approach requires a medium to short iron to a green protected on its right by two bunkers. Patience and strategy are required to prevail against the subtle challenges of its spacious putting green. Number one is benign and beautiful, and is a chance to start off on the right foot.|
|This is signature BIGHORN golf, where time and patience are the keys to conquest. Players drive from an elevated tee that overlooks a lush, gently sloping left-to-right edge. A large waterfall dominates the greenside landscape, cascading into a series of smaller falls and streaming along the edge of the fairway. A daunting second shot to the large, two-tiered green must be played across the stream, although a bailout area to the right is available if needed. This, the @1 handicap hole, may also be the Canyons’ most beautiful hole – consolation should an extra stroke or two be required.|
|Stunning down-valley views introduce the Canyons’ first par 5. Less welcoming are the bunkers, palms and landforms to be negotiated as this hole plays downhill towards the green. There’s potential for a birdie here, but the green, wide and shallow, is protected by a bunker on the right. Accuracy on the approach is crucial. Putting can be tricky, so shot placement in relationship to the green is important. After sinking the putt, take a look back. The bunkers that riveted attention on the approach have mysteriously disappeared. One of Fazio’s design characteristics is to obscure the view of most hazards from the green.|
|After leaving the third, one winds through breathtaking desert landscape to one of the most challenging par 3’s a player is likely to encounter. The green is set 30 feet below the tee and is surrounded by water on the back and to the left side. The right side affords plenty of room for a safe approach, making aright-to-left shot ideal, particularly when the pin is placed on the left side of this hole’s generously expansive green. Though again, every pin placement presents its own unique challenges and opportunities for ecstasy or agony.|
|While this slightly uphill par 4 may appear benign, hazards abound. The fairway slopes right-to-left towards a rushing stream that begins at a waterfall by the green before crossing the fairway in front of the tee. Carry the water, and a pot bunker waits in the center of the fairway. More sand traps await greenside left. But it’s not until the green is reached that the real challenge begins. Undulating, with dramatic slopes and significant breaks, players must be careful not to hit above the hole. This is a true test of a player’s putting skills. Appearances can be deceiving; a par at Number 5 is a worthy accomplishment.|
|This is one of the Canyon’s most compelling challenges – and temptations. An eagle opportunity is possible, but it requires going long off the tee, then following through on your best intentions with a strong second shot. A safer bet is a lay-up that leaves a short shot in. A fairway bunker will challenge on the drive and a lake runs the length of the lay-up area, consuming failed attempts at reaching the green in two. A sand trap and the gracious overhanging branches of a 72-year-old Palo Verde tree also guard the green. Ample room to make an attack on the pin suggests taking 2 shots to reach the green.|
|The rocky terrain of the infamous Dead Indian Creek provides a unique lateral hazard on this short par 3, the first hole located along the Canyon’s environmentally protected terrain. The green, guarded by bunkers is multi-tiered, so a two-putt is no small feat. IF this stunner seems familiar, it should. This legendary hole was showcased as the final hole in the 2002 Battle at BIGHORN. With spectators looking down from their seats atop the mountain, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus bested Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino in their historic match.|
|Number 8 is Fazio’s gift to the golf purist. A long par 4, it requires marshalling one’s focus and strength for the drive off the tee. Play on this hole is slightly uphill and the green is protected on the right side by an ivory-white bunker, but the left-hand side remains open. The green is not nearly as severe as others, so if a quality second shot lands close to the flat, a birdie is possible. There’s not much treachery on this hole, its real challenge is distance.|
|This is a gift from Fazio, a final opportunity to get one back on the front nine. While distance is not the critical factor on this par 4, a large bunker lies in wait to the left center of the fairway. Traps protect the green, one of the smallest on the course, both in front and in back. However, the short distance and forgiving green provide a birdie opportunity. During the 2001 Battle at BIGHORN, both Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia nearly drove this green from the back tees.|
|The back nine begins with an uphill, dogleg right that threatens the mind as much as the scorecard. A deep valley with treacherous bunkers skirts the entire right side of the fairway while desert hazards wait on the left – any mistake off the tee is costly. The fairway narrows toward open-faced bunkers that post a barrier to an elevated green, making accuracy with short irons an absolute essential. Veterans advise playing it safe, the green is large, so play to the left and stay away from the danger lurking to the right.|
|Don’t let the mountain backdrop, reflections off the lake or rippling stream lull you into complacency; here pleasure and pain go hand-in-hand. The tee shot must carry over a lake fed by a desert stream that runs the length of the right fairway. Accuracy is critical in placing the second shot; the stream on the right and a bunker on the left protect the split-level green. Once home, pin rotations present a new set of challenges, particularly on a complicated putting surface like this one. Make par and you are permitted to daydream about life on the Tour.|
|The desert becomes the opponent on this long, par 5 hole. A strong tee shot is absolutely essential to carrying the water to a wide fairway bordered on either side by desert. Long hitters might try to reach the green in two. But, be carful. Big, deep bunkers guard the elevated green’s, awaiting a short approach shot. All of which makes this hole a true test of both mental and physical prowess.|
|On thirteen, a gentle breeze that trails through the canyons may give players a profound sense of peace and serenity. Most notable for the width and grace of its fairway, this long par 4 is a green light for a big driver. Be cautioned though; a drive down the left side of the fairway is critical to avoiding the bunkers, trees, desert brush and out-of-bounds that wait on the fairway’s right side. Indeed, this hole perfectly demonstrates how the Canyons course uses the desert’s expansive space to beguile. A willingness to be flexible is essential. There is, after all, no escaping the desert.|
|The fairway dramatically shortens on this par 4. The desert encroaches everywhere, especially off the tee as a carry is required to a very tight landing area. There, in the center of the fairway, a pot bunker waits to keep everyone honest. Shots that drift right make the approach to the small green infinitely more difficult. Canyon alumni advise that the best approach is a solid tee shot to the more elevated landing area on the left. It provides a great look at the green, and one of only a few opportunities for an easy birdie.|
|This short par 3 is, like much in golf, deceptive. Fifteen plays along the edge of the environmentally protected Dead Indian Creek. Those who hit a ball into the desert on the sandy wasteland on the fairway’s right have offered up another gift to Mother Nature. The hole is downhill from the tee, but a greenside breeze that blows towards the tee must be considered. And while a well-manicured area sits in front of the green, the green itself is narrow, deep and demanding. Indeed, this hole highlights one of the game’s great lessons: in golf, as in life, you must play the shot that’s required, not the one you might wish.|
|Many club professionals across Southern California consider 16, 17, and 18 on the Canyons the best finishing holes in the world. It’s here on this par 5 where fatigue begins to set in, where the desert begins to flex its muscle and wayward shots prove costly. The earth pushes up on either side of the fairway, limiting the playing area and making the tee shot accuracy critical. Then the fairway climbs precipitously towards a heavily bunkered green backed by a pictorial waterfall. Its false front can be treacherous. Those who are too aggressive when the pin is in front may find their ball rolling all the way back down the fairway. For many, getting down in 5 stokes down here can feel like a major accomplishment.|
|From any of the five-tiered tee boxes the scenery is awe-inspiring. For many, the resident wildlife creatures are the perfect metaphor for this exceedingly difficult par 3. Seventeen opens with a tee shot that even the world’s best golfers find daunting. The only reward for a great shot is a dizzying combination of pitch and undulation that demands the best again; for most, getting down in two on this green is the pinnacle of their golfing experience. And then there is 18…|
|The 18th hole of the Canyons course is that of which legends are made. The elevated tees seem perched at the top of the world with nothing but mountains, valleys and sky in front. But in truth, danger is everywhere. Players must aim over the hazard below on their tee shot in order to miss the bunker and traps that lie in wait along the right fairway. That, ironically, is how to get the best angle and lie for an approach. But pause before hitting that first shot. Savor the moment. Then pull out a club and let it swing. Watch as the ball arcs over the desert on a long carry toward the green. The Canyons is truly a masterpiece of golf architecture designed by Tom Fazio.|