Best Par 3 Holes with Water in the Desert

Over the water and onto the green — well, that’s the plan — at these challenging and picturesque par threes in Greater Palm Springs.

Thomas Meagher Current Digital, Golf

The 17th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta and its island green leaves little room for error.

For average hackers, tackling a par-3 hole over water is usually more of a mental challenge than a physical one. We’re typically hitting only a short- to mid-iron, but the crippling swing-thought (Please don’t hit the water!) often results in a singularly ugly, embarrassing effort.

Here’s a personal selection of best par threes with water in Greater Palm Springs, and the mind games they inspire.



How about a pitching wedge or 9 iron for this one?

12th Hole, 158 yards, Gary Player Signature Course

The Westin Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage

Calling for only my pitching wedge or maybe a 9-iron from the middle tees, and with some forgiving dry land short of the green, this is a 3-par where the drink should simply be an ornament, not an obstacle. But the large boulders lining the lake manage to impose the thought of the water on me, regardless of how determined I am to take to the tee in a positive frame of mind. Also unnerving are the pair of bunkers, with their steep back walls.



The green for this hole tends to slope toward the water, so accuracy is huge here.

3rd Hole, 162 yards, Palm Course

J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, Palm Desert

This is a genuinely picturesque hole, with palm-tree backdrop, rocky ledges, colorful plantings and a mid-lake fountain. This hole requires a solid 7-iron from me. However, even a well-struck effort can come to wet grief here. For one thing, there’s the false front that slopes down to the water from the green’s edge. Also, the green’s lower-tier tilts left and water-ward, which can cause trouble if I draw my shot to the cup with too much spin. And the deep bunker on the side of the green away from the water, while a seemingly safe target, often leaves me, with the lake backdropping the pin, being extra cautious when addressing my nervy sand-shot.



Plenty of room on the green, but also plenty of hazards.

12th Hole, 162 yards, Classic Club

It’s a beauty to look at, but it sure can be a beast to play. This hole epitomizes the Arnold Palmer-designed course in Palm Desert, which is one of the Coachella Valley’s loveliest but most challenging tracks. The water here is an active presence, winding from behind the hole to rush through a rocky channel into the fronting lake. A big, deep bunker on the left completes the intimidating encirclement of the roomy, sloping, tiered green, which, from the mid-tees, is a 120- to a 160-yard carry away. My game plan? First, I take a moment to enjoy the details of this masterpiece of golf architecture, and then I do as the King usually did and go right at that pin!



Stay to the left for some extra room to play with on your approach shot.

12th Hole, 217 yards, South Course, Indian Canyons

Playing it safe is my obvious play here, regrettably. From the tee I’m looking at approximately 175 yards, and with a four hybrid I can usually cover the distance, though seldom with unerring accuracy. Were there no water, I would look to try to fade the four into the green. But that, of course, would be a different hole; here, that fade would have to be precisely calibrated, or else it will sail into the sculpted drink. And so, resisting the macho impulse, I usually go with a 6- or 5-iron to the roomy landing area short left on this Palm Springs course.

17th Hole, 168 yards, Stadium Course, PGA West

Thanks to the part it plays in the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge, the Stadium’s 17th in La Quinta, measuring 130 yards or so from the “regular” tee, is one of the most famous holes in the Coachella Valley. The small, circular island green, with its stony surround, leaves absolutely no margin for error, so it’s understandable to be fatalistic about the relatively short shot: it either is your day, or it isn’t.



An eight iron will give you height and distance to clear the water.

In my case, I’m usually reaching for the eight-iron, and, on those rare occasions when I’ve made a perfect swing, it has been incredibly satisfying to watch the ball arc high and straight and true, then settle safely onto the dance floor. I pick up my tee and, at least for the moment, believe that I really can play this maddening game.