Other courses may have more 'drama', but this is the classic template, unadorned and unfettered. Desert Forest does not have any fairway bunkers, nor out-of bounds. Its cart paths are dirt. Frankly, it is much more enjoyable to walk.
At Desert Forest, there are no bag boys to grab your clubs at the entrance. No 'happy' music blares from speakers. The exclusive private club has a small, 60's-style, one-story clubhouse, a locker room stocked with every sunscreen and over-the-counter painkiller, a relatively small practice green, chipping area, and an ample driving range.
Like its facilities, the course is an exercise in restraint. Robert Lawrence moved little or no earth when building Desert Forest. He cut paths through the fauna, flora, and cactus, laying fairways and holes upon the landscape. Sound familiar? Alistair McKenzie did the same at Cypress Point.
Such minimalism does not appeal to all golfers. For example, one writer in our group described it as, "Nice, but too narrow to play every day." He needs his head examined.
The course's austere holes offer multiple options, strategies, routes, risks, and rewards. The greens roll fast and mysteriously. On such merits, Desert Forest has hosted a USGA Senior Championship, and a US Women's Mid-Amateur Championship. It has become a regular fixture among Golf Digest Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the United States.
I agree, and strongly.
Every hole at Desert Forest is memorable, but the 466-534 yard, par-5, 7th, resonates for me. It has three separate landing areas, separated by desert and a wash.
A golfer must choose his route from the tee. A conservative player hits a hybrid or fairway metal to a 'safe' fairway on the left side, then plays a short or mid-iron to a middle fairway, and then negotiates his third shot, uphill, across a wash, to the green. A bolder route, however, requires a carry of 225-240 yards, across desert, into that same second fairway, but be careful. Distance is only part of the execution. If a drive drifts right, it goes into that aforementioned wash, which parallels the fairway. But, a good drive creates an opportunity to reach the green in two. Essentially, we're talking two risks for one reward, but the excitement is as good as it gets.
If you belong to a private club and can take advantage of reciprocals, Desert Forest is worth the effort. The club offers both full-time and national memberships for reasonable prices by San Francisco Bay area country club standards. Even then, however, you could buy a very nice car or one year's college tuition at a UC for considerably less.