Desert Golf vs. Target Golf

What’s the difference between the two?

Heeding the architectural nuances of “desert” and “target” golf can be the difference between a casual afternoon on the links or a harrowing, three-sleeve root canal. Here are the basics:

Desert designs generally offer players generous tee-ball landing areas, with approaches to the flag more demanding and less forgiving. Grass is often planted tee to green, but in increasingly narrowing proportions.

Target golf, made infamous in the wild Sonoran Desert surrounds of Arizona, is likened to aerial hopscotch — play is across expansive natural cross-hazards, canyons and arroyos, usually from one lushly grassed “island” to another.

The dramatic design styles appear throughout the Southwest, and have been ingeniously tweaked to tame Hawaii’s balata-slicing lava fields. Here is a six-pack sampling of some of our favorites:


La Quinta Resort & Club, Mountain Course, La Quinta, CA. Regarded among the best and more playable works of Pete Dye, the routing plays in and around the massive rock outcroppings of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Course is superbly conditioned, with yawning pot bunkers, abundant water and lightning-fast, undulating greens.

Oasis Golf Club, Mesquite, NV. Box canyons, immense boulder formations, towering stone ridges, rain-smoothed arroyos and eye-popping elevation changes approaching 200 feet define this popular gem designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay. Most holes offer eight tee boxes, scoring big on the flexibility/playability scale.

Troon North Golf Club, Monument Course, Scottsdale, AZ. Ranked among the top courses in America, this Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish collaboration is rife with penal, risk/reward shot values like blind doglegs, sloping, multi-layered greens, narrow bail-outs and long cross-hazards over meandering gulches and washes. One of the better maintained tracks on the planet.


Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Mountain Course, Tucson, AZ. Crafted by Tom Fazio, this environmentally sensitive venue is underscored by tradition-bent shot values, generous fairways, and intimidating, well-guarded approaches that castigate misfires. Players revere the up-close, saguaro cactus-laded views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Mauna Lani Resort, North Course, Big Island, HI. Stitched onto black volcanic bedrock, this Robin Nelson design epitomizes desert-style architecture. Tight shot lines and strategic bunkering leave no room for gonzo golf, and testy trade winds add to the course’s dynamics. Respect the pro shop’s warning: Don’t forage the sharp-as-glass lava fields for errant shots.

TPC at The Canyons, Las Vegas, Nevada. Architect Bobby Weed embellished his rugged design with blind tee shots to bi-level fairways, daunting approaches across rattlesnake-infested canyons, and slick, heavily contoured greens. Key local rule: Bordering desert is so punishing, it’s played as a lateral hazard.

Chris Duthie is a contributor to Colorado AvidGolfer, the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via