There might not be any golf destination that’s cooler than Palm Springs.
Of course, we’re talking about the region’s cool vibe, not the temperature which, during summer, often hits 110 degrees by noon. That’s definitely not cool.
Today’s Palm Springs might not be the Swinging Celebrity Party Central it was in the 1950s and ’60s, but there are still enough nods to the region’s past to conjure up great memories, including omnipresent mid-century modern architecture and superb resorts — none more historic or cooler than the La Quinta Resort & Club.
The highly acclaimed resort is where you’ll discover the Desert’s premier collection of public-access golf courses, which helped transform the Coachella Valley into a world-class public/resort golf destination. Long gone are the Rat Pack days when Palm Springs’ golf scene was embodied by flat, palm-lined private tracks that, beginning in the ‘50s, seemingly flanked every celebrity-named street.
Any discussion of Palm Springs’ current golf landscape begins with the five outstanding courses affiliated with the La Quinta Resort & Club — its adjacent Pete Dye-designed Dunes and Mountain courses and nearby PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, Dye’s TPC Stadium Course and the Greg Norman Course. Not content to stand still, the resort recently invested $10 million for Dye to enhance and redesign the five courses.
The resort’s Spanish-style guest casitas are also incredibly cool — in every way — including their historic significance. My wife, Deb, and I received the keys to the “Ginger Rogers Suite,” the legendary dancer’s former regular refuge. Upon entering we performed our “great room dance” which, unfortunately, would have made Ginger violently ill. Regardless, everything in our casita was massive — the bedroom, living room, two flat-screen TVs, the kitchen and a bathroom large enough that I pondered the logistics of trying to land a few full-swing 60-degree wedge shots in the toilet.
While La Quinta Resort & Club’s courses have attracted golfers worldwide to enjoy the new Desert golf standard, one of the resort’s coolest aspects remains its colorful past, which dates to 1926 when owner Walter Morgan built La Quinta’s original 20 guest casitas. Rogers and other pampered celebs such as Frank Capra (he wrote “It Happened One Night’’during his initial visit and lived out the last few years of his life there), Bette Davis (who married French actor Jacques Bergerac at the hotel in 1953), Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn and Clark Gable loved the resort’s seclusion, and that it was just a few hours’ drive from Hollywood.
Today’s many star visitors have included Oprah Winfrey, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Costner, Matthew Perry, Adam Sandler and Christina Aguillera. La Quinta’s 562 casitas, 24 suites and 210 spa villas are scattered among an oasis of citrus trees, palms, bougainvillea, roses, 51 swimming pools and year-round sunny weather. In-season stays (October through May) are pricey, but the stunning beauty of the adjacent pink-and-purple, snow-capped Santa Rosa Mountains is priceless. You might even consider a summer visit, where you’ll have to endure the above-mentioned 110-degree temps, but green fees and room rates are 50 to 75 percent less, and you won’t have to battle crowds.
You’ll find La Quinta’s — and the region’s — most-demanding golf options at PGA West. In fact, the Greg Norman Resort Course turned the Shark into chum, with the namesake designer posting a 76 his first time round the track. The 7,156-yard gem has but 68 acres of turf, with the tees, wide fairways (but narrow landing areas) and greens framed by 102 white crushed-marble bunkers, nine lakes, native desert plants and grasses, colorful wildflowers and errant white ProV1s. Despite being located on a flat site, adjacent holes are out of sight, as the course was constructed in a sea bed 40 feet below sea level.
Dye’s 7,300-yard TPC Stadium Course (76.1/150 course rating/slope) is not for the faint of heart. It’s disheartening right out of the gate upon learning the 445-yard opener is only the layout’s fourth-longest par 4. The par 5s range from the 535-yard fifth to the 617-yard 11th. Dye’s trademark bunkers — you could grow old flailing away in the 19-foot-deep, 16th-hole’s “San Andreas Fault’’ greenside bunker — and huge, undulating greens abound. Nine of the speedy putting surfaces abut water, including “Alcatraz,’’ the signature 168-yard 17th, with its boulder-lined island green. My soaring tee shot hit the rear rocks, caromed into the air for about 15 seconds, inexplicably landed 10 feet from the hole and I easily made par.
I, like many, believe the 7,204-yard Nicklaus Tournament Course (75.3/143) is actually a tougher test than the Stadium. Straight drives are paramount as the raised, bowling lane-like fairways drop off — sometimes sharply — into what are essentially gutters of rough, massive fairway bunkers and/or water. Then your approach must find, then navigate, undulating greens harder to read than Jason Dufner.
The excitement at La Quinta’s 6,732-yard Mountain Course builds, then is rewarded on the last five holes, which wind alongside, and up and down the Santa Rosa Mountains. Desert boulders and vegetation surround the signature downhill, 167-yard 16th green. If you miss the putting surface hope the ball finds one of the two bunkers. What would normally have been an 8-iron for me became a 3-hybrid thanks to a fluke hour-long storm with a 45-mph headwind and horizontal rain/sleet mix.
Water — the kind that drowns errant shots, not pelts your face — is also a factor at the flatter, links-style 6,712-yard Dunes Course, which more resembles the above-mentioned, older-school Palm Springs courses occupying property at the corner of every Frank, Bob and Dinah. Drives must navigate bunkers in the undulating fairway landing zones while approaches need to find wide-but-shallow elevated greens.
Apres golf, treat yourself to a massage at Spa La Quinta, followed by a superb meal at one of the resort’s outstanding restaurants — Morgan’s in the Desert, its signature fine-dining restaurant; TWENTY 6, a classic American grill; and the Adobe Grill, which serves authentic regional Mexican cuisine. When it comes to delivering the goods to its guests, La Quinta Resort & Club hits on all cylinders.
Here’s hoping the aura of the past remains strong forever in the Desert and that new outstanding courses continue to emerge. It’s what makes the La Quinta Resort & Club and Palm Springs one of the world’s coolest golf destinations — even in the dead of summer.
The Lowdown: La Quinta Resort & Club
Where to Play
La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta (Dunes Course, Mountain Course), www.laquintaresort.com; 800-598-3828/760-564-4111.
PGA West Resort, La Quinta (Greg Norman Course, Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, TPC Stadium Course), www.laquintaresort.com; 800-598-3828/760-564-4111
Where to Stay
La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta, www.laquintaresort.com; 800-598-3828/760-564-4111
Orbit Inn, Palm Springs, www.orbitin.com; 877-996-7248/760-323-3585
What to Do
Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, www.indian-canyons.com; 760-325-6018
Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, www.nps.gov/jotr; 760-367-5500
Old Town LaQuinta, La Quinta, www.oldtownlaquinta.com; 760-777-1770
Palm Springs Aerial Tram, Palm Springs, www.pstramway.com; 888-515-8726
Palm Springs VillageFest, Palm Springs, www.villagefest.org; 760-320-3781
Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.visitpalmsprings.com; 760-778-8418
Palm Springs International Airport, www.palmspringsairport.com; 760-318-3800
• There are countless other golf options in the Palm Spring area, my favorites include Desert Willow Golf Resort’s Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry/John Cook gems, Firecliff and Mountain View; Indian Wells Golf Resort’s spectacular Clive Clark-designed Celebrity Course and John Fought-designed Players Course; and the beautiful Classic Club, an Arnold Palmer-designed, windswept beauty that hosted the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Desert Classic from 2006 through 2008.
• If you really dig mid-century modern design and décor, I’d suggest staying for a few nights at the Orbit In or its sister property, the Hideaway, which is a few doors down. Besides the mid-century modern architecture, you’ll be treated to spectacular mountain views and a short walk to Palm Springs’ vibrant downtown area. The properties exude such a Rat Pack vibe you expect Frank, Dean and Sammy to be chatting you up at the nightly Orbitini cocktail hour at the Orbin In’s funky poolside Boomerang bar. We absolutely loved our three-night stay at the Hideaway, which is a convenient Desert-vacation base for golfers with cool tastes and/or those whose budgets might not support going the five-star-resort route.