Indian Palms gets modernized, and now it's even more of a test

By Larry Bohannan, Contributor

INDIO, Calif. -- When famed aviatrix Jackie Cochran and her husband Floyd Oldham bought a ranch 30 miles from downtown Palm Springs in the 1940s, they decided to add a nine-hole golf course to the property for their visitors who braved the dirt roads to seek out the property. The course was designed by LPGA founding member Helen Dettweiller, the only woman to ever design a course in the golf-crazed Palm Springs area.

Through the years, visitors including presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, have enjoyed the scenery and golf of the old Cochran Ranch. Eisenhower even wrote his memoirs at the ranch. But Kennedy, Eisenhower and even Dettweiller would have trouble recognizing the revamped club, now known as Indian Palms Country Club. Now the site of a residential development, a hotel and a new clubhouse, Indian Palms has become one of the more popular public-access courses in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Indian Palms has expanded to 27 holes through the years, but even those holes have been changed and updated in recent years, said general manager Mark Scheibach. “In the last two years, 18 holes have been redesigned,” Scheibach said. “Not so much the routing but the tees and green complexes as well as re-bunkering and re-doing the bunkers and water features.”

Unlike many courses with 27 holes in the desert, Indian Palms does not market its course as an 18-hole course and a nine-hole course. Instead, the Indian, Mountain and Royal nines are allowed to have their own personalities.

“By keeping three distinct nines, when people come for a stay over three or four days, the different rotations allows them to feel as if they are playing a different golf course every day,” Scheibach said.

The renovations have naturally changed the overall character of the holes, while generally featuring open landing areas and large greens. Some of the most dramatic changes are on the greens, once generally flat and small and tilting from back to front to allow the greens to hold shots almost to a fault. Many greens on the course today have been expanded to as much as 6,000 square feet.

“I don't call it a reconstruction. I call it a modernization,” Scheibach said. “A lot of the bunkering was way off. The green sizes we had from years ago were no good for today. There were some places where if you got above the hole, you just couldn't putt and keep the ball on the green. They couldn't have anticipated the green speeds we have today.”

The three nines at Indian Palms all start at the newly renovated clubhouse. But from there, the nines are distinctly different.

“I would say the Indian nine has more just straight-forward holes. The Indian nine has a little bit more difficulty to it,” Scheibach said.

Indeed, the Indian nine plays the longest of the three nines, stretching to 3,434 yards from the back tees. The 406-yard par-4 third hole and the 207-yard par-3 eighth holes are among the most difficult on the property.

“The Royal nine has more water features. There is water on eight of those nine holes,” Scheibach said. Among the characteristics of the 3,202-yard Royal nine is a single par-3 and a single-par four, the inviting 480-yard ninth hole. But the water comes into play at almost every turn, making the nine play longer and more difficult than its scorecard distance would lead a golfer to believe.

“The Mountain nine gives you the more interesting test. There are certainly more hills, more undulations on the greens. I think that combination makes the Mountain nine a bit trickier,” Scheibach added.

Among the unique aspects of the Mountain nine is a rare island green on a par-4.

“There are a lot of island greens in the desert on par-3s and par-5s, but I don't know of another one in the area on a par-4,” Scheibach said.

The island comes on the testy 321-yard par-4 fifth hole, the shortest par-4 on the par-35 nine. The nine's only par-5 comes at the 512-yard first hole. The ninth hole, at 444 yards, is an example of just how much the course has changed in recent years. Renovation has made the green complex on the hole one of the toughest in the desert. The length requires an average golfer to come into the green with a long iron or even a wood, but the green is surrounded by water on three sides, requiring accuracy to avoid a big number on the closing hole.

The Indian and Mountain nines have undergone the most renovation in recent years, with more work planned on the bunker and water features to update the Royal nine in the summer of 2004.

The longest configuration of holes at Indian Palms, the Indian and Royal nines, stretches to just 6,636 yards, well short of the 7,100-yard monster courses that continue to pop up in the desert. For Scheibach, the shorter course means a course average golfers can more readily play.

“It's a good test of golf, but it's not a golf course that is going to beat you up,” Scheibach said. “It's a good course for the people who have been up north and want to come down and play golf in season or people who are on vacation. Too many courses out here in the desert will flat-out beat you up. This one will test you, but not beat you up.”

Where to stay and dine

Indian Palms has a 59-room boutique hotel located about 30 minutes from downtown Palm Springs and the Palm Springs international airport. Indian The resort hotel overlooks the Indian Nine of the 27-hole golf course, and is just a short stroll from the clubhouse, La Palma Restaurant, golf shop and fitness center.

Larry Bohannan, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment