Palm Springs primer: A glimpse at America's desert (golf) playground

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

They call it America's desert playground. Yet for many East coasters, Palm Springs is an enigma. Golf fans see it a couple times a year on television during the Skins Game and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, and it looks stunning.

Jigsaw mountain ranges frame the background. Emerald green fairways highlight the foreground. The sun beams down like some sort of omnipresent stage light and all is right in the world.

Even Tiger Woods looks happy when he's in Palm Springs.

But there is so much more to Palm Springs than the snippets we get on the television. More than PGA West. More than the Landmark Golf Club. Heck, there's even more to Palm Springs than Palm Springs: the Coachella Valley is actually made up of nine distinct towns - Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Rancho Mirage, Coachella, Cathedral City, La Quinta and Indian Wells.

Bob Hope, who spent many a winter in the desert, once said that golf is the second best pastime that any sinner on this Earth can have.

We think the second best pastime in Palm Springs is worth a first-hand look.


Not nearly as isolated as you might think, Palm Springs is a two-hour drive from L.A. and a three-and-half hour jaunt from Phoenix. From either origin, it's Interstate all the way via I-10. The Coachella Valley spills out between the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains and is just a smooth 5-iron west of the Joshua Tree National Park.

As for the weather, It's picture perfect six months of the year. Highs in the 70s are the norm from November to March, and April and May are downright bearable because of the low humidity. With more than 300 sunny days a year, golfers have a perfect platform for 36 holes a day and a deep tan to match.

Golf History

Golf has been a way of life in the Coachella Valley for more than 50 years. Palm Springs first emerged as a weekend oasis for the stars in the 1920s and 30s as Tinsletown's finest sought out the area's hot springs in hopes of improving their health. Golf began to shine in the valley in the late 1950s and 60s with the help of two impressible and visible personalities. Former President Dwight Eisenhower kept a home at Eldorado and was a regular at some of the area's venerable venues. Arnold Palmer made a habit of winning at the Thunderbird and Palm Springs Invitationals - the predecessors to the Bob Hope.

The Coachella Valley golf map expanded like balloon on speed in the 1980s as a new wave of desert courses opened in Palm Springs and Palm Desert - 33 to be exact. The seminal event of the decade was the opening of Pete Dye's menacing Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta in 1985. Five additional tracks opened at PGA West over the next 15 years, including critically acclaimed layouts from Jack Nicklaus and (most recently) Greg Norman.

Golf landscape

A weekend of golf in the Coachella Valley can run you a college tuition payment if you opt for the high-end stuff at resorts like PGA West and La Quinta. Or it can be shockingly affordable if you can spare the big name courses and head out on some of the fairways less traveled. With more than 100 courses strewn throughout the valley floor, variety is not lacking.

One of the latest trends in the valley plays out well for those on a tight budget: the proliferation of quality municipal courses. Tahquitz Creek is an outstanding 36-hole municipal facility graced by a new, 6,705-yard Ted Robinson designed course that is always in impeccable condition. Tahquitz's Legends course opened in 1959, was remodeled a few years back, and is popular with the locals and old school visitors.

Desert Willow, Palm Desert's foray into the municipal arena, boasts two memorable layouts from Dr. Michael Hurdzen and Dana Frye with input from PGA Tour player John Cook. Up the road in Desert Hot Springs, the Desert Dunes Golf Club is a windswept Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design that is not a muni, per se, but is just as affordable in the offseason.

Any treatment of Coachella Valley golf that doesn't make mention of the Westin Mission Hills and Marriott's Shadow Ridge and Desert Springs resorts would be incomplete. Mission Hills is home to a Dye course that is eminently more playable that its Stadium Course cousin, and a Gary Player design that frequently finishes in the top of desert golf popularity contests. Marriott Shadow Ridge is a 312-acre golf playground replete with a semi-new resort course from Lee Schmidt, Brian Curley and three-time Masters champ Nick Faldo. Desert Springs, in Palm Desert, houses two water-soaked Ted Robinson courses set against the backdrop of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Off course - top non-golf attractions

Shopping on El Paseo Drive in Palm Desert . Bar hopping on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs . The 8,000-foot ascent on the Palm Springs TRAM . eco-excursions to the 800,000 acre Joshua Tree National Park, the Living Desert, and the 15-mile-long Indian Canyons.

Eating out (Area code 760)

Palm Springs - Le Vallauris, 385 West Tahquitz Canyon Way,. Open Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m./Dinner: 5:30 p.m. - 11 p.m. Specialties: Mediterranean/French/California cuisine located in a restored historical landmark.

Palm Springs - St. James at the Vineyard, 265 South Palm Canyon Drive, . Open for dinner daily.

Palm Desert - Pepper Maggies Restaurant, 42-245 Washington Street, 360-6135. Open 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily. Specialties: Paella from Spain, lechon lubano, and cochinita pibil Mexico.

Palm Desert - Daily Grill, 73-061 El Paseo. Open 11 a.m-10 p.m. M-Sa, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. Specialties: Steaks, seafood, chicken pot pies, and meat loaf.

La Quinta - Cliffhouse Restaurant, 78-250 Hwy. 111. Open 5-9 p.m. Su-Th, 5- 9:30 p.m. F-Sa. Specialties: Citrus glazed fresh fish, steak, ribs, pasta, Kimos hula pie, and JJ's artichokes.

La Quinta - Shangri-La, 78-790 Hwy. 111. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Specialties: Moo Shu dishes and Mongolian beef. All dishes prepared to order.

La Quinta - The Beer Hunter, great sports bar, 78-483 Hwy. 111. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. M-F, 9 a.m.-2 a.m. Sa/Su during football season. Specialties: Hamburgers, pastas, and steaks. Best appetizers in town.

Stay and play

Marriott Shadow Ridge
9003 Shadow Ridge Road
Palm Desert, CA 92211

Marriott Desert Springs
74855 Country Club Drive
Palm Desert, CA, 92260

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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