Trend breaker: Escena Golf Club finally brings new course to Palm Springs -

PALM SPRINGS - It's been more than a decade since this town's had a new golf course within the city limits. Golf's long migrated out to the surrounding trendy communities, to the La Quintas and co. of the Coachella Valley. There are 122 courses in this desert playground, only eight of them in Palm Springs itself.

Escena Golf Club hits you with a 611-yard par 5 playing into the wind on the very first hole.
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Make that nine.

Escena Golf Club opened Nov. 5, immediately becoming the most ambitious golf project in the city of Palm Springs since the days of the Bush Sr. administration. That's understandably set off plenty of buzz.

"The response from golfers so far has been phenomenal," Escena General Manager Jeff Sauvage said. "We've had a number of golfers who've played a round and then turned right around and booked their next round."

Tim Hurja, a more objective source who runs a golf packaging company and readily admits that some Palm Springs courses are much better than others, was one of the wowed.

"Escena is just gorgeous," Hurja said. "It's got a great layout and it's going to bring a lot of attention back to golf in the city of Palm Springs."

Escena has certainly long been anticipated. It began as a project idea in the 1980s, meandering through various government hurdles on the long road to opening. It's a Nicklaus Design Team 7,173-yarder that is desert in atmosphere, but very undesert forgiving in actual play.

"It has the look and feel of the native desert with Mexican fan palms and bushes, but it's a different design that's not target style," Sauvage said. "There are no forced carries you have to clear to get to the fairways."

Which doesn't mean Escena doesn't have its challenges. Set just east of Palm Springs International Airport, strong winds play right into your shot on a few holes.

This includes the mammoth 611-yard par 5 first hole. The powerful wind will usually be blowing right in a golfer's face on No. 1, turning an already daunting distance into an immediate and sometimes cruel eye opener.

There's also a 245-yard par 3 (No. 5), an uphill 223-yard par 3 (No. 12) and a 240-yard par 3 (No. 17). In other words, no clear pushovers. No. 9 shows off some of Escena's scenery with a green guarded by water with desert brush in the background and mountains looming in the distance.

Sauvage's personal favorite is the 506-yard, par-5 15th. It's short enough to go for the green in two. But it takes some boldness to attempt that. The long, narrow green is bordered on one side by a huge bunker and other by water.

"It's definite risk-reward," Sauvage said. "If you miss it, if you're off just a little bit, you're scrambling to make par or even bogey."

Of course, to many Palm Springs regulars, it's just enough that there's a new course in town. Finally.

"Folks are excited about having this here," Sauvage said. "About having an opening and a new option that's a little different than what's been around."

The Nicklaus Design Team name adds to the intrigue. The Golden Bear wasn't actually here. Escena is not a signature track. But for a city that's founds its surrounding communities pass it in golf prestige, it's close enough.

Escena sees itself attracting plenty of the resort guests that make Palm Springs golf, but it's also going to be tied to a residential community that will start presales early next year. It's offering $65 weekday and $75 weekend introductory greens fees to get golfers to actually venture into the city for golf. When the new year rolls around, Escena plans to raise the fees to $95 weekdays and $105 weekends for peak season.

In an area with its share of $150-$200 courses, that will place Escena in a midrange upscale category.

"It's a course that's going to get noticed," Hurja said.

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