Palm Springs attracts less attention than it did when Frank, Dino and the rest of the Rat Pack prowled the town, but for golfers this desert retreat is hotter than ever. Move in any direction and you’ll stub your spikes on a new course, from exclusive private tracks to municipal courses that will welcome you with open arms. Toss in one of the toughest courses in America, the abundant year-round sunshine of the Coachella Valley and some whiteknuckle off-course thrills, and your buddies will be proclaiming you the newchairman of the board.
PGA West Stadium Course
7,266 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $60-$199
Twenty years ago the best players on the PGA Tour refused to return to the Stadium Course, whining that it was too difficult. Well, Pete Dye’s West Coast answer to the TPC at Sawgrass is laughing all the way to the bank because every golfer who comes to town still lines up to play it.
Technology has defanged the course for the pros since its big-hair heyday, but for the rest of us the Stadium Course remains absolutely relentless in its assault, thanks to insanely deep bunkers and forced carries over water and desert. Long after you leave you’ll remember the stirring mountain backdrops, the 19-foot-deep bunker guarding the green at No. 16 and the treacherous island green at No. 17.
Playing here is an exhausting — and often deflating — experience, but the prospect (however remote) of passing the most demanding test west of the Mississippi makes the Stadium Course an essential stop.
Desert Willow Golf Resort, Firecliff Course
7,056 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $55-$165
Owned by the city of Palm Desert, Firecliff and its sister course — Mountain View — are among the nation’s most expensive munis, but it’s money well spent. The kaleidoscope of desert flora plantings and gorgeous bunkering by architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry help this design meld into the landscape — so much so that Firecliff became the only course ever featured on the cover of Smithsonian magazine. Mountain View has wider fairways, fewer forced carries and smaller greens, but both share marvelous par-5 finishers.
Marriott’s Shadow Ridge Resort
7,006 yards, par 71;
Greens fee: $65-$165
Nick Faldo’s first U.S. design opened in 2000, and, while he had plenty of help from Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, it was Faldo’s fondness for the Australian Sandbelt courses around Melbourne that led to the creation of some of the most stylish bunkering in the desert. These bold hazards straddle the line between playable and punishing, but they’re always strategically placed, which makes for a true reflection of the Faldo playing style. The practice facility is firstrate and the views of the Santa Rosa Mountains are eye-popping.
Escena Golf Club
7,173 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $45-$105
When it opened in November, this layout by Nicklaus Design was the first new public course built within the Palm Springs city limits in 20 years. Besides being a half-hour closer to Los Angeles and the Palm Springs Airport than some of the tracks in Palm Desert or La Quinta, Escena (“Es-SEE-Na”) is a fun-to-play romp that offers ample fairways, speedy but not unfair greens, bunkers that won’t destroy a 15-handicapper and enough water hazards and elevated greens to test the single-digit crowd.
La Quinta Resort & Club, Mountain Course
6,756 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $60-$190
In 1980 this established resort became the launch pad for public golf in Palm Springs when Pete Dye designed the Mountain and Dunes courses here. Today they’re better than ever. The Mountain track has one of the game’s most memorable back nines, especially the stretch from No. 14 through No. 16. The 14th calls for a drive over a rock-filled gully followed by an all-carry approach to a threetiered green. No. 15 is a reachable 524-yard par 5 with a green that button-hooks into a secluded cove, while 16 is a par 3 that plunges downhill to a green amid rocky desert scrub.
The Card Wrecker
PGA West Stadium Course, No. 17 168 yards, par 3
Pete Dye didn’t want to replicate his island green from Sawgrass in the desert but was talked into it. This hole is longer than its Florida counterpart by 30 yards and has a much larger green. We asked Lee Trevino — who famously had a hole-in-one here during the 1987 Skins Game — how to ace this test.
Lee Trevino on How to Play it
“It’s a knuckle-cruncher because none of the water hazard is lateral. If you hit in the water, you’ve got to drop at a closer tee. There’s a 99 percent chance you’re going to make 5 or more from that lower tee. Normally, the hole is a 7-iron for me, though I made the ace with a cut 6-iron. In any conditions, do not shoot at the flag. Go to the dead center of the green, like Jack Nicklaus would do. You’ll have an 18-footer in either direction. The firmness of the green is the key to the hole. If there’s wind and the green is firm, it’s damn near impossible. You’ve got to hit the front of the green and pray like hell it doesn’t run into those rocks.”
- [LIST “Dedicated to the preservation of America’s legendary fighters, Palm Springs Air Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of WWII airplanes. 760-778-6262, air-museum.org“] [LIST “The world’s largest rotating tram cars, at Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, will ascend more than 8,000 feet in the air. 888-515-TRAM, pstramway.com“] [LIST “Visit the Joshua Tree National Monument, an hour from downtown, to capture the ethereal beauty of the Southwest. 760-367-5500, nps.gov/jotr“] [LIST “Take your trip to new heights courtesy of Nostalgic Warbird & Biplane Rides, where a decorated Marine Corps major will take you up in a restored vintage plane. 800-991-2473, nostalgicwarbirdrides.com“] [LIST “Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park is a family attraction with all kinds of critters. 760-346-5694, livingdesert.org“]
Where to Stay
- [LIST “La Quinta Resort & Club has access to the three PGA West courses as well as its own two fine tracks. Unlimited golf on five courses costs $725 a night for April and $305 a night in June. 800-598-3828, laquintaresort.com“] [LIST “J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa is a striking modern hotel at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Golf packages start at $499. 800-228-9290, desertspringsresort.com“] [LIST “The Parker Palm Springs is the hippest hotel in town. Rooms start at $345 per night. 760-770-5000, $499. 800-228-9290, theparkerpalmsprings.com“]
Where to Eat
- [LIST “Fine desert dining gets no better than at Azur at La Quinta Resort & Club. The coconut-butter poached Maine lobster will take the sting out of any double bogey. 760-777-4835, laquintaresort.com“] [LIST “For the perfect postround pit stop try Beer Hunter Sports Pub & Grill in La Quinta, which serves up 46 TVs. 760-564-7442, thebeerhunter.com“] [LIST “Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant in La Quinta is what you’d expect from the King: it’s a crowdpleaser with entrees such as pot pie and mac and cheese. 760-771-4653, arnoldpalmers.net“]