La Quinta Resort & Golf Club

The rich and famous still live and hang out in Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley, but aside from Bob Hope, the only remaining links to Palm Springs’s salad days are street signs honoring yesteryear’s legends — and the venerable La Quinta Resort & Club.

Nowhere in the desert is the golf, or the lodging, better than at this historic resort. Besides PGA West’s new Greg Norman Course, which opened in late 1999, four other outstanding resort courses are affiliated with the hotel — La Quinta’s adjacent Pete Dye courses (the Dunes and Mountain), and nearby PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and Dye’s TPC Stadium Course. And the resort’s spacious Spanish-style adobe guest casitas are, well, unbelievable.

As the Norman Course makes a bold statement for the resort’s future, one of the things that makes La Quinta so special is its past. Built in 1926, the original 20 guest casitas provided a secluded retreat. Hollywood legends such as Frank Capra (who wrote It Happened One Night during his first visit) and Bette Davis (who married French actor Jacques Bergerac at the hotel in 1953) loved La Quinta, which was just a few hours’ drive over the mountains and through the desert from Los Angeles.

Today, Kevin Costner and Jack Nicholson are among the many regulars at the 45-acre resort, with its 640 casitas and suites set among citrus trees, palms, bougainvillea, roses, and 25 swimming pools. Two years ago, the resort spent big to add a new world-class spa and redecorate many guest rooms, and it shows. Toss in La Quinta’s setting, wealth of golf, and year-round sunny weather, and few properties anywhere can match it.

La Quinta’s — and the region’s — golf focal point is PGA West’s difficult courses. Even the Shark himself shot a 76 the first time he tested the waters of his own 7,156-yard creation, the lone non-private area track that permits walking. Only 62 acres of grass adorn the Norman Course, with the tees, fairways, and greens framed by waste areas composed of 50,000 tons of decomposed granite, desert, and creosote bush. Bunkerless green fronts promote run-up shots, while buzz-cut greenside collection areas encourage putting. Because the course was built in a seabed 40 feet below sea level, adjacent holes can’t be seen. Also, the 125 white crushed-coral bunkers are edged with mustache-like rough. If golfers survive Norman’s test, they can repair to the 7,000 square-foot clubhouse, which serves Australian specialties, plus its signature drink, the Sharkarita.

Wimps need not apply at Dye’s notorious 7,266-yard TPC Stadium Course (the Slope/Course Rating from the tips is 150/75.9); its 445-yard first hole is only the fourth-longest par four. The shortest par five is the 535-yard fifth, with the 11th stretching to 617 yards. Dye’s trademark bunkers — locals have sworn on a stack of railroad ties they’ve seen two human skeletons in the 19-foot-deep “San Andreas Fault” greenside bunker on the 16th — and huge, undulating greens abound. Water guards nine lightning-fast greens, including “Alcatraz,” the notorious par-three 17th, with its boulder-lined island green.

Many feel the 7,204-yard Nicklaus Course (74.7/139) is even more difficult than the Stadium. The raised fairways resemble bowling lanes, dropping off — sometimes sharply — into gutters of massive fairway bunkers and/or water. And the monstrous, roller-coaster greens are more difficult to decipher than a butterfly ballot.

The last five holes on La Quinta’s Mountain Course, which is ranked 57th on GOLF Magazine’s list of the Top 100 You Can Play, stretch up, down, and alongside the Santa Rosa Mountains. The signature 167-yard 16th features an island green encircled by an inhospitable boulder-strewn desert.

Water comes into play often on the resort’s Dunes Course, which is flatter and greener than the other layouts. Elevated greens, most of which are wide but shallow, are the norm.

After being battered by Dye, Norman, and Nicklaus, golfers will relish Spa La Quinta’s refreshing, 10-minute open-air Celestial Shower (12 high-pressure shower heads blast you with water at varying temperatures), followed by the also-heavenly PGA West Golf Massage.

After some tasty chicken fajitas at the Adobe Grill, guests can put the casitas’ outdoor Jacuzzis to good use: leaning back, staring up at the stars. It doesn’t get much better than this, which is how the early Hollywood crowd must have felt.

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