Where to play golf in the California desert: Palm Springs, La Quinta and PGA West

There are a handful of places in the U.S. where golfers congregate in such numbers that we are the majority. At Pinehurst in North Carolina and Pebble Beach in California, announcing yourself as a proud golfer isn’t just accepted, it’s expected. 

It’s the same in Palm Springs, California, and its neighboring communities, located a mere 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Here, golf is it. Tennis is popular, too, but the fairways, as far as many residents are concerned, are the essence of desert life. 

Back in the day when we let our fingers do the walking and the Yellow Pages was an essential part of life, the local Palm Springs phone book dispersed golf tips on how to grip the club, keep your eye on the ball and follow through on the swing among the volume’s various classified ads. Now that’s a city consumed with golf, one that fills tee sheets with its geriatric golf-loving residents and visitors at more than 100 courses. 

With its idyllic weather consisting of 350 days a year of sunshine, Palm Springs has been a tourist haven and Hollywood getaway since the 1920s. It is a desert oasis cradled between tall, picturesque mountains – the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south. 

“The Desert” is what locals call Palm Springs, itself shorthand for the 30-mile string of seven communities – including Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Indio – that more or less ooze into each other and make up the Coachella Valley.

La Quinta Resort (Courtesy of La Quinta Resort)

Everything about Palm Springs, the best known and farthest west of the Desert communities, is dreamy, from the red bougainvillea draping the Spanish-style buildings to the renovated mid-century modern buildings giving it its charm. Running a close second to the smorgasbord of forgiving fairways in Palm Springs is its culinary treats. It can stand on its own two feet as a bona fide foodie destination. (Unfortunately, my trip was during the pandemic and restaurants were only doing takeout, so circumstances were less than ideal for reviewing the food.) 

The palm trees that line streets named after Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry and Dinah Shore really do sway in the breeze, and lounging poolside here is a sport, if not an art. Palm Canyon Drive, the main thoroughfare of Palm Springs, is packed with alfresco restaurants with views of the bustling sidewalks and the latest boutique shops. 

Yes, in this bastion of Bentleys and bling, worldly pleasures rule. It begs a question of where to enjoy this paradise: to stay close enough to walk to the first tee, or in the heart of Palm Springs at any one of a handful of the decadent spa resorts? The answer is: Choices abound. Palm Springs tends to cater to those seeking a tax shelter, not a night’s shelter. Nonetheless, affordable lodgings are fairly abundant, especially in summer when the mercury rises into triple digits. 

La Quinta Resort (Courtesy of La Quinta Resort)

Since the dual purpose of my visit was to watch the PGA Tour pros at The American Express in January, I set up shop in La Quinta, at the other end of the valley about a 45-minute drive to Palm Springs. La Quinta Resort is considered the granddaddy of them all. This posh hideaway introduced the first golf course to the Coachella Valley in 1926 and remains a gem. The 45-acre enclave, with 41 pools on property, 23 tennis courts, both hard and clay surfaces and a top-notch teaching staff, harks back to the golden era of Hollywood when film stars lined up at the door. Guests still gather in the lounge, with its deep sofas, high-vaulted beamed ceiling and wood-burning fireplace that gives off the fragrance of mesquite. In a day of high-rise mania, low-rise La Quinta with its quaint Spanish-Colonial style casitas rates at the very least five stars for service, five hearts for romance. 

 

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