Wildflower-filled golf courses

You can “live like a local” in Palm Springs plus feel like a golf club member when you play at the Indian Wells Golf Resort. The city has city created two courses in the heart of the Coachella Valley’s desert carpet of celebrity courses.

I experienced scenery and serenity – and a shot of creative luxury – when I valet parked under a shady portico bordered on one side by a waterfall. The two-level clubhouse and Vue panoramic patioed restaurant were surrounded by yellow-pillowed couch spaces. These are perfect for gathering and lingering before and after your round – or even if you don’t play golf – with a cup of Lavazza espresso or a craft strawberry and blood orange margarita.

Vue, the snazzy restaurant and clubhouse
Vue, the snazzy restaurant and clubhouse. Photo by Michael Shiels

“Will that be a Louis VIII then, sir?” the lively bartender asked after inviting me to sit at a stool with the best view of the golf course and mountains. His playful, personable opening “sell” (that cognac costs about $200 a glass) was representative of the staff members I met amidst the wildflowers and lush landscaping throughout Indian Wells. The bartender said he loved his job so much that he drives 70 miles each day from Riverside to work.

And if one must practice, the Indian Wells driving range mixes top performance with “Top Golf.” Once again shaded lounge areas at each covered hitting bay are more reminiscent of the social aspect of bowling than golf’s typically solitary pursuit.

This “golf park” embraces hospitality like few “munis” you will ever experience. Even the longest tee markers, after the standard red, white, yellow and blue, are called “cabernet.” (7,376 yards on the Player Course, by the way.)

Chill with coffee on the golf club’s scenic veranda
Chill with coffee on the golf club’s scenic veranda. Photo by Michael Shiels

Venturing Out…

Once ready to eschew the fanciful glassware of the contemporary, second-level Vue restaurant and bar, the Indian Wells golf shop staff sent me out with a plastic logoed cup. This was to be used to fill and refill with ice and water at the many hydration stations throughout the desert flora and fauna. Just one of the thoughtful, eco-friendly, efforts at Indian Wells. I filled that cup every time I got near ice and water which, thanks to the course’s design, was often.

Anecdotally, the beverage cart operator I engaged with once during my 18 holes was a bit “on automatic.” However, it was the weekend of the massive Coachella music festival, so she may have been as groggy as the course was sleepy in the 95-degree dry heat. Maybe people were in the pools at the adjacent hotels.  

Top Golf-style practice range
Top Golf-style practice range. Photo by Michael Shiels

Start Me Up

After a fun golf cart ride across a dry gorge, the starter’s booth, in front of the putting practice green, was staffed by a lively fellow with, as visible on his name tag, an Italian surname.

“I am half Italian-half Sicilian, so watch your knees,” he joked, though his name was not Corleone.

When he asked where I was from, I told the starter I was in from Michigan.

“I’ve been to Michigan. I was a traveling salesman,” he said before launching into a virtual travelogue of the mitten-shaped, Great Lakes State. “What was that place on the river Gerald Ford was from? Oh, yes, Grand Rapids.”

Ironically, one of the major roads in Palm Desert is named for Gerald Ford, who spent lots of time in the Palm Springs area playing golf.

“I went all the way up to Mackinac Island, too,” the starter continued his travelogue. “I didn’t realize until I arrived, I’d have to take a ferry to the island…and then there were no cars. Only horses and bicycles!”

 The starter said he’d stayed at “The Plantation,” by which I assumed he meant the iconic, white, wooden Grand Hotel with the columns of its massive porch perched atop the island. While the 1887-era Grand Hotel may appear to be a plantation house, it never was. And most tourism destinations with the name Plantation are renaming their properties in light of cultural sensitivities.

“Mission Point Resort is all the rage there now, anyway,” I told him. Then the starter lit up when I mentioned Traverse City.

“Traverse City? Yep – I went there, too. That was a beautiful place,” he waxed.

Indian Wells Golf Resort Flora and fauna
Flora and fauna from the moment you arrive. Photo by Michael Shiels

He’s a Traveling Man

I suspect Indian Wells Golf Resort’s general manager Sven Wiedenhaupt would be proud of his bartender and his starter’s portability. The innovative Wiedenhaupt, before taking the helm at Indian Wells, worked in hospitality in Damascus; Beirut; Doha; Dubai, Europe and the Caribbean.

Turning to local parlance, the starter then gestured toward Eisenhower Mountain in the distance over Thunderbird Golf Club. Also,  the direction of the various other mountain view golf courses in the area used for the PGA Tour’s long-running Bob Hope Desert Classic, including nearby Indian Wells Country Club and Bermuda Dunes. And then, of course, he uttered the phrase golf commentators Lee Trevino, Mark Rolfing, Roger Maltbie and others stated so many times on the NBC telecasts: “all of the putts break to Indio.”

“Indio is that way,” he said while pointing to what I think was the southwest. Or was it southeast? Either way, I used the advice religiously while navigating my golf ball over the speedy, subtle greens I’d putt on that day.

Indian Wells bridges evoke Augusta National
Indian Wells bridges evoke Augusta National. Photo by Michael Shiels

Placed in Palm Springs

“You’re on the “Player Course,” the starter stated.

I asked him to describe the difference between the resort’s “Player” and “Celebrity” courses.

“I’d say the Celebrity Course is prettier with flowers and waterfalls and ponds. And the Player Course is longer and harder. If you want to have fun, play from the white tees.” (By the way, I’d come to find there was no shortage of flowers, ponds and waterfalls on the Player Course, too.)

“Who designed the courses? I asked the starter.

He didn’t know the names of the golf architects, so for the second time in a week I’d “stumped the band.” Melvyn’s Restaurant’s piano player Mikael Healey at the Ingleside Inn, for decades a celebrity performer having earned a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame, took requests on a couple of the nights I was there.

“’Palm Springs Jump?’ I don’t know that one,” he admitted of the Keely Smith hit about his hometown. I requested “Everything Happens to Me” as a replacement, but the Matt Dennis number escaped him, too.

I wasn’t trying to stump the band, nor the starter. But since the golf architect’s names were not on the Indian Wells Golf Resort’s scorecard, I Googled to learn it was John Fought who crafted the Player Course and Englishman Clive Clark who laid out the Player Course.

Michael Patrick Shiels receives the “green jacket” from Jim Nantz
Michael Patrick Shiels receives the “green jacket” from Jim Nantz. Photo by Michael Shiels

Swinging Down the Fairway

I noticed the golf cart at Indian Wells Golf Resort had a Bluetooth speaker I could connect to my mobile phone and play music over. So, I You Tubed “Palm Springs Jump” and went on my way. Bjork was one of the performers playing down the hill at the Coachella Music Festival that weekend. But I thought her manic performance of her misleadingly titled hit “It’s Oh, So Quiet” might wreck the tempo of my golf swing.  

On the Player Course back-nine I was tempted to play the CBS Sports theme to The Masters Tournament when I spotted arched stone bridges similar to the Hogan and Sarazen Bridges of Augusta National Golf Club.

I dreamed after golf that night I won the Masters Tournament. Jack Nicklaus was there in his green jacket to congratulate me on mine. Former CBS Sports golf commentator Gary McCord, who’d been barred from broadcasting at Augusta, celebrated with me with his wry humor. CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz, a friend, gave me a big hug.

Various other players congratulated me and, oddly, no one would let me touch my luggage or golf bag.

“No, no, sir. You’re a Masters winner. We’ll take care of things for you,” an Augusta National staff member insisted. They then directed me to a celebratory dinner.

It was an immensely satisfying dream…after a very satisfying day at Indian Wells Golf Resort.

Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler and contact him at [email protected]

Michael Patrick Shiels

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