Coachella Value: The Palm Springs area seamlessly blends budget courses and trophy tracks in a sun-splashed package
The Coachella Valley established its bona fides as a golf mecca in the 1950s primarily for its array of exclusive private clubs. During the 1980s, outstanding resort and public-access courses exploded. These days, construction mostly revolves around renovations, and with improved conditioning across the desert, the B-Listers have nearly caught the A-Listers for quality. As for value? Look in any direction. Here’s my take on the best of Palm Springs for every budget.
Play: Now 18 years old, Escena GC in Palm Springs unfurls a Nicklaus Design replete with fun-to-play holes. There’s just enough challenge from its 7,173 yards and thoughtfully placed bunkers to keep the good player interested, but its sufficiently roomy fairways allow spray-prone golfers to bang away with the driver. Lakes and streams adorn half the holes, notably at the reachable 502-yard, par-5 15th, though seldom are forced carries required. A 1950s throwback clubhouse adds to the appeal, as does its location, five minutes from the Palm Springs Airport and a half-hour closer to L.A. than many of the region’s top-ranked courses.
Drive all the way to Palm Springs to play a par-3 course? You betcha — when that course is lit for night play, and you can tee it up elsewhere in the daylight if you choose. Having said that, The Lights at Indio GC in Indio is so entertaining — and inexpensive — you might just play here day and night. With holes ranging from 110 yards to 240 and seven of them 160 yards or longer, you’ll use just about the whole bag. At $28-$37 per round, plus $10 replays, you might just wanna play here a bunch.
Shadow Hills GC in Indio was built for a Sun City retirement community, so it was never intended to be a beatdown. Architects Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley infused the 6,789-yard, par-71 South course with ample landing areas and minimal carries, but large, stylishly crafted bunkers give the course its character. The 18-hole, par-3 North course answers the question: What happens when you crave bold bunkering, sparkling lakes, mountain panoramas and challenging golf, but only have two hours to play? Many will leave the driver at home, yet five holes on the back nine measure 186-218 yards.
Stay: The Westin Desert Willow Villas in Palm Desert provide exceptional value, especially if you’re on a couples or buddies trip. Situated next door to the Desert Willow GR, with its top-tier Firecliff and Mountain View championship layouts, the Westin’s one- and two-bedroom villas can accommodate up to eight individuals between traditional beds and sofa sleepers, which slices the per-person price significantly. Full kitchens, a workout studio and the Agave Grill & Bar are additional benefits.
Dine: For the perfect post-round burger/brew/sports bar combo, track down The Beer Hunter in La Quinta. This is no dive — not with more than 50 televisions, 27 beers on tap and 142 different varieties in bottles and cans — but nearly every entrée is under $20 and the vibe is just what you were hoping for, whether you’re killing time or watching the big game.
Play: Born in 1961 as the private Canyon CC, the renamed Indian Canyons GR on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in Palm Springs has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The 6,943-yard North course, a William F. Bell (of Torrey Pines fame) creation, features a fountain designed by Walt Disney himself in the lake between the ninth and 18th holes. Casey O’Callaghan redesigned the South course in 2004, and while it’s nearly 400 yards shorter than its sibling, it’s priced a little higher, thanks to palms, ponds, flowers and stunning San Jacinto Mountain views.
In 2007 former European Ryder Cup player Clive Clark carved out Eagle Falls GC adjacent to the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, and it remains an under-the-radar, under-$100-in-the-fall treat. Undulating fairways, mountain vistas and strategic bunkering grace the 6,715-yard track, which asks for precision more often than power.
La Quinta Resort & Club’s Pete Dye Dunes Course isn’t the famous one at this facility — that would be the Dye-designed Top 100 Mountain Course — but the Dunes is a more affordable alternative if you’re seeking to tackle a prototypical Dye design. Less dramatic than the Mountain, the Dunes nonetheless rolls out 6,578 peril-filled yards, with Dye’s most emphatic statement coming at the 420-yard, par-4 17th, which arcs around a large lake. Santa Rosa Mountain views soothe throughout the round.
Stay: One of four hotels that fall under the Indian Wells GR umbrella, Miramonte Resort & Spa has been rebranded as the Tommy Bahama Miramonte Resort & Spa. The refreshed resort will soon feature a revamped restaurant and bar and villa suites transformed with Tommy Bahama furnishings. This follows completed guestroom upgrades, conversion to a saltwater pool and a new olive grove patio with six firepits and a wowinducing firewall. Stay & Play Golf Packages furnish money-saving value at the two superb Indian Wells GR layouts. Fall rates start at $109 per night.
Dine: For Mexican food with a side of history and ambience, nothing touches the Adobe Grille at the La Quinta Resort & Club. It’s practically a nightly party on the patio, with the fiesta including flowers, fountains and live music. The Seabass Vera Cruz and guacamole prepared tableside will have you shouting “ole!”
Expense Account Splurges
Play: For nearly four decades, the ultimate must-play in the Coachella Valley has been PGA WEST’s Stadium Course in La Quinta. Pete Dye’s 1986 fright-fest smacked the PGA Tour pros silly in the late 1980s, except for Lee Trevino, who famously aced “Alcatraz,” the island green par-3 17th, in the 1987 Skins Game. Today, the 7,300-yard layout remains plenty testing, thanks to its steady diet of alarmingly deep bunkers, rough-topped moguls and multiple all-or-nothing shots over sand, water and desert. Former Dye associate Tim Liddy has just completed a green and bunker renovation, as well as new irrigation and landscaping, ahead of the American Express Championship, where Jon Rahm defends. The beast is back, and so is its beauty.
Flip a coin at Indian Wells GR and whether you wind up on the Celebrity course or the Players course, you’re a winner. The Clive Clark-designed Celebrity can get a little claustrophobic at times, but I never much minded, given the kaleidoscope of flowers, gorgeous water features, mature trees and mountain panoramas that accompany every shot. John Fought’s Players course is more rustic and open, with bigger, deeper bunkers, and it appeals greatly to serious sticks. While on property, don’t miss the resort’s “Shots in the Night” after-dark golf and entertainment experience, or the new Top Tracer Driving Range, or the superb food, beverages and vistas at Vue.
Confession: It took me a long time to finally tee it up at the Classic Club in Palm Desert. I took issue with the too-generic name and with the whining from the pros during its breeze-fueled run as co-host of the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic from 2006-2008. My mistake. Two trips around this 7,322-yard Arnold Palmer design changed everything. Flawless grooming, drama-drenched risk-reward holes and enhanced beauty via sprawling bunkers and lush landscaping made me a convert. The watery par-5s that close each nine are standouts.
Stay: The hottest new golf resort in America is the Sensei Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage. Opened in November 2022, the resort emphasizes its innovative wellness programs, balanced with traditional rejuvenation activities such as spa, pool time and golf, on an oasis-like course that was built in 2004 as the private domain for entrepreneur Tim Blixseth. Now owned by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, Sensei Porcupine Creek is a retreat for the elite. With only 22 rooms, suites and villas and a maximum of 68 guests — with rooms starting at $1,125 per night — securing a tee time will not be a problem.
Dine: The King lives on at Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant in La Quinta. This people-pleaser dishes out All-American comfort food from the modestly priced (Arnie’s Famous Meatloaf with Palmer’s Baked Mac & Cheese) to the celebratory stuff, such as the Coachella Date & Bacon Skewers followed by the 16 oz. New York Strip. No matter what you order, make sure you feast on the treasure trove of Palmer memorabilia throughout the restaurant.