A Long Way from Home: Golf in Coachella Valley
Not in recent memory, of course. Geologists tell us that this was during the Pleistocene epoch, when mammoths, saber-toothed cats and other big, grumpy animals trudged about the landscape. Although this period ended nearly 12,000 years ago, fossilized mollusks can be found there, and that may help to explain how the valley got its name.
Early maps label the area “Conchilla Valley,” conchilla being the Spanish word for seashell. It could be that the early Spanish explorers named it for those mollusk fossils. And perhaps cartographers who later transcribed the names from those old maps simply miswrote it as “Coachella.” Or maybe the name was just made up.
Whatever the case, three things are for sure: the inland sea is long gone, you’re not likely to meet a big hairy elephant there, and the Coachella Valley is a fantastic place for golf.
A Long Way from its Birthplace
Historians agree that the modern game of golf had its origins in 15th century Scotland. In fact, the first written record of the game appears in a decree from James II that actually bans golf because it was distracting young men from their archery practice.
Really, James? Archery?
Thankfully, golf survived a wee bit better than James II. But now, when you think of Scotland, what comes to mind? That is, besides medieval castles and men in kilts? That’s right, lots of green. Dense forests, rivers, lochs and a lot of rain. After nearly 600 years, golf remains a popular game in its land of birth. The country’s oldest course at St. Andrews – also the oldest course in the world – is a links course. Links are significantly less manicured than the park-like course in the U.S. They are fashioned out of the sandy, windswept terrain, with fewer “man-made” additions.
There are about 125 golf courses in the Coachella Valley, all centuries and thousands of miles apart from their Scottish counterparts. The dry desert landscape surrounded by the Santa Rosa, San Jacinto, Little San Bernardino and San Gorgonio Mountains presents its own stunning vistas. The courses are also quite different from the tropical ones in sunny Florida or those splayed across the undulating hills of New York.
It would take many months – even years – to drive, chip and putt your way through all of the Valley’s golf courses. But here are just five of the many must-play courses in this beautiful desert oasis.
Indian Wells Golf Resort
Wells Golf Resort has two of the top 20 courses in the entire state. The Celebrity Course, a Clive Clark design, gently rolls and dips and features multi-colored flora. Ten holes have water, from streams to ponds to waterfalls. The Players Course, designed by John Fought and considerably more challenging, stretches for an impressive 7,400 yards – six par 4s play at least 450 yards. Some of the bunkers are deep enough to require steps to get down into. And the great service at Indian Wells is the cherry on top. Your bag will be picked up in the parking lot and put on the cart. Your cooler will be topped off with ice throughout your round, and before you leave, your clubs will be sparkling clean, ready for your next outing. You can find this great resort at 44500 Indian Wells Lane in Indian Wells.
For a high-end municipal course, you can’t do better than the Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Course at SilverRock. Host of the Bob Hope Classic (now the Humana Challenge) from 2008-2011, the 7,578-yard course covers 200 acres and boasts spectacular scenery as it winds along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The back nine is filled with challenging water features and other design elements that make it a challenge to hit the fairways from the tees. Play it safe, and you may be looking at some tricky shots on your way to the green. SilverRock Resort is located at 79179 Ahmanson Lane in La Quinta.
Another Arnold Palmer-designed course and former host of the Bob Hope Classic, the rolling Audubon-certified grounds of the Classic Club feature tour-quality greens, 30 acres of water features, 14 bridges, challenging elevation changes and five different tee boxes on each hole. And since it’s managed by Troon Golf, the entire experience is guaranteed to be top-notch. The stunning three-story Tuscan Village-inspired clubhouse, complete with waterfalls and lakes, adds an extra dash of class to an already luxurious golf experience. Classic Club is located at 75200 Classic Club Boulevard in Palm Desert.
Desert Willow Golf Resort
Desert Willow Golf resort embraces a pair of pristine, well-manicured courses that offer great views of the San Jacinto Mountains. The Firecliff Course features numerous forced carries, large lakes, over 100 bunkers and testy greens that challenge you to walk away with par. The more tranquil Mountainview Course, with an abundance of water, is a great option for those with a high handicap. Panoramic views and striking desert scenery make it worthwhile to play all 36 holes. Desert Willow Golf Resort is at 38995 Desert Willow Drive in Palm Desert.
Shadow Ridge Golf Resort
Nick Faldo’s first U.S. course design, Shadow Ridge draws inspiration from the great sand-belt courses of Australia.
It was named the 19th best courses in California by Golfweek magazine. Faldo’s signature steep sand traps are on display.
The fairways aren’t as smooth and even as they appear to be, and the subtly undulating greens challenge every player to get off with a one-putt. Even veteran golfers will have to stop and think before pulling a club out of their bag. The front nine presents the greater challenge, while the back nine’s shorter par 4s makes for an enjoyable finish. The premises also boast one of the valley’s best practice facilities; a golf academy and fitting studio are also on site. Shadow Ridge Golf Resort is located at 9002 Shadow Ridge Road in Palm Desert.