Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 7: Golfing Paradise

Our last episode ended with me in Desert Hot Springs, CA, and Pat back in Minnesota. She’s now back with me and the RV at the Catalina Spa RV Resort, at the tail end of a three week stay. Since this is my blog and not hers, I will only report on exploits here in California and let Pat share what she wants elsewhere about her trip back home.

Actually, “exploits” is a bit too grandiose a description for my time alone in the Coachella Valley. I basically did nothing but play golf. This place is as close to a golfing paradise as I have ever seen. There are reportedly some 120 courses in the valley, ranging from very exclusive and pricey resorts such as La Quinta and PGA West to more modest fare willing to allow players such as myself on the premises. Actually, even the fancy places would take me, if only I would flash a double titanium credit card and adhere to the dress code. I didn’t go to any of the fancy places because I’m just not a good enough player to justify forking over hundreds of bucks to experience true links magnificence. To put it another way, I’m just too cheap. I did, however, play a total of 12 rounds of golf in the 15 days that Pat was gone. Most of those rounds were so-called Hot Deals offered by the Golf Now service, so I was generally paying half price or less.

At first, I tried to find courses that didn’t say anything about a dress code in their booking notices. The reason I did that is simple – I did not bring any non-denim pants along on the trip, because I only own(ed) one such pair to be used exclusively for weddings and funerals, and that pair is in a closet back in Grand Marais. Wearing jeans worked twice, but the third time I did it was suggested that I shouldn’t come back again if I insisted on wearing them. After that, I tried wearing a pair of Pat’s pants that she left behind, but certain issues of form and function eventually drove me to a local Target store to purchase some actual non-denim men’s pants. I am very annoyed that most of the Coachella Valley courses still adhere to the collared shirt and non-denim policy. (Apparently, this dress code is intended to ensure that only “gentlemen and ladies” partake in the genteel game, although it fails to prevent an awful lot of boorish behavior, in my humble opinion.) There is only one course I play back in Minnesota that still has the no-denim dress code (are you reading this, Tom W?). I even played in jeans at Royal Dornoch in Scotland, the fourth oldest course in the world, and they acted as if I had two heads when I asked if they had a no-denim policy. But, faced with the choice between pouting in the RV and playing golf in the Coachella Valley paradise, I opted for new pants.

Here are the courses I played at, with a brief synopsis of each:

  • Mesquite Country Club: A nice layout with very few holes adjacent to homes, but probably in the worst condition of the ones I visited. I played here the day Pat left and the day she came back, since it was conveniently close for drop off and pick up at the Palm Springs airport.
  • Cathedral Canyon Country Club: Excellent fairways and greens, but homes adjacent to many of the holes.
  • Date Palm Country Club: A par-58 executive course in good condition, but most of the holes meandered among the adjacent homes. I shot my best score relative to par here, actually bettering my age by one, so that was great fun.
  • Desert Dunes Golf Club: Fairways and greens were nice, but some of the bunkers and the rough areas near the desert were in pretty bad shape. While they tout a future housing development, there are no houses there yet.
  • Tahquitz Creek Golf Club: I played the Resort Course twice (there is also a Legends Course) because the pace of play was so slow I could only finish 15 holes before dark on the first try. I went earlier in the day for the second try and consequently had to pay the full price, the only time I did that. The course was in excellent condition and was probably the most scenic, with no adjacent houses, plus friendly road runners and ground squirrels to provide entertainment while waiting interminably for the groups ahead.
  • Shadow Mountain Golf Club: This is the original Coachella Valley golf course, designed by the legendary Gene Sarazen and built in the 1950s. The holes wind among houses (most of which also look to be from the 1950s), with narrow fairways and small greens so that accuracy is far more important than distance. The course was in good condition. I shot my second-best score relative to par here – my new irons were working well.
  • Shadow Hills Golf Club, South Course: Very scenic, no houses, excellent condition, but the bunkers were brutal. I shot my worst round here, but at least half a dozen lousy bunker shots were the principal reason.
  • Cimarron Golf Resort, Boulder Course: Probably the second most scenic. No houses, beautifully maintained, wide fairways and large greens, but still very challenging with many bunkers and contours to the fairways and greens.
  • Indian Palms Country Club, Indian and Mountain nines: Another one that winds around through the houses and requires accurate shots. I shot my third-best score relative to par here – my sand wedge was on fire. Course condition was generally good, but there were a few holes that seemed rougher than most.
  • Rancho Las Palmas Resort (South and West nines): Course was in good condition except for one or two holes on the West nine. Much of the course passes through the housing development – I think most of the rather small houses are rental units for the adjacent resort. On a few holes the tee boxes were just a few yards away from people sitting on their patios. I played the South nine extremely well but then went in the toilet (or more accurately, the water hazards and bunkers) on the West nine. Probably had played too much golf by then, and it also was cloudy and chilly by Coachella Valley standards (in the low 50s).

I didn’t mention the scenic views of the surrounding mountains, because each and every course had those – it was only a matter of degree. In general, the fewer adjacent homes, the better the scenery. And even the ones that were in somewhat tough shape were eminently playable and most enjoyable for golf in December and January. Here are a few photos.

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I’ll make two final observations before ending this golf soliloquy. First, I was amazed by the number of Canadians I met on the courses. At least 75% of the people I played with were from Canada. One fellow told me that many Canadians bought condos or other properties in the area back in 2009-2010 when the Canadian dollar was very strong against that US dollar. At any rate, the Coachella Valley seems to be a mecca for wintertime Canadian visitors. Second, I must say a word about my new irons. Steve O suggested in a comment on a previous post that any improvement would probably be due to a placebo effect. I disagree. While my overall scores were not that great, I’m convinced they would have been much worse with the old irons. I hit many more good shots and fewer stinkos, though there were still some pretty bad ones. Let’s just say the ratio of good shots to bad shots seems to be much higher with the new clubs, and I think it is due to the club technology. Lord knows my swing did not miraculously improve. OK, that’s more than a word, so let’s move on.

On our last full day in the Coachella Valley, we rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to the Mount San Jacinto State Park. The ride was great fun, traveling 2.5 miles from the Valley station, while rising 6,000 feet to an elevation of 8,516 feet at the upper station. During the ten-minute ride, the floor of the tram car rotates 720 degrees to allow all passengers to appreciate the stunning views of the mountains and canyons. Once at the top, we went for a short walk along some trails, which were covered with snow and ice that made walking a bit treacherous. After I fell on my behind while trying to jockey for a good picture at one of the overlooks, we gimped back (or rather I gimped while Pat tried very hard to look sympathetic) to the tram station for a nice lunch before riding down again. All in all, it was a wonderful experience which I highly recommend for any visitors to the Palm Springs area.

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In the evening, we went to one of the hot springs at the Catalina Spa where my sore back was rejuvenated by the hot mineral waters. So now we’re ready to move on from the golfing paradise. Next up, the Pacific Coast. We’re still flipping coins and throwing darts to decide exactly where to go, but our next step will be visiting some friends and relatives in the Bay Area. Stay tuned – I promise there will be little or no golf talk in the next post.

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