By Peter Yoon
Palm Springs was quite the scene when Hollywood hipsters frequented the city in the 1960s and 70s. So Escena, the Spanish word for scene, seems to be an appropriate name for a golf club with designs of returning an outta sight vibe to the area.
Escena Golf Club (www.escenagolf.com) is back open for business following a two-year closure, and this time its an entirely different scene than when the economic downturn forced the club to stop taking tee times in October 2007.During the hiatus, the new owners hired Sunrise Golf to manage the property and address several issues with the course. The result is a new-and-improved golf experience that rivals any of the top courses in the area, while harkening back to the feel the area had before the Coachella Valley was besieged by suburban sprawl.
The Nicklaus Design championship course is a classic desert layout, complete with wide fairways, dazzling water features and majestic mountain views. The setting also includes more than 50,000 plants many of them species used during the 60s as well as rock walls and bridges to give the course a traditional feel.
Add in a clubhouse that was also designed to recall 60s-era Palm Springs, and you have a veritable time machine of a facility located just a few minutes from the Palm Springs Airport.
Escena Golf Club marks a return to what made desert golf great, said Mark Tansey, president of Sunrise Golf.
The goal was to recapture that old-school Palm Springs vibe. A step through the doors of the newly built, 16,000-squarefoot clubhouse facility is a step back to the days when Rat Packers such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin made Palm Springs their desert destination of choice. Retro furniture combined with 60sstyle architecture and lighting makes it a ring-a-ding retreat for post-golf gathering
The dramatic clubhouse captures the unmistakable character of the Mid-Century Modern style that is synonymous with classic Palm Springs design, Tansey said. At Escena, golfers have the rare opportunity to experience an environment not seen since the days of Palmer and Nicklaus, Sinatra and Martin.
The course stretches to 7,173 yards from the back tees, offering enough length to challenge skilled players, but three shorter sets of tees and generous fairways make it fair for the novice.
Escena also features five par 5s for some nice scoring opportunities, but its five par 3s average 214 yards from the back tees and will keep scores honest.
Two years ago, Escena was a different story. The course originally opened in 2005 to good reviews, but its lack of a clubhouse, driving range and practice areas made the facility incomplete. When the previous course owners went bankrupt in 2007, Escena was in need of some significant improvements.
Lennar Homes, which owns the housing development around Escena, took over the course, shut it down and brought in Tanseys group to oversee the facility and make the necessary improvements.
And while Escena still doesnt have a driving range, it does have warm-up stalls where golfers can hit balls into a net before their round. There are also chipping and putting areas for pre-round practice and, of course, the clubhouse, which will make you feel like a Rat Packer as you settle your bets.
Indian Canyons Golf Resort A few miles down the road from Escena, Indian Canyons Golf Resort (www.indiancanyonsgolf.com) brings you even closer to the 60s legends.
The North Course at Indian Canyons used to be storied Canyon Country Club, the infamous haunt of the famous for many years. Sinatra, Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny and Walt Disney were among the celebrities that frequented the course, which opened its doors to the public at the end of 2008.
The classic William P. Bell course is still semiprivate, but the general public should have no problems getting tee times on the once-exclusive 6,905-yard layout, which features a copper water feature known as the Disney Fountain, donated to the club by Disney himself.
The tight course meanders through a neighborhood of 1960s-style homes and requires a great deal of strategy. No. 18, for instance, is a 489-yard par 5 that seems harmless on the scorecard but is well defended by out-of-bounds areas and two water hazards.
Because it was so exclusive for so long, people dont even realize its there, said Charles DeLorey, marketing and event sales manager for Indian Canyons.Its a real treat to be able to play someplace with so much history. Across the street is the Indian Canyons South Course, which is more of a resort-style layout, renovated in 2004 by Casey OCallaghan and LPGA Hall of Fame member Amy Alcott. The 6,582-yard Course features dramatic scenery and a more open feel, being one of the few area desert courses not surrounded by homes.
For a long time it was a good course, but not great, DeLorey said of the South Course. Now it gives you the look and feel you expect from a desert golf course. La Quinta Resort and Club and its Five Nearby Gems No desert golf trip back in time would be complete without a visit to La Quinta Resort and Club (www.Laquintaresort.com), which has been a haven for the affluent since 1926. Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Shirley Temple are among those who once frequented what is today an upscale 796-room retreat.
Golfers are drawn to La Quinta because guests get priority access to three courses at nearby PGA West (www.pgawest.com), known as The Western Home of Golf in America, in addition to the two on-site courses. Those five courses include three by Pete Dye, one by Jack Nicklaus and one by Greg Norman three of the most notable course architects of the late 20th century.
The renowned Stadium Course is the crown jewel at PGA West and can be found on any reputable list of the most difficult courses in the country.
It also recently rejoined the stable of Tournament Players Clubs (TPC), a designation that signifies a PGA Tour-caliber course with Tour-quality service.
The Stadium Course has plenty of history, having served as the site of the Skins Game, as a member of the Bob Hope Classic rotation and as part of the SCGA-SCPGA Honors Matches. The pros at one time deemed the course too difficult, and it dropped out of the Hope. But recent renovations, including the clearing out of areas of unplayable grasses and mounds, have made it less gruesome on golfers.
Stadium is still used by the Tour, along with the neighboring Jack Nicklaus Tournament course, for the PGA Tour Qualifying tournament, and the course has had its teeth dulled enough that there are thoughts of putting it back into the Hope rotation in the future.
Thats definitely the hope, said Mike Kelly, executive director of PGA West and La Quinta Resort. Thats the ultimate goal. It would be good for us, good for the Tour and good for the golfer who doesnt often get the chance to play a PGA Tour course.
The Stadium Course is known for its infamous Alcatraz, the nemesis for PGA Tour hopefuls. That 17th hole, with an island green, leads way to the water-lined 18th, an unnerving duo that has made and broken many players in the past.
The Nicklaus Tournament Course, which has served as site of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and the Three-Tour Challenge, is a quintessential Nicklaus design with huge undulating greens that feature plenty of false fronts, and is every bit as intimidating as the Stadium Course.
The Norman Course, the newest and most underrated of the PGA West collection, offers the perfect combination of beauty and challenge. With nine lakes, there is plenty of water, and the brilliant white sand really makes the bunkers stand out.
Weve got a lot of variety here, and were constantly looking to improve on it, Kelly said. I think thats part of the reason we continue to attract high-profile events. We have an ownership that is looking long term while continuing to invest in the present and that is saying something in these economic times. The Mountain and Dunes courses, both Dye designs located on property at La Quinta Resort, are the oldest of the five courses but are getting a new look, thanks to an aesthetic overhaul. Native grass areas are growing out, replacing what was once green grass. The result is a more classic desert look.
If you've played it before, you are going to be shocked at what you see, Kelly said. Youll see the courses in a different way. Were restoring the cachet, and its going to make people want to go play the courses more. Desert Willow Golf Resort In Palm Desert, Desert Willow Golf Resort (www.desertwillow.com) is taking its own little trip back in time. This one doesnt go very far back, however, since the course opened in 1997.
The Mountain View course recently reopened after a five-month, $1 million renovation project that included a complete overhaul of all the bunkers and greens. The City of Palm Desert, which owns the course, also added grass to some of the waste bunker areas to make them more playable, and cleaned up the lakes as well.
Over time, the natural erosion of the desert had changed the course, said Bruce Nation, director of sales and marketing at Desert Willow. We brought in the original architects (Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and John Cook) and restored the course to where it was when it opened. All 18 greens were killed off and replaced with a new grass, and the bunkers were emptied, reshaped, given new drainage and liners, and filled with a mix of Augusta White and Desert Tan sand.
Among the most modern offerings is the Classic Club (http://www.classicclubgolf.com). Opened in 2006, the Classic Club joined the rotation for the Bob Hope Classic for three years, and the 7,322-yard Arnold Palmer Design Group creation has garnered multiple appearances on national best courses lists. It's anything but a classic desert course, however, as it features of all things pine trees.
The Classic Club also boasts an abundance of water 30 acres worth, to be exact and pine straw ground cover that gives the course a look and feel you wont find anywhere else in the desert.
A few miles east of the Classic Club off of I-10 in Indio is another modern gem called Eagle Falls Golf Course (www.eaglefallsgolf.com). Located at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, the 6,715-yard Clive Clark design is a resort-style course with lush, rolling fairways and plenty of visual enhancements including a 45-foot waterfall on the 18th hole and massive sand traps throughout.
The Eagle Falls course opened in 2006, and because of its proximity to the Fantasy Springs Resort, the course is already growing into a popular destination for tournaments such as the star-studded Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational and the Playboy Scramble, during which each foursome is paired with a Playboy Playmate.
Clive Clarks work in the desert can also be seen at Indian Wells Golf Resort (www.indianwellsgolfresort.com), which in 2008 opened its impressive 53,000-square-foot IW Club. Serving as a clubhouse, meeting space and dining destination, the IW Club accentuates the two major redesigns its courses recently underwent.
Clarks Celebrity Course opened in 2006, hosting the 25th Anniversary LG Skins Game in both 2007 and 2008. Flowers and colors punctuate Clarks use of water features, while mountain views are available from any spot on the course. John Fought re-created its sister course, now called the Players Course, which uses more trees, dynamic bunkering and generous fairways for a completely different but equally enjoyable round. Fought also designed Indian Wells lighted, natural grass nine-hole putting course.
Now, thats quite a scene.