Anthony Holder is the Head Golf Professional at the Indian Wells Golf Resort, where the Golf Road Warriors played on Saturday, February 25, the penultimate day of the Warriors’ 2012 Palm Springs swing. Anthony joined the Warriors for our round at Indian Wells’ Players Course, and it was my good fortune to share a cart with him. Not only did I get to witness some exceptionally fine golf, with booming tee shots and tap-in birdies, I also got a tip on putting after I missed a four foot birdie putt with a flinched, shoulders-flailing, head-waving bunt of a failed stroke that was so unnerving to Anthony’s sense of professional pride that he could not have in good conscience declined to give me some help. It would have been like a physician refusing to perform the Heimlich on a choking diner in a restaurant.
Facing me on the green, Anthony told me to set up as if to putt, then reached out with both hands to hold my head still. As I initiated the stroke, I could feel my head pushing against his right hand like a frisky puppy on a short leash. “Keep your head still,” he said, kindly. “Just pick out a dimple on the ball and keep all your attention there while the putter head strokes the ball.”
It worked, of course. Every putting tip works the first time you try it, just like a new putter, but this was an order of magnitude level of improvement over my previous “technique.” Deep down I think I knew that if you swayed and jabbed at the ball with the blade open while looking at the tree tops you were probably not going to make a lot of putts, but Anthony’s tip confirmed that there was in fact an alternative approach. Feeling confident on the greens provided a perfect complement to what turned out to be another ideal day for golf in the Coachella Valley.
We checked out of the Hyatt Grand Champions at Indian Wells around 8:00, and then managed to make the thirty second drive to the IW Club in our rental van without incident or recourse to the GPS.
The IW Club is the same impressive facility where I was filmed getting fitted for Callaway clubs earlier in the week, but this morning was all about actually playing golf on what the resort’s website describes as “the only facility in California with two courses ranked in the Top 20 ‘Best Courses You Can Play’ in California by Golfweek Magazine.” The Players Course is a re-design by John Fought that opened in 2007.
Joe Williams, Indian Wells’ Director of Golf, greeted us when we arrived, and made sure all eight players in our group—the four Warriors, three staff members from the organizers of our Palm Springs escapades, the Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Authority, and Holder—had everything we needed to enjoy a round of golf. Joe set the tone that would prevail throughout the day. Every employee we met—the starters, the rangers, the beverage folks, the cart staff—was friendly, eager to assist and expressed the hope that we were having a good time. We were.
Anthony and I had time between shots to discuss the state of the golf industry, which he, as a 29 year old professional, sees from a vantage point quite unlike my own. Throughout most of my career in golf, the game was growing, but for nearly half of Anthony’s career, dating from the late fall of 2007, the industry has been contracting. Indian Wells does very well—82,000 rounds per year on 36 holes—but it has consistently invested in its facilities and thought long and hard about how to provide its customers with an experience that will make them want to come back for more.
The course itself was terrific, and had at times almost a Northwest feel, which should not come as a surprise given that course architect John Fought grew up in Portland and cut his designer’s teeth on two clubs, Pumpkin Ridge and The Reserve, which emphasize a strategic approach. There are optional ways to play most holes at the Players, and great variety in the length and difficulty overall. Of the Resort’s two courses, the Players is considered a bit more challenging that the Celebrity.
Anthony and I agreed that golf is expensive and time-consuming, which inhibits the growth of the game. Indian Wells has come up with a splendid program to address these challenges, which I hope the industry will adopt, called “Walk the Wells.” After 3:30 every day, Anthony told me, the course is open to anyone who wants to walk and play as many holes as he or she can get in before dark for $25.00. It’s especially attractive to kids and to older golfers, who can get in a bit of exercise, too, as they work on their games. There’s a smart phone pedometer app as well. This is also a great program for working people, who can get in at least some holes after clocking out from the shop or office. Finding a way to keep the courses full later in the day takes real imagination.
We also discussed my pet peeve, slow play. How can we find ways to incentivize players to keep up the pace of play? Again, Anthony had a great idea: for every minute players finish faster than the course’s stated ideal time, they can get a 1% discount off of their next green fee, or on merchandise in the pro shop. The real problem with any golf incentive system, of course, is that you can only control your own pace of play, and not that of those slow knuckleheads in front of you. But if we build strong enough incentives into the system, the other members of the foursome should be able to persuade their tardy members to pick it up. If you’re going to keep me from getting my 20% discount, I am going to say something.
The golf industry is lucky to have people such as Anthony Holder ready to take leadership roles in creating the golf experience for the 21st century. Golf is a delightful game, with intrinsic rewards: friendship, exercise, the pleasure of accomplishing something difficult, like sinking an eight foot putt to win your match. Anthony seems to have some good luck riding with him, too. Last April, playing in a fund-raiser for Cal State San Bernardino at Tom Doak’s Stone Eagle Golf Club in Palm Desert, Anthony made a hole-in-one on the 7th hole, a 218 yard downhill par three—and won a Mercedes-Benz C300.
If we’re going to keep golf relevant in the recreational lives of future generations, we’re going to need the creative thinking of people such as Anthony Holder and Joe Williams at Indian Wells, of Brady Wilson at the Classic Club, and of Brett Meabon and Colin Gooch at Marriott’s Shadow Ridge. The talented array of golf professionals leading the industry in the Coachella Valley, one of the most influential and important golf destinations in the world, instinctively understand that the game will not survive and grow on its own. Ideas incubated in the heat of the desert may show the way forward to an industry that is struggling to find its future.