Palm Springs is hot. Obviously. The average July high temperature is 108. But right now, Palm Springs is hot. Everyone seems to be having their time in Palm Springs. The kids are going for the Coachella music festival in April. The country-western folks are going for Stagecoach, also in April. Tennis fans are going for the Indian Wells BNP Paribas tournament in early March. The LGBT crowd goes for Palm Springs Pride Weekend in early November. Golf fans go for the Career Builder Challenge (the old Bob Hope Desert Classic) in January. The Canadians are going all winter long to get away from whatever cold-ass town they come from.
Some of the aforementioned events are not really in Palm Springs. The Indian Wells tennis facility is about a half hour drive from downtown Palm Springs. And the Coachella Music and Art Festival is about ten minutes further south in Indio. But if you’re going to the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs is really the place you want to be. Why is that? Well, for one thing, the other Coachella valley cities (I’m talking about you Palm Desert) seem to have the same community-planning ethos:
- > Construct a name-brand designed golf course. A Nicklaus or Palmer will do.
- > Throw up some faux-Tuscan tract homes around the golf course.
- > Build a 10’ perimeter wall.
- > Install a lavish security guardhouse with a fancy sign and maybe a fountain.
- > Organize a “Tuscan Springs” HOA to discourage individuality.
- > Build four or six lane parkways between the walled communities.
- > Develop outdoor malls with big box stores and upscale restaurant chains to finish the “community”.
Palm Springs has thankfully few of the walled communities. Charming neighborhoods with mid century homes can be seen from the streets, without having to give your name to some rent-a-cop. There’s a real downtown with small stores and charming restaurants and bars. There are the obligatory t-shirt and swimsuit stores but there is also the H2O Closet, a modern apothecary and Trina Turk, a clothing store for people much more fashionable than me. There is the Workshop restaurant with an original menu, great food and 25’ tall concrete booths that make it seem like you’re dining in a small church. There’s Bootlegger Tiki, a boutique bar with about 10 seats inside and a copious inventory that really is just a wall of liquor.
Palm Springs has that old school Rat Pack vibe while still being very hip and now. And seemingly no golf course in the area embraces the old school vibe as much as the Escena Golf Club. The Nicklaus design opened in 2005 and is definitely a must play if you’re in the area. The course has fairly typical Nicklaus generous “Fat Jack” fairways. However, difficulties arise around the greens. The par-3 eighth green has a spine right in the middle that I wish I noticed before I hit my tee shot. The kick away from the hole made the over-and-down putt much more lengthy. Man, it would have been nice to have a second chance to play the hole.
The same can be said of the short par-4 seventh. I hit what I thought was a perfect drive cutting it over the fairway bunkers on the right, ending up hole-high right of the green. Unfortunately when I got to my ball, I found I was short-sided on a downhill lie, against the grain, in the rough. I had to pitch over a bunker to a skinny green with a pot bunker on the other side, which, you might have guessed, is where I ended up. Ouch. I yanked a double bogey on that hole from a 50-yard approach. The other thing I noticed was the shallow greens. They look generous from your approach but if your distance control is a bit off you may be hitting out of bunkers (if you’re short) or chipping back from a downhill lie (if you’re long).
What else about the course? The greens were perfect. It made me realize I can’t be blamed for putts I miss on greens that aren’t as true as these greens. I felt better about myself when I realized that. Who knew nice greens could make me feel like I do after a couple Whiskey Sours?
The dramatic San Jacinto mountains rise sharply to the west and loom over the course like a shadow. I got paired with three former school teachers from Alaska who loved to fish and hated Trump. After the round, I joined my golf mates on the large clubhouse porch for a Kolshella beer from the Coachella Valley Brewery, which I had to order because of the name but didn’t really like. I also had a Whiskey Sour and as I left on the unseasonable searing March late afternoon many locals were drifting in for happy hour and dinner.