A golfer's guide to Palm Springs

California offers every type of golf — seaside, parkland, mountain and desert, for example. While courses like Pebble Beach on the Pacific Ocean rank among the most beautiful in the world, other types can be striking as well.

Southern California desert golf is no exception. In particular, the Palm Springs area offers gorgeous desert layouts (especially in the fall, winter and spring when they’re overseeded), with the contrast of the surrounding majestic mountains, which are snowcapped part of the year.

The Palm Springs and Coachella Valley area may, in fact, be the most beautiful of all desert golf destinations, and it’s also slightly warmer than its neighbor to the east, Arizona, in the winter time. With highs averaging just more than 70 degrees in December and very few cold days, this is an ideal golf destination. It also has a unique vibe, not only with regards to the golf, but the towns, resorts, bars and restaurants as well.

Indian Wells Resort

Almost all the golf, of which there are more than 100 courses, has an upscale feel to it, and you don’t have to look any further than a couple of municipal layouts to understand that. 

At the Indian Wells Resort are two of the most lavish and enjoyable municipal layouts in the country. Managed by Troon Golf, this is resort-style municipal golf. Both courses, the Players and the Celebrity are gorgeous, but the Ted Robinson-designed (and redesigned) Celebrity Course is a visual feast with its bountiful floral landscaping, cascading water features and spectacular mountain scenery. The John Fought-designed Players Course is a better test (as its name would imply) with a little more of a shotmaker’s layout. Both are tremendous experiences and can be as high as $200 during peak season, but you can get deals there, really good deals, especially if you go in the offseason, when they are still impressive visually (it’s just a lot hotter). 

Speaking of weather, that’s what drives the price of golf in the Palm Springs area. If you’re on a budget, consider the summer. Sure it’s pretty hot, but it’s a dry heat, right? Play in the morning or late in the day, stay hydrated and you can play many of those courses for much less than half their prime rates.

PGA West

Ideally, if you’re planning a Palm Springs area golf vacation, you’re going to want to play some of the area’s most iconic courses. 

PGA West, which has five layouts open to the public, is a good place to start. The Stadium Course at PGA West, designed by Pete Dye, is considered one of the most difficult in the country with a slope/rating of 154/82.5. But don’t let that scare you; that’s from the back tees. There are eight tee combinations as short as 4,084 yards. Play the one that’s right for you (go shorter than you think) and you’ll have a lot of fun.

The other courses there are plenty of fun, too, like the Mountain Course at La Quinta Resort & Club. It’s another Dye design and considerably easier, though certainly not a pushover. Or try the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West (which shares its clubhouse with the original Dunes Course at La Quinta Resort). The Nicklaus, Stadium and private La Quinta Country Club are the host courses of The American Express tournament on the PGA Tour.

Best of the rest

Another course to consider certainly is Arnold Palmer’s Classic Club at SilverRock, formerly in the rotation for the aforementioned tour event. While the tour pros ate it up, it’s perfect for ordinary golfers because it’s not overly difficult, unless you tip it at 7,578 yards. Wide fairways and big greens make it very playable. 

Not to be confused with the Classic Course, the Classic Club is another good option. Also designed by Palmer, you might be surprised to find out that the Classic Club is a nonprofit, meaning the green fees aren’t always exorbitant.

At the Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, you’ll find two Ted Robinson resort courses that were overhauled in recent years. Again, those courses are great examples of Palm Springs area golf – perfect course conditions, spectacular scenery and golf that doesn’t beat you up.

Some other considerations include: the Westin Mission Hills’s Gary Player and Pete Dye courses; the Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort’s two courses that include a William Bell (of Torrey Pines fame) design; the two courses at The Golf Club at Terra Lago (former home of the Skins Game); Indian Canyons Golf Resort; and the Nicklaus-designed Escena Golf Club.

Most of the above courses can be played as part of resort packages, too. From La Quinta to the Marriott Desert Springs to Indian Wells, none will disappoint, and again, they’re all worth looking into during the offseason when you can get some real deals if you’re on a budget.


One of the best parts about making a golf trip to the Coachella Valley, though, are all the other things you can do here. If you’re a tennis player, for example, you can time it with the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, next to Indian Wells Golf Resort. Considered the fifth major by tennis’ governing bodies, the event attracts the sport’s biggest names. Many of the resorts, by the way, like La Quinta, have world-class tennis facilities and programs.

Another cool thing to do is take the Palm Springs Aerial Tram to Mount San Jacinto State park at 8,000 feet. The temperature at the top is usually 40 degrees or so cooler than what it is at ground level. In the winter, there’s usually snow, and there’s a restaurant and bar at the top.

Jeep excursions, hot air ballooning, hiking, biking and shopping can fill in the rest of your schedule. And there is no shortage of great restaurants and nightclubs, like the famous Wally’s Desert Turtle in Rancho Mirage and 6.5-acre Jackalope Ranch in Indio for dinner. Or check out The Nest in Indian Wells near the Hyatt. Offering dinner and entertainment, it caters to the older, middle and younger dance crowd respectively as the night turns toward dawn.