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Try These Five Palm Springs Courses for Easygoing Golf

There’s a softer side to golf in this welcoming oasis

by Jeff Wallach

April 11, 2024

Indian Wells Golf Resort, California / Photo: Courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs

If you’re lucky enough to play two rounds of golf each week, it would still take more than a year to test-drive every course in the Palm Springs area. While the nine cities offer a famous portfolio of layouts of score-busting difficulty, there’s also a softer side to golf in this welcoming oasis. Try these five courses for desert flora, wide fairways, low scores and an easygoing vibe.

PGA West is home to Pete Dye’s Stadium and Jack Nicklaus Tournament courses for players who love challenging golf design—Dye was actually charged with creating the most difficult course ever. This is why we recommend the kinder, gentler, walkable Greg Norman Course, which even in appearance is different from its mean-boy brethren. Pod tees float like green islands in the desert. Flat fairways blend into gravelly waste areas that cant back toward the welcoming grass. Playing 40 feet below sea level bestows an insular feel made even cozier by surrounding cappuccino-colored mountains. And you can hit high or hard shots to the soft and welcoming greens. You’ll feel happy to finish your round and return to the associated La Quinta Resort & Club, which has drawn constellations of Hollywood stars since the 1920s. Offering some 800 rooms, the property achieves intimacy by gathering casitas around small courtyards of cactus gardens and petite swimming pools. Finish your perfect day at Morgan’s in the Desert restaurant, offering contemporary American cuisine in the main lodge.

Built in 1961, the hidden and remote Indian Canyons Golf Resort was once a private club that attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and President Eisenhower. Two courses luxuriate across 550 acres on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. This fully grassed enclave tucked tightly against the San Jacinto Mountains also offers friendly, attentive service and a laid-back locals vibe. For the South Course, LPGA player Amy Alcott consulted with Casey O’Callahan in 2004 to build 18 lovely holes around four ponds, 850 palms and 500 Washingtonia filifera trees, cherished by Native Americans. Both courses are protected by mountains and are normally wind-free and full of birdsong.

Although architect Dye isn’t known for user-friendly courses, he must have been in a good mood while designing the Pete Dye Resort Course at The Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa. The Moorish architecture brings to mind California in the 1900s. Moreish is also what you’ll want of this tight, effective, amicable par-70 layout featuring a greatest hits of Dye’s signature railroad ties, hidden pins, false-fronted elevated greens and scads of eucalyptus, mesquite, pepper, olive and pine trees to balance upwards of 70 bunkers. Most of the challenge is built around the greens, which deflect shots from the target and kick them every which way. Mid-to-high handicappers can score well by playing conservatively or take some chances and really blow up.

Desert Willow Golf Resort, Palm Desert, California / Photo: Courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs

Desert Willow Golf Resort’s two layouts—Firecliff and Mountain View—were developed by the City of Palm Desert and designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry with the help of PGA Tour pro John Cook. Expect dunes landscaped with cacti and wildflowers, native-grassed waste areas that transition to greenside bunkers, streams meandering into rock-lined lakes, and other eye candy. Mountain View is the easier course and open to a wide dispersion of drives, the wildest of which may carom off banked features back into play. Bunkers drape the slopes but knock most shots down to flat bottoms where escape doesn’t require you to Houdini it out of the sand. Some solid risk-reward opportunities may quicken pulses—such as number six, with opportunities on both sides to see your ball splash into blue water.

Greg Norman Course at PGA West, La Quinta, California / Photo: Courtesy of John Henebry

Indian Wells Golf Resort also features two courses—the Celebrity and Players are sometimes referred to as “Beauty and the Beast.” Clive Clark designed Celebrity with undulating fairways and flowing water in the form of streams, brooks and split-level lakes connected by musical waterfalls. The slightly elevated course features pine trees and trumpet flowers and provides a verdant oasis. The steep greens run fast here, and the course includes only two par threes and two par fives. Celebrity finishes with a lovely cape hole curving around lakes amid tall palms with a stream and waterfall distracting from the right. The facility also boasts one of the best driving ranges anywhere, featuring calming acoustic music, comfy lounge furniture and a Trackman system to tell you how short your drives are going.