When you’re a golf writer in Southern California and you haven’t played in the desert, that’s what they call a gap in your resume.
Fortunately, an invitation from The Palms Golf Club in La Quinta earlier this year allowed me to finally have the experience – and what an experience it was.
The Palms is a private club in La Quinta where some 50 PGA and LPGA [pros are members, including Fred Couples, who designed the course. So you’re playing at one of the homes of the pros. They winter here.
The collective achievement of the club’s professionals are celebrated in a huge display case in the clubhouse and on place mats in the dining room that give you an overview of the titles won by its professional and amateur members as well as other accolades. A too brief overview: six Masters victories; 19 Ryder Cup appearances; four members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and 131 PGA Tour wins.
Their impressive professional membership roster is part of the reason the Palms has the lowest club handicap in the desert and the nation. Yes, they take their golf seriously here, thus there being a most impressive short-game practice area and no pool.
Palms Director of Golf J.D. Ebersberger hosted me for a practice round and tour. Ebersberger has been with the club since it was being built and gave me insight into the inspirations of the designers. This was a treat for me, because I love course design, and there’s plenty to admire here on a course that has more palm trees than any I can recall. The Palms is indeed aptly named.
When you go online to read about the Palms at its web site, www.thepalmsgc.org, you find something under “pace of play” that causes you to do a double take. It says the average round here takes just over three hours, which brings us to our first observation …
1. The Fastest Golf in the West – The pace promise was one of the first things I asked Ebersberger about and he assured me our round would hold to it. “Unless we get done sooner,” he said. “We play fast here.”
The course also doesn’t have tee times. It’s the ultimate ready golf.
Having slogged through my share of pokey public rounds, you forget golf can be played this way. The best part is that the pace just happens organically. There’s no one pushing you. The players just play the right way and with a group commitment to keeping it moving.
The pace certainly helps your game, but it isn’t so fast that you feel rushed, which is great because there’s much to see and appreciate here. And speaking of fast …
2. The Fastest Greens in the West? – The greens at The Palms are immaculate, but they’re also undulating and challenging with several false fronts. And the day I played they were faster than a BWM on the I-10 in LA. It took me five holes before I stopped blowing my putts a mile past the cup.
After my first putt raced past the hole and back down into the fairway, Ebersberger informed me: “They were rolling 13.5 yesterday. We dialed them back.”
Had I played the day before, four-putts would’ve been a real possibility. As it was, I probably set a career record for three-putts and putts into the fairway. It happened again on a downhiller on the back nine.
3. Inspired By The Classics – The course has elements of three of Couples’ favorite courses – Augusta National and Riviera as well as Oakmont in Ebersberger’s home state of Pennsylvania.
The Augusta holes present them on the front. There’s a hole with a meandering creek that reminds you of Rae’s and then you play a long par 4 to green guarded by a lake, which is by far the biggest water feature on the course.
The creek crossings on this hole are stone bridges that resemble those at Augusta. They’re even brown. Ebersberger painted them. They also match the course’s mountain surroundings. This attention to detail stirs your golf soul when you’re standing on the tee.
The only thing missing to really put you amongst the pine trees at Augusta is the white sand bunkers. There’s a reason for that.
“Yeah, I did a test bunker,” Ebersberger says, explaining that Masters sand contains crystals. “I got in there in mid-July and it was 140 degrees, and I couldn’t see.”
For the record, the day we played in February, it could’ve have been more pleasant. But we all know what it can be like in the summer. Ebersberger says Palms members play there mostly eight months out of the year and then seek cooler-climate courses during the high heat.
4. Palms Aplenty – Besides having more palm trees than any course I can recall, The Palms also has the most unique collection of them.
They grow every which we way here and there a couple where you wonder how they’re standing. Others are just unique in ways that just have to be seen to be truly appreciated. The course was built on what used to be a date farm so it inherited those trees and the club bought more.
When choosing the trees, Ebersberger accepted some trees that were deemed less-than-perfect palms by the nursery. Those trees now add a great deal of character to the course.
And Ebersberger protected some trees the construction crew wanted to remove, such as one behind the green on No. 10. Members call it “the snake tree,” because that’s exactly what it looks like. It’s a palm that grew downward, then turned up, like a snake raising its head.
“They wanted to push the green back farther to lengthen the hole. I told them to leave it and put the green in front of it.”
I gained the added appreciation of having to chip over it.
There are other places in the course where the trees are growing in such clusters that you’re not sure how many there actually are in the bunch. And there’s a small citrus orchard on the back nine, adding another cool character quirk.
As we walked off No. 18, Ebersberger asked me, “How did we do?” He wasn’t asking about the scorecard. He wanted me to check the time.
Sure enough: three hours flat.
Great golf played quickly in a destination where discovery awaits you on every hole, just as golf should be. In that way, The Palms is its own piece of paradise in a place that has a lot of it.
For information about membership, you can contact Ebersberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.