I’ve been spending an unusual amount of time out in the Coachella Valley this winter. Normally, I prefer playing out here in the summer to get the best savings, but I’ve been stumbling upon some decent deals. And once you start playing out here in the winter with cooler temperatures and excellent course conditions, you tend to start getting a little spoiled.
I had one last winter deal I wanted to use in the desert, so yesterday found me out at Indian Wells Golf Resort in beautiful Indian Wells, CA. I had purchased a voucher through Underpar.com. It was $129 for 36 holes on a weekend, and with two courses here, it seemed like a good deal. Their morning tee times online for yesterday ranged from $130-150, so I guess it was worth it.
I hit the road nice and early as always and got to the course around 7:00 for my 7:30 tee time. But as I rolled into the desert and saw the temperature gauge on my car keep going down and into the 30s, I knew a frost delay was imminent. When I checked in, they informed me it would be 8:45-9:00 before they’d start teeing anyone off. It was not a good start to the day. Squeezing two full rounds in during the winter months is hard enough without any delays!
Call it Murphy’s Law or whatever you want, but it was kind of a fitting start to 2013. 2012 couldn’t have gone better. I was very lucky time and time again. Whenever I played 36, things always worked out. When I had tight tee time windows or driving to do in between, I always made it in ample time. When I faced threats of bad weather, I always seemed to catch a pretty good break in the storm. I drove through the midwest in the middle of tornado season with near-perfect weather the whole trip. I went out to midwest again in the middle of August and got great weather without any super-hot days. So, for my first rounds of 2013, it only makes sense that things wouldn’t work out in my favor quite as well. Let’s hope it’s not a harbinger of bad things to come.
In the end, though, yesterday actually worked out okay, so maybe it’s a sign that 2013 will be just as great!!!
They have a big, beautiful clubhouse at Indian Wells that features a very modern design and top-notch facilities. I hung out inside for about an hour, then went out to the range to warm up a little. It was mats-only with the frost out, but it was enough to get loosened up. Then, they have a very cool little 9-hole practice putting course by the clubhouse, so I had some fun on that while I waited. Ultimately, they started teeing people off around 8:45 and I was called up to the first tee quickly enough. I was playing the Celebrity course first. They paired me with a fun threesome and we had a good time out there, teeing off at right about 9:00. We were waiting on the group ahead for a lot of shots, but we still played at a good overall pace of 4 hours.
They were able to get me out quickly on the Players course for my replay round, but I got to the first tee and there was a foursome waiting. The starter ended up just making us a fivesome. It was about 1:30 when we teed off, so finishing before dark was very doubtful and we were waiting on the groups ahead most of the front nine. The pace was slow. Then our group slowed down a little bit on the back. Once I saw a little gap ahead, I decided to break off on my own to get as much as I could in before dark. I skipped the 15th hole because there were groups on it, but played 16-18 without running into anyone. That was a good stretch of finishing holes, so I am glad I made that move, even if it made me look like a bit of a dick.
I knew Indian Wells featured two really nice courses, but I didn’t know what else to expect. I had read some reviews and looked at some photos on Greenskeeper.org, and it looked like they were kind of standard desert “resort” courses. That usually means really nice conditioning, great desert scenery and fairly forgiving layouts. That turned out NOT to be the case at Indian Wells. The conditioning and scenery were still excellent (the scenery even better than I realized) and both courses were very interesting, challenging and fun. And though they featured a lot of similarities in terms of layout elements, they were definitely two different courses from one another. Celebrity was designed by Clive Clark and Players by John Fought. I appreciated that fact they were complementary, but individually unique. They looked and played a little differently, but still had enough similarities and equal conditioning that made them great sister courses for the same complex.
I enjoyed both courses here a lot, but I personally preferred the Celebrity course a little more. I do think I was able to enjoy it more on some level because I wasn’t as stressed about finishing before dark like on Players, so I was a little more relaxed during that first round.
I wasn’t expecting as much undulation here as I got. Though there aren’t any major elevation changes on the course, there are lots of ups, downs, twists and turns. There are very few flat lies on the course. The front nine plays pretty tight, with a lot of trees in play, a few blind shots and well-protected greens. There are many bunkers on both courses. I would say the ones on Celebrity are more menacing off the tee (as in fairway bunkers), but the ones on Players are more intimidating around the green. All the bunkers here are massive and feature very intricate shapes. They have all sorts of nooks and crannies (deep faces, tricky cuts and lots of “fingers”) and you want to avoid them at all costs.
The back nine on Celebrity opens up a little bit more, but brings a lot more water into play from tee to green. I found the back nine to be easier the way I was hitting yesterday, but it really depends on your own strengths/weaknesses.
There are some very beautiful landscaped flower beds on Celebrity that offer you a free drop if your ball goes in. And perhaps the most interesting thing on the course (and creepiest) is that there’s an Indian burial ground left of the 4th fairway. You are allowed to retrieve your ball and get free relief, but I still found it a bit unnerving to go up the hill to fetch my stray ball. Fortunately, I didn’t seem to incite any poltergeist activity, so I guess all was okay.
My only real drawback with Celebrity is the fact that it’s a traditional par-72 course with a VERY untraditional combination of holes. There are only two par-3 holes and two par-5 holes, which is weird. I’ve never played a course like that before and I didn’t really care for that fact.
The Players course at Indian Wells offers its own set of challenges and, overall, it has a different “look” than Celebrity. It utilizes more of the desert landscape for a more rugged feel. There are some big desert waste areas and some long native grass areas, as well, just waiting to swallow up your ball. There are a few more risk/reward opportunities on Players and a number of tough forced carries off the tee. Though there are plenty of trees on the course, less come into play on your shots. There’s a little less water than the other course, but when there is water it definitely makes its presence felt. That includes the monstrous par-4 6th, which is a long dogleg around a huge lake that forces significant decisions on each shot.
The Players course has plenty of twists and turns, but didn’t seem quite as hilly or undulating as Celebrity, but it’s plenty challenging. From the back two sets of tees, it plays about 300 yards longer on each. So that length is definitely a factor here with six of the par-4s playing over 420 yards from the blues. They do have a combo set of blue/white tees, which is always nice. They don’t have that on Celebrity, but the difference between blues and whites on that course is not as significant as it is on Players.
Conditions & Scenery
Both courses were in great shape overall. The fairways were nice, green and excellent to hit from. The rough wasn’t too deep, so it was good to hit from, as well. The greens were in good shape and running at medium speeds. The bunkers had great sand, though they were still kind of damp/frozen in the early morning. The bermuda rough on the edges of the bunkers was dormant for a nice contrasted look. They had it really shaved down, though. It would look nicer and have more of a purpose if it was cut a little longer (like what I saw last week on the Player course at Westin Mission Hills), but I’m sure it’s cut down so much at Indian Wells for a reason in winter time.
The scenery on both courses is fantastic. Indian Wells is ideally situated between Palm Desert/Rancho Mirage and La Quinta. So on one side, you get the San Jacinto mountains in clear view like you do at all the western Coachella Valley courses. To the south, you get the more rugged Santa Rosa mountains down by La Quinta, which provide a stunning backdrop for a number of holes on both Indian Wells courses. There are a lot of water features on the courses, including some small streams and waterfalls. They are both beautiful layouts.
The normal rack rates at Indian Wells are a little too inflated for my taste, especially this time of year, but the deal I used made it worthwhile in great winter conditions. Even though I was one hole short of a full 36, the deal turned out to be good enough for what I got.
Some pictures from Indian Wells Golf Resort (Celebrity Course) (1/5/13):
Some pictures from Indian Wells Golf Resort (Players Course) (1/5/13):
For dinner, I stopped and ate at Pizzaria Villagio on Cook Street in Palm Desert. I’ve driven by it a number of times on recent trips to the desert and finally decided to go in and try it last night. Really good side green salad and good high-end NY style pizza. They have a full Italian menu and a number of things looked good.