Friday found me out in the desert yet again. With a Greenskeeper.org event at Desert Willow set for Saturday afternoon, I wanted to make the most of the trip.
A friend and I met up for two rounds at Indian Wells Country Club. Normally, these courses are private, but I learned they do offer some guest access in conjunction with Indian Wells Resort. We were able to book a reasonable stay and play package with good summer rates, so it ended up working out well.
When we arrived for our 8:30 tee time on the Cove course, there was hardly anyone out there. We saw a handful of groups out there, so we knew it would be a pretty nice day with a good pace of play. That always helps when it’s so hot outside.
The minimal staff was very friendly, especially the main guy working in the pro shop. He was helpful and inviting to us as non-member guests. We were paired with another single, but he decided to hang back after a few holes in order to get in some extra practice. I guess he’s playing a tournament there next weekend and wanted to gain as much course knowledge as he could. We forged ahead as a twosome behind a couple foursomes, but they were pretty quick players and we finished in about 3.5 hours.
We went right back out for the second round on the Classic course around noon. By this time of the day, the place was a ghost town so we had the course all to ourselves for an ideal pace.
Indian Wells Country Club offers a throwback Coachella Valley experience. The club is more than 50 years old and was host to the Bob Hope PGA tournament for many years.
Both courses were in very good shape overall. They were starting to dry/brown out a little in places as you might expect, but the fairway lies were always perfect and the short rough was like hitting off a tee. The tee boxes were excellent, the bunkers had good sand and the greens were solid. Typical conditions for this time of year with very firm surfaces—smooth and running at medium speeds.
Overall, each of the two courses offers a pretty similar experience in terms of scenery and design styling, but I would say the biggest difference is the relative level of challenge each layout offers.
The Cove course is definitely the easier of the two Indian Wells Country Club tracks. The fairways are a bit more forgiving and the greens are more easily accessible. The greens on Cove don’t feature much slope or undulation, so they are relatively flat and easy to read.
That said, it does offer just enough challenge and diversity to keep you interested. The front nine is pretty standard old school country club style like you’ll find at a lot of the other classic courses around the valley. It starts to perk up a little the last few holes and then gets much more interesting (and scenic) as you make the turn.
Much of the back nine of the Cove course runs along the edge of the rugged, rocky mountainside. Most holes will have the hill on one side and some homes on the other, so any really stray drives will be lost or OB. Probably the most notable hole here is the 15th hole. This one isn’t right along the hills, but it’s a very pretty location with a big pond to the right of the fairway and leading up to the green. It’s probably the narrowest hole on the course with trouble left and right and a dead straight fairway, and it requires two good shots to get on the green and post a good score.
Probably my one complaint with the Cove course is the lack of a really signature par-3 hole. The 11th is the first one of the mountainside holes, but it’s pretty straightforward. Then the 17th is after you finish that great stretch. It’s a good hole with a slight downhill shot and a small water hazard short and right, but it seems like a wasted opportunity. The backdrop along the hills is begging for a really great par-3 hole.
I should note that they switched the nines at some point on the Cove course, and I agree it works better this way with the more interesting back nine to finish on.
Some pictures from Indian Wells Country Club (Cove) (6/13/14):
The Classic course is similar to the Cove in that it also features two pretty different nines. However, it has the mountainside holes on the front and the more traditional part on the back.
It’s also a much harder course than Cove if you ask me. The fairways are narrower with more trees impacting shots and angles. The doglegs are more severe, as well. It might not have helped that we played the shorter white tees on Cove (6,229 yards) and then ramped up the challenge by playing the black tees (6,478 yards) on Classic. That’s not long by today’s standards, but with the tighter layout it does create a lot of uncomfortable tee shots and longer approaches if you are not positioned well.
In addition, the greens on the Classic course feature much more undulation and sloping. They are not too crazy by today’s standards either, but definitely will make you work much more than the Cove. The greens here are also fairly well protected by bunkers, which eliminates some of the run-up options you have throughout much of the Cove course.
Though still not the most amazing hole ever, the Classic course does offer one nice par-3 set amongst the mountains. I felt a little vindicated by that, but if this was a newer course, you could be sure the design would probably be a lot more dramatic given the setting.
The Classic course does finish on a great note with one final hole along the rocky hillside. It’s a good par-5 finisher with a slight downhill tee shot and then going back uphill on the approach toward the clubhouse. A nice waterfall feature sits to the left of the green as a good aesthetic touch, even though they didn’t have the water running on this day.
Some pictures from Indian Wells Country Club (Classic) (6/13/14):
Most holes on both courses feature little totem poles as 150-yard markers:
All in all, it was a great day at Indian Wells Country Club followed by an enjoyable stay at the small resort hotel. They have a pretty nice, big pool area that we took advantage of after the sun went down and a small retro “Rat Pack” style lounge area that seemed to be a popular little hangout Friday night.
As for the courses, I would still take either Indian Wells Golf Resort course (which can also be played with good stay and play packages or just through direct booking) over the Indian Wells Country Club designs. But if you are like me and have exhausted all your public options in the valley, this package is well worth checking out. Or if you get a member invite, definitely take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a little Coachella Valley golf history, two good courses and a very inviting club experience.