PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Go ahead. Accuse me of driving 35 in the left lane of the expressway with my right blinker perpetually locked on. Note the proximity of my belt buckle to my chin.
I understand the consequences of what I'm about to say, and I don't care. Even if it prompts AARP to send me a membership card.
I love Palm Springs golf.
Go ahead and snicker. Yes, yes, I'll enjoy that 3:30 p.m. steak-and-baked-potato dinner at Ponderosa. And the best golf destination in the U.S. West.
In two years at in this job, after an adulthood of largely Northeast and Midwest golf, I've hit all the West Coast hot spots. And for pure golf, none of them beats staid, old Palm Springs.
And no, I'm not suffering from Alzheimer's. As far as I know.
Sure, Hope and Sinatra's old stomping grounds is about as hip and happening a golf destination as the Four Tops are a band. Elizabeth Taylor carries more cache with the kids. Or the kids' parents. Or, in some cases, their grandparents.
Which just shows how many people are swinging in the past.
"When I told my friends I was headed to Palm Springs to play golf, they asked me what I was thinking," thirtysomething Chicago golfer Jake Potter said. "It was all, 'Wouldn't you rather go to Bandon Dunes or something?'"
Today's Palm Springs golfers find inventive new courses, reasonable (for a golf mecca) prices and the best-conditioned tracks in North America.
"Our grandchildren started coming to Palm Springs to visit us during the winter," Winnipeg retiree Eileen Pennycook said. "Now they start talking about which courses they're going to play when they're here months in advance."
Okay, so it may take a grandmother to introduce under-40 golfers to Palm Springs. A grandma probably introduced you to cookies. You're going to doubt grandma?
One of the complaints about Palm Springs golf is that the courses are for grandmas - flat, level, palm trees galore.
This was largely true back when parachute pants were in. But a mini course-building spree is changing all that.
While Las Vegas is facing probable closings and even Phoenix-Scottsdale seems to have reached the new-course tipping point, Palm Springs is enjoying a building nirvana that's transforming the region's golf character.
Arnold Palmer-designed SilverRock works in so many gaping dirt obstacles and hemmed-in mountain approaches that you'll be begging for a nice palm tree by the turn. Another newcomer, Escena Golf Club, is so wide open, stark and just plain different-looking that you could think you stumbled into a parallel golf universe. The just-opened Classic Club throws huge water clears at you from plateau tees.
Classic Club also charges $250 green fees, but that an anomaly here. Palm Springs actually respects the value of a dollar.
No, it isn't cheap, but prices don't reach the sky-high levels you'll find at Las Vegas' and Scottsdale's upper-end clubs. You can play a course that would be $150 in Vegas, Arizona, LA or San Francisco for $100 here.
The hotel savings can be even bigger. Palm Springs is trying to go more "upscale" -- read: pricey -- in lodging, and it's possible to blow a huge chunk of cash by booking one of the hot, mega-marketed new boutique hotels, like the Zosa. But there are plenty of quality mid-priced options, such as The Riviera, Indian Wells Resort and Doral Desert Princess.
Palm Springs hasn't meant just Palm Springs for a while. Now it's the umbrella name for a collection of Coachella Valley communities, many of which have long since passed the original in population and influence -- La Quinta, Indian Wells, Desert Hot Springs, Rancho Mirage and more.
Driving through the desert valley, it seems as if you pass a new "Welcome to ..." sign every five minutes. Your sneeze could end up in a different town. That's how close together everything is. Including the golf.
Anyone who's been on a Myrtle Beach and Phoenix-Scottsdale vacation knows about hectic golf commutes. In two weeks in the Coachella Valley, playing almost 20 courses, I never had to drive more than eight minutes from my hotel to the morning's first tee time.
Palm Springs also tops the competition in the area a recent Golf Digest survey shows avid golfers consider key determinant of round satisfaction: conditioning.
Going from course to course in Palm Springs' high season quickly turns into a game of greenskeeper one-upmanship. Just when you think you've found the most perfectly green track in a slew of perfectly green tracks, you play one that's a little better. By this writer's estimation the Gary Player Signature Course at Westin's Mission Hills Resort is this season's best, but there are at least a half dozen other courses that would be the best-conditioned tracks in several other golf hot spots.
Even those places with a few issues are nothing like the overpriced, ill-conditioning duds you can find in many golf meccas. They were still worthy plays, and their problems won't ruin your day.
"I think most of the courses around here take a lot of pride in their conditions," Mission Hills Director of Golf Ryan Wilson said.
Which is precisely why Palm Springs is the best pure golf spot in the West.
Now, if you want to go out on a night besides Saturday and find anything going on, that's another story. But we're talking just golf here, and in this arena Palm Springs rules as the unexpected king.
May 16, 2006