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A moment of silence, please, for the honorable Judge John Guthrie McCallum. You do know who Judge John was, right? Oh. Well, Judge McCallum was the person with the foresight, back in 1884, to construct a 19-mile-long aqueduct from the Whitewater River so that Palm Springs would have enough H2O to water the nearly 100 gorgeous golf courses in the area.
Not buying that, are you? Didn't think so. Okay, here's the real deal on Judge John. It's true that in 1884 - along with the help of local Indians - the Judge dug a ditch to help irrigate the mostly uninhabited desert around Palm Springs. That led to vast improvements in agriculture. That led to more people moving to the area and the growth of a modern city. That led to Hollywood-types from nearby Los Angeles discovering it as both a great place to make movies and relax and recuperate. And that led to Palm Springs becoming one of the top resort towns in all of America and one of the best places in the world to play golf.
So ... a moment of silence, please, for Judge John. If it hadn't been for him, you might be looking at somewhere else besides Palm Spring to grip it and rip it. And that would be a shame. It's a cliché, but for once it's true: it doesn't get any better than this.
Seriously. Three hundred and fifty days of sun each and every year. An average daily temperature above 70 degrees - even during the winter. A panorama of majestic, multi-colored mountains in the background. Sensational shopping. Superb dining. Your favorite movie star sitting at the next table. Jeeze-Louise, what more could you ask for?
Oh, right: the golf. Listen, you can't think "Palm Springs" without thinking "La Quinta Resort and Club" as well. The area's oldest and perhaps most famous resort facility, La Quinta has been a haven for Hollywood's rich and famous since the 1920s. Regular visitors here have included Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn (a pretty good golfer) and Shirley Temple. Director Frank Capra came to La Quinta to work on the screenplay for "It Happened One Night." After the film swept the Academy Awards in 1934, Capra came back to La Quinta again and again to work on other scripts. In addition to offering superb accommodations, La Quinta is also home to five of the best golf courses in this part of the Southern California desert. One of them - the TPC Stadium course at PGA West - you've no doubt seen on television during or after Thanksgiving dinner. That's because from 1986 to 1991, this Pete Dye layout was the site of the annual Skins Game on Turkey Day Weekend. Remember "Alcatraz," the frightening par-three 17th hole at the Stadium course that's almost completely surrounded by water? Remember Lee Trevino making a hole-in-one there to win the majority of the money in 1987? Think you can duplicate that feat without getting your feet wet? This Dye-abolical, 7,261-yard design is waiting for you, dude. Bring it on.
Another PGA West layout that you've probably seen on the tube is the Jack Nicklaus Tournament course. Opened in 1987, this 7,126-yard bear of a golf course has been the site of the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in recent years. Like most Nicklaus layouts, the lovely Tournament course at La Quinta is not easy. The fairways are wide, as usual, but the penalty for spraying your drives can be quite severe at times. Also typical of a Nicklaus design, your ability to hit accurate irons is crucial to good scoring. A missed-green here is almost always a tough up-and-down - just the way Jack wants it.
Like the architect himself, the Greg Norman course at PGA West could be best described as "ruggedly handsome." Lying in an ancient seabed some 40 feet below sea level - surrounded by stark, imposing mountains - the Norman course is that rare layout that combines the look of a links with the desolation of the desert. Be forewarned, however: the wide-open appearance of this 7,156-yard tract is deceiving. It shouts "attack" from the word go, yet trouble awaits the overly aggressive golfer - in the form of some of the deepest bunkers this side of Britain, in the nine ponds scattered about the course, and in the numerous risk/reward options that the architect has created here to temp you into leaping before you look. Always wanted to swim with The Shark? Here's your chance.
The two other layouts at La Quinta Resort - The Dunes and The Mountain - are Pete Dye designs that he did in the early 1980s. Although neither is considered to be easy - hey, we're talking Pete Dye here - The Dunes course might be a bit more friendly than its more picturesque partner The Mountain. The Dunes has something of a Scottish flavor to it; The Mountain is carved right out of the nearby Santa Rosa range. Both feature small greens and lots of water, and both measure just about 6,750 yards from the tips. Speaking of tips ... you'll have a much more enjoyable day if you leave the back tees alone.
Actually, unless you can consistently hit it really long and really straight, the above tip applies to just about any of the first-class courses in the Palm Springs area - including the two very fine layouts at the Landmark Resort in Indio. Located on the edge of the Chocolate Mountains at the northern end of the Coachella Valley, Landmark - like La Quinta - allows public- and private-course players alike to pretend they're pros for a while. That's because the two courses here - the North and the South - are challenging enough to have been used as sites for the Skins Game. From 1999 to 2003, either the North layout or a combination of these two testing tracts became the battleground for the annual big bucks shootout on Thanksgiving Day. Who knows, you may find yourself with the very same shots that Fred Couples or Colin Montgomerie had to deal with during one of those Skins Games. If you play from a shorter tee, you just might. Both the North and South courses were designed for Landmark by Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, and both are well over 7,000 yards in length from the back markers.
A couple of other sites that you may want to get in your sights while you're playing around in Palm Springs are Westin Mission Hills and Tahquitz Creek Golf Club. The two layouts at Mission Hills (in Rancho Mirage) are among the best in the area. The South course here is another Pete Dye design that opened in 1988. As you would expect, among its many features are small putting surfaces, deep pot bunkers, lots of water, railroad ties and - well, you already know the Dye drill. From the back markers, Westin's South course measures a reasonable 6,706 yards. The North course, on the other hand, is a bit sturdier. Topping out at 7,062 yards from the furthest of its four tees, this Gary Player "Signature" course has proven to be a good test for professionals and amateurs alike since it opened in 1992. As evidence of its quality, the Player course has been the "Q School" site for both the Champions Tour and the LPGA Tour, as well as the venue for the prestigious California Open.
While it's certainly true that Tahquitz Creek Golf Club isn't the most famous 36-hole facility in the Palm Springs area, it's also true that it's one of the most popular - for both visitors and local residents. The newer layout here - called the "Resort Course" - is a Ted Robinson Jr. design that opened in 1995. It's very pretty, very playable and, at only 6,705 yards from the back markers, a bit on the short side in comparison to some of the other behemoths in the area. All right, all right: you have permission to play it from the tips. Ditto at the other course here. Known as "The Legend," the original layout at Tahquitz Creek is a 6,660-yard, 1957 design by greatly admired but relatively unknown architect Billy Bell. The reason Mr. Bell is not so well known is because he was the long-time construction foreman for (and collaborator with) George C. Thomas, the legendary architect of the 1920s who designed such famous Los Angeles layouts as Bel-Air Country Club, the north course at Los Angeles Country Club, and Riviera Country Club (site of the Nissan Open on the PGA Tour), among others. With a pedigree like that, you can be assured that The Legend will be both classic in nature and a joy to play. Which, of course, is the main reason why so many people have been coming to Palm Springs for so many years. First-class fun in the sun.