Tag: California Golf

The Other “Other” Palm Springs (a travel review)

 

It's a school!  No, it's the clubhouse at the Gary Player Course!

It’s a school! No, it’s the clubhouse at the Gary Player Course!

When She Who Is Really In Charge (SWIRIC) and I booked an October vacation in Palm Springs, we (meaning me) didn’t know that October was prime Overseeding Season in the desert (hat tip to Larry Bohannon of the Desert Sun for this piece about it).  But, with plane tickets and hotel booked, we decided to go forward with our vacation and hopes for making the best of it.

It also posed a challenge; could a self-admitted golf junkie (me) find a decent variety of places to play while SWIRIC enjoyed non-golf activities (she has zero desire to take up the game but encourages my addiction)?  Could we do this and eat well (while holding to our vacation rule of “no chains, nothing we couldn’t get at home)?  The answer, I’m happy to say, was yes.  Very much yes.  With over 100 courses in the area and most, it seemed, were overseeding, it took some work but I was able to book a decent variety of courses over our stay that were all in good shape, and we ate and vacationed far better than expected.

There are multiple options if you’re flying in from out of the area like we did, but we found the option that worked best for us was flying into LAX Airport (San Diego, Ontario, Orange County, Long Beach and Palm Springs airports are also good options when looking for flights).   Other than flying into Palm Springs (off-season flight availability is VERY limited) you’ll definitely need a car (LAX, Orange County and San Diego are all a 2 hour drive (or more with traffic) to Palm Springs).

Day 1

In-N-Out lunch al fresco. Oh hell yes.

In-N-Out lunch al fresco. Oh hell yes.

The drive into Palm Springs left me a bit tired especially after being rather cramped during our flight from the east coast.  We stopped for lunch at In-N-Out (the only chain we’ll eat at because it’s not available on the East Coast) along the way.  We stayed at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort in Indian Wells (they have one of the largest pools in the area and it’s right off highway 111).  After checking in we went to the pool to relax and take a dip (being Saturday it looked like a lot of Southern Californians had made the trek).  Dinner was at the Cork & Fork in La Quinta, a wine bar with a nice mix of small bites, a few pizzas, and some entrees.  I had their fennel sausage pizza (quite good and definitely rather filling), SWIRIC had their scallops in risotto, and we enjoyed a fantastic Spanish cava (until very recently I had never really been one for sparkling wine; then I got introduced to the good stuff and now I’ve come around).  Suffice to say, Cork & Fork is highly recommended.

Day 2

From the 2nd hole fairway at Desert Willow. I love this place.

From the 2nd hole fairway at Desert Willow. I love this place.

My first day of hitting the links meant a visit to Desert Willow Golf Resort; as I learned they had one course (the Mountain View) shut down for overseeding along with their range but the Firecliff course was open.  Playing early it was a bit brisk at first (the other members of my foursome were all in sweaters and jackets) before warming up very quickly and becoming hot.   The course was nothing short of outstanding and was in good shape; greens were definitely quick and fairways were pure.  I played with a couple from Vancouver and a local who seemed a bit displeased they had changed the colours of the tee boxes (they now have black, purple, lavender, tan and green tee boxes).  Like many courses, they’ve gone to a combo set which gives them an additional set of tees without doing anything.  The Firecliff course has a nice variety of holes; in addition they had ice water stations on the course in addition to a beverage cart which we saw once on each side.  All the carts have GPS which really helped a lot since I didn’t know the course at all (not that it helped my scorecard).

18th hole at Desert Willow. Fantastic finishing hole on a great course.

18th hole at Desert Willow. Fantastic finishing hole on a great course.

Lunch was at Guillermo’s; your basic Mexican fare done really well.  My tacos were exactly what I wanted and were flavorful.  After an afternoon at the pool where I got a Charley horse cramp in my calf (I did everything I could to not scream every profanity I know to the mountains at full volume which would have probably upset the large throng of people at the pool), we went to Eureka which was 5 minutes away (in Indian Wells).  If you’re looking for really good burgers, it’s definitely worth a stop.  The fried mac & cheese balls were delicious (highly recommended as a starter) as was their clear lemonade (honestly I’d go back for the mac & cheese balls and the clear lemonade).  If you want something with more of a bite, they have a great beer & whiskey selection (I was trying to hydrate myself so I had to decline that sweet delicious beer on offer).

Day 3

Monday left me hobbled (getting old sucks) so I had to cancel my round at Indian Wells; with the one course open only doing cart path only, I knew my calf wouldn’t hold up (I was still hobbling and having a fair bit of trouble with it), but using the GolfNow app on my phone I booked a round the next day at Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City.  Lunch on Monday was at Elmer’s in Palm Springs.  Elmer’s is a chain based in the Pacific Northwest (as I found out later) but we didn’t know going in.  My omelet with peppers, onions and Tillamook cheese was perfect, while SWIRIC had the house specialty in the form of a German style pancake the size of a hubcap.  It was actually more crepe-like in thickness.  The place seemed to have a good mix of locals and tourists which typically bodes well.

Monday afternoon we did a bit of sightseeing.  I’ve a huge fan of the mid-century architecture that is very prevalent in the Palm Springs area.  While I did take a few photos, in the interest of privacy I’m not going to post them here out of respect to the people who live there.

Playing Fabulous Bingo at the Ace Hotel.  I did not win.  I hang head and feel shame.

Playing Fabulous Bingo at the Ace Hotel. I did not win. I hang head and feel shame.

Monday night’s dinner was at Kings Highway at the Ace Hotel, but in truth we were there for Fabulous Bingo, because who doesn’t want to play Bingo hosted by a drag queen?  This may not be your thing, but it was fun, and that’s the point.  It’s definitely a younger, more hip crowd but we had fun (they do a trivia night later on if Bingo isn’t your thing).

Day 4

Tuesday started with a trek out to Cathedral City to Cimarron Golf Resort (I played the Boulder course while the Pebble course was being over-seeded).  I’ll be honest- I booked the round last minute after canceling my Monday round due to my calf problem so I didn’t really know what to expect.  The course was in good shape (fairways and roughs were VERY green); the greens were slow but otherwise rolled true.  My only complaint was that the GPS system was down so the cart GPS was pointless.  To that point there’s no yardage markers, poles, sticks, or sprinkler-heads.  So if you play here, make sure you bring a rangefinder or a GPS device.  I did like that they had a cooler on the cart filled with ice (on a very hot day this helped quite a bit).

11th hole at Cimarron Golf Resort. Straight and long is good.

11th hole at Cimarron Golf Resort. Straight and long is good.  Overseeding is done.

Tuesday lunch was a real treat as we headed to Indio to TKB Bakery & Deli.  What if I told you the best damn sandwich you can eat in the area is at a place in an industrial park that’s not exactly easy to find?  It’s true.  I had the pastrami (it’s a great representation of what I’d call California style pastrami so New Yorkers may not like it (I’ll eat it if you don’t want it)), SWIRIC had the meatloaf sandwich.  Both came on a jalapeno/cheddar roll and both were beyond delicious (and huge).  Okay, so the dining room isn’t exactly the lap of luxury but who cares?  Forget about that and focus on that sandwich because it’s out of this damn world.  This place is most definitely on the ‘must have’ list when I return.

With Tuesday’s lunch being rather filling, we opted out of going to the Sagauro Hotel for Taco Tuesday (we went last time and it was outstanding) and instead went to Flor de Jalisco in Palm Desert (the link is to their Yelp page; they don’t have a website) for simple but well done Mexican.  My fajitas were exactly what I wanted, and SWIRIC’s chicken mole was good.

Day 4

2nd hole at the Gary Player Signature Course.

2nd hole at the Gary Player Signature Course.  The shadow to the right is me.

On our final full day in the desert, I started with a round at the Gary Player Signature Course at the Westin Mission Hills.  It was a bit longer of a drive than Google Maps said it would be (the course isn’t at the resort but a 5-10 minute drive from there), but it was worth the trip.  Very impressed with the layout; a nice mix of holes in a classic desert setting.  Fairways were fairly generous; greens rolled true.  Not quite as hard as the Pete Dye course that was being overseeded, but still a good challenge with plenty of places to get into trouble.  The older couple I played with weren’t exactly speed demons (the ranger/player assistant asked me to politely ask them to pick up the pace which I found odd, but necessary).  Luckily I played about as well as I could hope for and parred the last 4 holes to card a 79.

18th hole at the Gary Player Course. A great finishing hole (

18th hole at the Gary Player Course. A great finishing hole (helps to par it for a 79)

After a visit to Footloose Reflexology for a massage (after 3 rounds in 4 days the foot massage felt pretty good), our last night was dinner at The Tonga Hut in downtown Palm Springs.  It’s a tiny space devoted to the Tiki culture that abounded.  If you want to enjoy well-made cocktails (think Mai Tai, Zombie, Blue Hawaii, Rum Punch and a Scorpion) and a better-than-it-needed-to-be pu-pu platter, this is the place.  We caught a break in that it was slow (the place gets quite busy on the weekends), but had a good time.

One caution if you go to Footloose; their “medium” pressure is pretty intense; I think “firm” pressure is them using bricks or something.  Still a worthy visit and felt good afterwards.

A delicious and well deserved Mai-Tai at the Tonga Hut.  Better have a few more.

A delicious and well deserved Mai-Tai at the Tonga Hut. Better have a few more.

So after 4 1/2 days in the desert, we ate well, had fun, logged a fair bit of pool time.  You don’t have to be a senior citizen nor do you have to be a 20-something in for the weekend to have a good time.  You can, and should visit and not just during their peak season (winter for us in the DMV).

Paso Robles-Do Golf and Wine Mix?

Paso Robles-is it just about the wine or can golf and grape get along?

Being someone who understands that the key to life is compromise, it was in that vein that She Who Is Really In Charge (SWIRIC) suggested that we add a trip to Paso Robles during our annual vacation/family visit trip to California.  SWIRIC is a fan of wine…on several fronts but mostly the enjoyment of a really good glass or two of wine.

Paso Robles is approximately two hours’ due north of Santa Barbara via US-101.  The drive is a bit of everything; ocean views start the drive before an inland turn, followed by another quick hit of coastal views before heading further inland until coming upon this town.  When I used to drive between San Francisco and Orange County, Paso Robles was a town on the way back to San Francisco…I’d never so much as stopped for gas.

We got in on a busy holiday Sunday evening; tired from a long day of travel and approximately four hours driving.  The summer months mean one thing- heat and lots of it.  After some aimless searching, we stopped for wine at Artisan, a great restaurant in their central business district (a 3-4 block area of shops and restaurants).  It was over a couple glasses of wine that we began to relax.

Dinner was at Firestone Walker, a brew-pub amid hundreds of wineries.  We both enjoyed pizzas that were outstanding; SWIRIC enjoyed the Portobello mushroom pie while I opted for the barbecue chicken pizza.  Both were outstanding.  We didn’t imbibe in any of their brews, but if wine’s not your thing, they have beer tasting tours as well.

If you go to Paso Robles and you like wine, then you’re in luck.  There are hundreds of wineries in the area; several locals touted their area as “the new Napa” which might be a bit of a stretch, but while I’m not the wine lover in the family, my admittedly less-than-perfect taste buds know a good wine when they taste it.

This is a golf blog…with limited time I only played one of the two area courses- Hunter Ranch (considered the tougher and more upscale of the two).  At just over 6700 yards from the tips and just under 6300 yards from the middle tees, I found the middle tees offered plenty of challenge.  The starter in the pro shop was friendly, affable, and sent me on my way.  I took a cart as is my style, but I saw a few people with pull carts so I reckon it’s walkable (having said that several holes have lengthy distances between them).

Hunter Ranch #3

The course may not look that menacing on the scorecard, but the one characteristic that came true is that in order to score you have to not just be in the fairway but on the correct side/position.  It’s not true target style golf, but is definitely in the vein of rewarding positioning and punishing wayward shots.  Several holes abut into vineyards (on the front nine the third and fourth holes vineyards are in view but unlikely to come into play unless you get completely wild).  Bermuda greens rolled very fast and true.  Wayward shots are punished with hardpan dirt and scrub after a small area of rough (given the water issues that plague the area I suppose it’s understandable).   Playing it a second time rather than a pedestrian Paso Robles Golf Club may be a bit heavier on the wallet but their refusal to allow a single golfer to make a tee time made it a non-starter.  I suppose if you’re with a group or have a partner who plays you could play both tracks.  One thing- the afternoons tend to get breezy so keep that in mind when making plans.

IMG_20140526_092449_547

Two courses aren’t exactly becoming of it being a true golf destination, but you could do worse than playing Hunter Ranch.  Both courses are close to most of the hotels in the area.  Without knowing or caring about details I know water use is an ongoing area of controversy and it’s possible that this might be limiting future courses from coming in.

After my fairly quick morning 18 before it got too hot (temperature swings of 40-50 degrees are not uncommon so if you go, plan and dress accordingly), we set out for a day of wine-tasting.  There are literally hundreds of wineries in the area so use my list for what it is- indicative of one day’s tasting while insisting on driving relatively sober and not wanting to break any traffic laws.  We started at Hope Family Wines; we had enjoyed one of their wines the night before and wanted to get a better sampling.  We were met by some really friendly folks and some very good wines (they were easily the friendliest group we ran into).

One surprise that we encountered was the quality of rose wines…I admit to associating rose wines with the giant 1.5 liter jugs of sugar-sweetened swill that people drank.  The rose wines we drank were not sugary-sweet, but were blended wines that tasted like…well, adult wines that you’d serve at a summer cookout and not be ashamed to uncork.

Our next trip was to Zenaida where another group of friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable staff answered questions and were generous with their pours.  A trip to Jada offered a tasty wine and cheese pairing tasting; while their wines were fine, it was their cheeses that were, in my opinion, the real treat.

Inspired by a rather interesting scene from the book “Vertical” (a very readable sequel to the book “Sideways” which was made into the seminal movie by the same name) that took place at Justin Winery, our day of wine took us to the palatial offerings of Justin.  Their restaurant wasn’t open, however their staff pointed us in the direction of some charcuterie and cheese offerings.  Their wines were more than worth the drive; the Savant (a blended wine mainly of petite syrah) and the Isoscoles (another blend) are the pick of a very good group of offerings.

IMG_20140526_144047_918 Justin Winery

After a stop for a late lunch, we headed to Tobin James; a cacophonous building selling Tommy Bahama shirts amid a crowd that looked like they belonged at Margaritaville; I half expected to see Jimmy Buffett break out into song or at least a guzzling of the spit bucket take place.  I’ll admit to being put off by a large number of children- my deal has always been that I’ll stay out of Chuck E. Cheese and the kids leave places like wineries to me.  It was a bit much, but if that sort of thing is to your liking, then have at it.   Maybe Tobin James is a good starting point; by the end of the day when fatigue sets in you’re just not prepared for TGI McWinery.

All in all, SWIRIC and your humble blogger had a great time in Paso Robles.