As father time continues to creep on me, more and more I find the laid-back vibe of the Palm Springs area much to my liking. So with She Who Is Really In Charge and I both needing some r&r (and I needing a serious dosage of golf) we scheduled a vacation with morning golf for yours truly before enjoying some quality pool time in the afternoon.
SATURDAY: We flew direct into LAX because I’m nervous as shit about my clubs and I wasn’t sure about ShipSticks (nothing against them). If anyone has used them with success please let me know. I had an early AM Sunday round so I was nervous; figured a direct flight was going to minimize my chances of having any issues (very happy to see them rolling out). Stopped in Orange County to visit my mom because I’m not a complete asshole, but not before stopping at Sidecar Donuts in Costa Mesa. Growing up in suburban Toronto I have an admittedly stupid attachment to Tim Hortons but a maple glazed still brings back memories. The donuts at Sidecar are more expensive and better. Holy shit. After visiting with my mom and a late lunch that was mediocre at best, we made the drive out to the Coachella Valley. We stayed at La Quinta Resort (full disclosure: I have a secondary-level business relationship with them); we’ve stayed there before quite happily; we got in late, we were both exhausted and I had a sunup tee time on Sunday. So it was an early to bed night.
Up early for my tee time and drive to the first stop on my Tour Du Golf 2019 (Desert Willow). I’ve played there before and was blown away at their hospitality, service and course conditions. I had made a 6am tee time, and realized I was going to have an issue when it was dark at 6am. I was supposed to play the Firecliff but they had called me to tell me they were switching their overseeding schedule and that I’d be playing the Mountain View over a month ago (which I really appreciated). The pro shop let me know I’d be going out at 6:30 a.m. instead when there was ample light. Played with a guy from Vancouver and we got around in just over 2 1/2 hours. This despite a pretty strong wind that kicked up and was a legit factor on the entire back nine. Didn’t play well but wasn’t really expecting much.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- Desert Willow is a fantastic example of what public golf can be. Yes- you can have great playing conditions AND people who are service-oriented. It’s a must-play. Period.
Dinner was at Eureka; burgers, charcoal lemonade (try it) and their mac & cheese balls for an appetizer. Being hungry, we went to Lappert’s for dessert (had the Dole Whip which is outstanding). We’ve eaten at Eureka before and the food was once again really good. Lappert’s is a must-stop for dessert; they have a ton of ice cream options but the can’t-find-it-anywhere-else Dole Whip remains my preferred option.
MONDAY: The last 2 times I’ve been in the desert, Silver Rock has been closed for overseeding, so finding them open was a pleasant surprise. I had heard good things and I was very excited to play this course. Driving out there, I was hoping to be delighted. I wanted to be delighted. I really, really, really wanted to love this place.
I wasn’t. The trailer that was their pro shop (they’re building a resort on the property) didn’t really bother me; in fact the lady in the pro shop was probably the highlight of the day. She was nice enough and was incredibly nice.
Their starter/marshal was fun in the same way a colonoscopy is fun. I just wanted to hit a few chips and roll a few putts before my 6:30 a.m. tee time. Which he moved to 6:50 “because” (his words). I explained that I had made the time, and that there was plenty of light. Didn’t care. “You made it on the internet…you could have made that up for all I know.” At this point I felt like I was part of a Club Pro Guy skit. So we had to track out over hill and dale, which was fine. I asked about using the putting green by the first tee and was told “it’s under repair” (no signage that would indicate this). His attitude was that of your average DMV employee being asked to do something at 5 minutes before their shift ends. Not really sure what the guy’s deal was, but it’s a terrible first impression. At the first tee I got paired up with an old guy with the shakes, the guy in my cart, and Vinny who ticked every possible box for a guy named Vinny down to the yellow convertible sports car. Vinny was beyond terrible, insisted on playing from the tips, and was painfully slow. On two occasions I got a lecture from their player assistant as the group behind us was riding our asses and I had politely tried to suggest we pick up the pace a bit. If I was in my own cart I’d have bailed after nine holes. It was that bad, but Sargent Golf Police paired us up and the 9th hole is nowhere near the clubhouse. Finished the round only to get hustled by their staff; look I appreciate the “let me wipe your clubs down” but maybe ask first? Also, if I decline the offer (mostly because it took over 4 hours to play PLUS starting 20 minutes late because your starter has a tiny penis) don’t get huffy with me and pull the “self righteous indignation” card. If you hadn’t pissed me off and I’m not short on time I probably say have at it. After this? Get bent.
The course itself? A whale of a track. A challenge if you don’t know it. Very easy to get into trouble if you get wild, and very few week holes. Swap out their existing staff for the Desert Willow folks and you’d have something truly amazing. Keep Sargent Golf Police and it’s a hard pass from me. This hurts because trashing a place isn’t my style. I came here hoping to be blown away and my standards are pretty low. I wasn’t. After picking up SWIRIC after her massage (I didn’t want to make her late) we ate at Rubio’s (don’t have them here so it doesn’t violate my “don’t eat what we can get at home” rule), and had an outstanding dinner at Cork & Fork. She had the prix fixe, I think I had one of their brick oven pizzas. We both had a Spanish Cava that was outstanding.
TUESDAY: Went to lunch at Elmer’s over in Palm Springs (she had the German pancake, I opted for an omelet). I know it’s a coffee shop/diner but damn their food is great. Even my biscuit was perfection; light, fluffy and just a bit of sweetness. Didn’t play since my body isn’t currently set up to handle 3+ consecutive days of play. Did a bit of shopping at the outlets and had dinner at French Rotisserie Cafe in La Quinta and was reminded that a simple roast chicken and frites can be wonderful if cooked correctly (they were).
After Monday’s disappointment, I was cautiously optimistic that Indian Wells (Celebrity) would be better. It was certainly more expensive. Happy to say it was worth it. Very much worth it. It’s amazing how, when you’re treated like a customer and not like a problem things can go. A warm welcome from everyone at the course which didn’t match the weather; it was downright cool when I got there and I was glad I brought my wind-shirt. Almost smart of me.
I got paired up with brothers from Montreal (their Canadiens stuff was a dead giveaway) and a local. Their pace of play wasn’t great but since I was riding solo I broke away from them and got around in my usual speedy pace.
On the 11th hole I ran into a player assistant and I immediately feared getting a dressing down for breaking away. Nope. “Who cares? You’re having fun, we’re happy you’re here, have a great day.” This? This right here? This six seconds of not being a jerk? You won me over. Sure, I paid $149 to play at Indian Wells and only $82 at Silver Rock, but that difference is the difference between being treated like a valued customer and an interruption of one’s day. You had me at “we’re happy you’re here”. I’m really that easy to please.
Yes- as you can see parts of Indian Wells (and my final round at TPC Stadium Course at PGA West) were a bit burned out (they were overseeding their other course but as of today’s publication date both have been done). I’ve come to expect as much this time of year. It happens. Still playable.
Didn’t play well on the front side but on the back side, I found my groove. Birdied 18 to finish the back nine at one over.
After finishing up we had an early lunch at Louise’s Pantry in La Quinta; very golf-themed (tons of autographed golf photos on the walls) and a solid breakfast/lunch menu. My patty melt was exactly what I wanted; the fries were piping hot and well-cooked (nothing is worse than lukewarm fries).
After lunch and logging some pool time, we headed out to dinner. For dinner we celebrated at local favourite LG’s steakhouse. The steaks were as expected; we split a bottle of red blend wine that we like. The au gratin potatoes were a bit buttery for my taste; probably go with the mashed potatoes next time. They weren’t bad, but they definitely didn’t go light on the butter or cream!
Woke up not feeling great which happens to coincide with how I felt the last time I played at a PGA West course (then it was the Nicklaus tournament course). Luckily, a regular coke over ice helped to soothe things. I was playing the Stadium course and I had no real expectations on how I was going to do other than I hoped to not completely embarrass myself. The staff were incredibly courteous, helpful and friendly (special nod to the beverage cart driver; we saw her 4 times and she couldn’t have been nicer). You “could” argue that for $119 off-season they should be nice, but I came away impressed with the service.
Got paired up with an older guy who played there quite a bit and he helped more than a bit since he knew a couple danger spots that helped me out in terms of strategy. I didn’t play great but I did manage to par the last 3 holes (including 17; their infamous island green hole). The course was in “okay” shape (several burned out spots) but it was slated for closure in a few days for overseeding (fair credit to this information being posted). Didn’t bother me that much but some might feel otherwise (the greens were in great shape).
The Stadium Course is still used as the ‘main’ course for the PGA Tour Desert Classic in January when I’m guessing it’ll look fantastic. It’s a tough course for us mortals, and I’m dead certain the pros will go low; a reminder that they’re more than good. After finishing up we had lunch at nearby Heirloom Kitchen. It was really good; my breakfast burrito was exactly what I wanted. If you’re vegan they have several vegan options (I’m not, but I’m glad that they have these options available). After lunch we headed into downtown Palm Springs for drinks at the Tonga Hut (a Tiki bar that is completely sans irony; just a great place that has preserved the days of Tiki which isn’t a bad thing). Our mai-tais were delicious; we watched the street fair set up and then walked around a bit and did some shopping for friends back home. Dinner was at Toscano’s Italian Sports Bar; my pizza was much better than I was expecting and the breadsticks were good (very buttery).
I always enjoy the vibe of the area; it just feels different than most of Southern California. In a good way.
Time to pack up and head back over the mountain to see some extended family. We always have a great time in the desert and some day, I’d like to hang my hat there and call it home. The heat doesn’t really bother me (at least it’s not swamp-like), and not having to worry about snow removal and ice storms would be nice. The next time out I’d consider flying into Palm Springs airport just to see what it’s like (I’ve heard good things).
Work has kept me really busy after I got back from vacation so there’s been quite a delay in getting this out. Weather here in the DMV went from warm to winter pretty much overnight, so this is pretty much it for 2019. Clubs were taken out of my car. I’ll still write, but the odds of me playing again this year are pretty slim unless we get some kind of a warmup (waiting for frost delays isn’t really my idea of fun).
Got a few things in the proverbial cooker but for now I will keep them under wraps.