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Golfing Palm Springs

I moved to Palm Springs three years ago to escape the cold winter of my native New England and earn a few extra dollars caddying. I arrived with a typical set of preconceived notions, the primary one being that desert golf courses couldn't hold a candle to classic Northeastern layouts. But it didn't take long for the desert to work its magic, and I soon discovered that playing golf in shorts in January has a way of making the finer points of course architecture seem irrelevant. It is enough to swing the club and smell the grass and rejoice at the sight of the beer cart trundling down the edge of the fairway. I also discovered there is more to Palm Springs than its deservedly famous resorts. It is hard not to be impressed by the beauty of the place, the swaying palms silhouetted against the snow-covered peaks. There are also less obvious treasures that require a little time and exploration to find.

Day One

The nice thing about flying into Palm Springs International Airport is that once you've landed you are only minutes from your destination, provided you're staying downtown. There's a collection of historic inns within walking distance of the many restaurants and shops along Palm Canyon Drive. My favorite is Casa Cody Inn. Its twenty-seven rooms and suites meander around lush, shaded gardens and a pair of swimming pools, providing the right combination of privacy and social interaction. If you're looking for a resort experience, try Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa, just north in Desert Hot Springs.

Once you've gotten in tune with the tempo of the desert, you will be ready to make some smooth swings. A mere ten-minute drive from Casa Cody, the Resort course at Tahquitz Creek is one of the area's most playable designs. Many of the holes are bordered by sculpted ponds, while waste areas are planted with colorful desert flora.

Cap off the relaxing day with a romantic dinner at Le Vallauris, an elegant French restaurant in the historic Roberson House.

Day Two

There are few sights as enchanting as a desert sunrise, the flame-orange rays setting the red rocks aglow. To take it all in, book a morning tee time. Having tuned up your game, you should be ready for the challenge of Cimarrón Golf Resort. Designed by John Fought, of Pumpkin Ridge fame, the Long course at Cimarrón is built into a sandy arroyo. In keeping with the austere site, Fought created a no-nonsense course with massive waste areas and flash-face bunkers that exhibit a MacKenzian flair.

Playing early frees up the afternoon for other activities, such as a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which whisks you up Mount San Jacinto to 8,516 feet. Sunburned golfers step out into a wonderland of snowy, pine tree–studded hills where they can snowshoe, cross-country ski, sled or just throw snowballs. An overlook provides views of the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park (a wonderful side trip in itself).

After working up an appetite, head back downtown for some classic American fare at Spencer's Restaurant.

Day Three

Okay, you've come to play golf and you want to experience the best Palm Springs has to offer. So today's the day devoted entirely to golf. Thirty-six of the area's finest holes are located in La Quinta: the Stadium course at PGA West Resort and the Mountain course at La Quinta Resort. Play La Quinta first because the red rocks are especially beautiful in the morning light and the mountainous back nine is cast in shadow by mid-afternoon. After lunch, go over to PGA West. Don't worry, Pete Dye's showpiece isn't as brutal as it's reputed to be, though the finishing holes are indeed punishing. The seventeenth's rock-fringed green is even smaller than it looks from the tee.

Have dinner, or at least a drink, at Arnold Palmer's Restaurant in La Quinta. The food is standard American; the atmosphere is pure Arnold. Walls and trophy cases are filled with memorabilia from the King's career, and a patio overlooks a putting green that's lighted at night.

Day Four

There is one more course you should play before leaving town: Desert Dunes Golf Club in Desert Hot Springs. Although relatively unknown, it is a strong contender for best in the desert. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. design is surrounded by a swath of undeveloped desert that, combined with grassy interior spaces, gives the layout a refreshingly open feel.

Just up the street is the Casino Dining Room at Two Bunch Palms. The menu specializes in fresh California cuisine that promises to "nourish your mind, body and soul," and after a forkful of espresso-crusted beef tenderloin or nectarine-cashew chicken curry, you will be a believer. To pamper yourself even further, take a dip in the resort's mineral springs. If the water doesn't rejuvenate you, the many diverse spa treatments will.

Trip Planner: Palm Springs

Playing

PGA West Stadium Course ****1/2 800-742-9378, pgawest.com. Yardage: 7,300. Par: 72. Slope: 150. Greens Fees: $175–$235. Architect: Pete Dye, 1986
Cimarrón Long Course **** 877-966-6233, cimarrongolf.com. Yardage: 6,858. Par: 71. Slope: 123. Greens Fees: $39–$99. Architect: John Fought, 2000
Desert Dunes Golf Club **** 760-251-5370, desertdunesgolf.com. Yardage: 6,876. Par: 72. Slope: 142. Greens Fees: $89–$105. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1989
La Quinta Mountain Course **** 760-564-5729, laquintaresort.com. Yardage: 6,756. Par: 72. Slope: 140. Greens Fees: $175–$235. Architect: Pete Dye, 1980
Tahquitz Creek Resort Course **** 760-328-1005, tahquitzcreek.com. Yardage: 6,705. Par: 72. Slope: 125. Greens Fees: $79–$109. Architect: Ted Robinson Jr., 1995

Staying

Casa Cody Inn, 760-320-9346. Rooms and Suites: $89–$269
Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa, 800-472-4334. Rooms: $195–$355. Suites and Villas: $395–$725

Dining

Arnold Palmer's Restaurant (American), 760-771-4653. $$$$
Casino Dining Room at Two Bunch Palms (Californian), 760- 329-8791. $$$$
Le Vallauris (French), 760-325- 5059. $$$$
Spencer's Restaurant (American),760-327-3446. $$$$

Other Activities

Joshua Tree National Park, 760-367-5500, nps.gov/jotr
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, 888-515-8726, pstramway.com

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