Getting ready for the shower at La Quinta Resort & Club, in Palm Springs, I was in a contrary state of mind. I had just finished the famed resort's Mountain course and, much as I didn't want to admit it, I had liked it way too much.
I had come to Palm Springs with an attitude. Very simply, I was pretty sure the place represented everything wrong with golf in America. Palm Springs, to my mind, suffered in the extreme from golf's terrible "too"s--too expensive, too slow, too many carts, too green and too artificial. It was not, shall we say, Golf in the Kingdom.
Now, as to the shower at La Quinta--it is called the "celestial" shower, appropriate for a town where women wear bejeweled gold-lamésandals, and golf carts sport Rolls Royce emblems and the streets are named after Frank and Dinah. But standing there beneath fifteen precisely aimed nozzles and looking up at the warm-cobalt sky through the open-air ceiling, I could think of worse things than excess. I was gently overwhelmed with jets of water from every direction. It was like being rolled by a wave without having to hold my breath. Fifteen minutes and several hundred gallons from the Coachella Valley aquifer later, I emerged properly tenderized for my PGA West Golf Massage. In a cool, low-lit room filled with eucalyptus vapors, every knot of civilization and its discontents was kneaded right out of me.
I'd never experienced a better nineteenth hole, and because the eighteen that had preceded it had offered their own seduction, I felt my resolve against the place softening. Sure, Palm Springs wrings out the wallet with triple-digit green fees that reach all the way to $260 in peak season at the topresorts. Throw in a $400-a-night room and $50 entrees at the restaurants, and a golfing couple in Palm Springs could easily spend a grand a day. But the place is blessed with sparkling, windless days that average in the mid-seventies from November to April, crystalline views of snowcapped mountains mirrored in perfectly serene lakes, ideal turf, invitingly immaculate practice ranges, great service and primo golf schools by Leadbetter, McLean and Pelz.
Finally, as my spa bliss wore off, I had a clearheaded revelation. Those persistently positive vibes I'd gotten at the Mountain course, even as I'd fought them, had meant something. I could now admit Pete Dye's 1980 creation was a gem: small greens, flat bunkers that pay tribute to classic architect Seth Raynor and relatively short distances between greens and tees, giving the place the intimacy and feel of a timeless course. I remembered one trio of holes in particular--the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth--as magical. In a section of the course devoid of adjoining homes and crammed absolutely flush against the tight nooks at the base of the steep cliffs and serrated ridges of the pink-hued Santa Rosas, the golfer is truly in a private paradise. Besides coalescing so well with the harsh surroundings, the holes inspired with their shot values. The drive and approach to the artful dogleg-left fourteenth are both hit directly at a steep mountain, a dramatic backdrop that makes the ball seem to hang in the air forever. A gambling second to the dogleg-right par-five fifteenth has to fit between two rocks that both frame the shot perfectly and leave no margin for error. And the elevated tee shot to the par-three sixteenth induces held breath as it carries a moonscape of rock to a beautifully set but frighteningly narrow green.