Indian Wells Resort: An Unmatched Palm Springs Golf Experience

The Celebrity course at Indian Wells was designed by Clive Clark and opened in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Indian Wells Golf Resort)


INDIAN WELLS, California – With its Troon-operated golf courses, partner hotels, and great customer service, Indian Wells Resort is an all-around fantastic experience. And here’s what many may not realize: It’s a municipal operation run by the City of Indian Wells.

But you can’t really compare it to most other munis, not even the best like Bethpage Park in New York, which when it’s not hosting majors, is pushing as many players as it can through its five courses. Maybe a comparison to Torrey Pines in La Jolla north of Carlsbad is a little more appropriate. They’ve got a couple of outstanding courses, too, as well as a hotel (and have staged majors and the PGA Tour). And like Indian Wells, the locals get a tremendous discount on their green fees.

But what really makes Indian Wells so unique is its festive atmosphere, especially in the winter months. Torrey Pines and Bethpage are serious places; Indian Wells is about having a blast, whether it’s bringing your bachelor party out to the Coachella Valley or just enjoying a little golf, dining, and weather as a couple. Last week, I had a perfect three days at Indian Wells.

The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa is a Marriott property, featuring sandy beach pool, full fitness center, restaurants, bars and more. (Courtesy: Marriott)

It started with a dinner at our host hotel, the Renaissance Esmeralda resort & Spa, continued with a round each on the Players and Celebrity golf courses, included a terrific golf clinic, a nighttime putting contest and hitting glow balls on the newish Toptracer driving range, and some delicious meals both at the Renaissance and the Vue Grille & Bar, Indian Wells signature restaurant that draws golfers and nongolfers alike.

Top golf indeed

The Palm Springs area has always been one of my favorite destinations, especially in the winter with its seemingly perfect weather and views of the San Jacinto Mountains. La Quinta Resort, for example, with its half dozen courses available for the public, is golf paradise. And there are other standout resorts and courses like the Classic Club, SilverRock, Escena Golf Club, Mission Hills, and Desert Willow Golf Resort, just to name a few. But I feel like I could play the two courses at Indian Wells every week for the rest of my life, and never grow tired of them. And one of the reasons is that they complement and contrast each other well.

The Players course at Indian Wells was designed by John Fought and opened in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Indian Wells Golf Resort)

Both courses were originally designed by Ted Robinson, but they were both completely renovated in 2006. Architect John Fought is responsible for the Players’ Course, which as its name implies is designed more for competition, though it’s still imminently fair and playable. Clive Clark handled the changes on the Celebrity Course, which is wall-to-wall grass, completely overseeded in the winter time, with very little evidence that it’s in the desert. The Celebrity is also adorned with thousands of flowers and ornamentals, giving it a plush look rivaled only by places like Augusta National and maybe Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif.

The Clive Clark-designed Celebrity track is known for its vibrant colors, reminiscent of famed Augusta National. (Photo courtesy of Indian Wells Golf Resort)

The bunkers are more severe on the Players Course, and the corridors are more narrow as well. But again, if you play the right set of tees on this course, which can be stretched to more than 7,000 yards, it’s a blast to play. I love the variety of holes, which include short and long par 4s, terrific par 3s, and a couple of par 5s that you can reach in two if you’ve got a little length.

The Celebrity Course has been unfairly criticized as just glitz, but I always find the holes interesting. The fourth, for example, is a great par 5. Hit a good drive and you can be left with a mid iron to 3-wood to get over a pond to the green, somewhat similar to the 15th at Augusta. It’s classic risk-reward and beautiful. Two holes later, with a pond and a cascading creek to the right of the green, is the long par-3 sixth, which epitomizes the Celebrity’s incredible beauty.

ndian Wells Resort’s ‘SHOTS IN THE NIGHT’ features laser putting by Nextlinks and a brand new Toptracer Driving Range experience. (Photo courtesy: Indian Wells Resort)

In addition to the golf courses, Indian Wells has also upped its practice facilities to make it among the best in the world. I was there during Winter Fest, which means they’ve got the place adorned with Christmas lights and directions to the nines. And Indian Wells now has a Toptracer driving range, which means when you warm up or if you want to come hit balls at night, you can see all your numbers on screen, and even play games against your buddies. In the evening, they also use glow balls, so it’s a lot of fun to see those shots in the night sky. And to top it off, Indian Wells offers a computerized putting challenge on its lighted putting green that’s even more fun.

Indian Wells also has an outstanding golf academy. My group got to take part in a clinic led by PGA director of instruction Eric Solander and lead teaching professional Jordan Hamblin. They’re running some pretty innovative programs over there for juniors and adults alike. During our clinic, we worked on balancing the left and the right, and without exception, I felt like everyone in our group improved. It’s hard to find a teacher that you can click with; if I lived in the area, these would be my guys.

A couple of other impressions:

* The food and beverage operation at the resort and the hotels is top notch. From the snack shop by the first tee and turns on the golf courses to the Vue (which will be replaced in the near future and improved apparently), you’re not going to get a bad meal or cocktail. I was particularly impressed with the breakfast burritos and hot dogs on the course. And the 53,000-square foot clubhouse, with one of the best golf shops in the valley, plus the Trackman bay for lessons, is incredibly impressive.

A look inside the Vue Restaurant at Indian Wells Resort. (Courtesy: Indian Wells Resort)

* There are four resort hotels on property, and they work with each other and the Indian Wells Golf Resort to create packages, host large groups, and make the whole experience better. My stay at the Renaissance Esmeralda was exceptional. And though they knew we were coming as media guests, I still can’t say enough about the hospitality and quality of the rooms and restaurants there.

First off, the guest rooms were all renovated and modernized during the pandemic, so they are pretty much perfect, with incredible views of the mountains and the pool below, dual vanity bathrooms, nice lighting and very large flatscreen TVs. Breakfast at the Cava Restaurant included a terrific Huevos Rancheros and signature Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Dinner stepped it up even more, highlighted by one of the best steaks in the Valley, the 14-ounce ribeye. Add to that a wonderful spa, huge interactive game room for the kids (and adults too), an incredible pool outdoors, and other activities, and you’ve got a great vacation, even if you didn’t play golf.

With that said, Indian Wells Resort — with its four partner hotels — offers a variety of two-night stay-and-play packages that include rounds on both golf courses. This is, of course, peak season, so you’ll have to pay a little (but it compares favorably to the area’s other resorts). It can be quite hot in the summer obviously, but that’s also when the prices go down. Just play golf early if you decide to wait until then. In the meantime, if you’ve never been to Palm Springs to play golf, this would be a great starting point.

(Mike Bailey is a Travel Editor for Pro Golf Weekly. He can be reached at

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