INDIO, Calif. -- To place tee into turf at Indian Palms Country Club is to dig into some serious golf history.
Founded as the Cochran-Odlum Ranch in the late 1940s, the original nine hole grounds served as the first public golf course in the Coachella Valley. Moreover, Cochran Ranch owned the distinction of being the first course in the country to be both designed a built by a woman; that honor going to LPGA founding member Helen Dettweiler.
Since course overhauls in 2003 and ownership changes in 2012, the unique status of Indian Palms remains well intact. While many of the desert's august, resort-style courses serve as oft-benign play days in contrast with the area's modern long and strong tracks -- Indian Palms is no pushover. With sneaky water and slightly elevated greens, the three nine-hole courses each sport their own distance, nuance and challenge.
"It'll challenge anybody," says David Joos, of Indio. "I'm a four-handicap, and the blue tees are very challenging to me. I aim for the 150s or just inside, so a lot of times I'll hit 3-wood to keep it in play."
Tight fairways and sneaky, greenside water features (appearing of five holes) make Indian Palms Mountain Course a surprising test of both driver and iron accuracy
"Of the three courses, the Mountain is my favorite," says Joe Stanton, assistant professional at Indian Palms. "It's more traditional with straightaway fairways and not many doglegs. You'll be rewarded out there if you can hit the big stick straight -- if you can't, leave it on the bag."
Stanton's advice proves evident from the outset, as the Mountain's 514-yard, par-5 first sports bunkering on the right and a water-guarded green left following a claustrophobic tee shot.
The island green at the 405-yard, par-4 fifth presents an excellent challenge, as does the testy, par-4 no. 9.
"One of the most challenging holes in the desert," Stanton says of the 450-yard Mountain ninth. "In the landing zone, if you cannot carry it about 250 yards, you won't carry a hill mid-fairway, and you can't see the green without that carry. Then, you've got a peninsula green surrounded by water, so if you miss right or long you're wet."
The shortest of the three nines at just 3,138 yards, Indian Palms' Royal Course requires continued attention to accuracy with wedges and low irons.
"The Royal is a little more open and friendlier to the average player," says John Birchard, director of golf at Indian Palms. "The greens are a little bigger, but it really puts a premium on your second shot. Length is not a factor, but you've got to keep the ball in play."
The diminutive, 321-yard no. 2 on the Royal shows the need for total ball control. With large trees and bunkering to the deep right of the fairway, the player also confronts a half-crescent water feature across the front, right and behind the putting surface.
Further quest for Royal crowing is found on the 326-yard seventh hole, where a taut dogleg right asks for tee prudence (or a skilled fade) lest you find easy O.B. along the left fairway.
Though the longest of the three nines at 3,510 yards from the tips, Indian Palms' Indian Course plays as the most consistent layout. Following another sneaky water play greenside right on the 201-yard, par-3 second, a fine and fun run from nos. 3-5 defines the nine.
On the tight, par-4 third, aim for the tall, skinny palm located mid-fairway before addressing a blind, elevated second that demands an aggressive play to the flag. On the ensuing short par 5, work a fade along the dogleg right before another blind, elevated approach awaits an eagle opportunity for those aptly aiming for the leaning palm beyond the stick. The top-handicap follows with the longest par 4 on the entire property, which nonetheless keeps par in play for the long and straight.
Though a three-shot hole, the 587-yard, par-5 ninth remains a fine closing birdie opportunity. Play up to the water-guarded green with your second before wedging onto the inviting putting surface.
Indian Palms Country Club & Resort: Final thoughts
For a sneaky-tough challenge at a great value, Indian Palms is a worthy play on the east end of the Valley.
"It's for the budget-conscious golfer that wants a country club experience," Birchard adds. "Every opportunity we have here is offered at a more expensive resort, but we're able to offer it at a reasonable price with quality and conditions that are equal."
The golf grounds offer full, grass driving range along with short game practice area. The resort presents a boutique, 59-room hotel with full amenities including pool, Jacuzzi, tennis courts and on-site restaurant and bar.