Par 3 prince of Palm Springs

Features - Short Course Stories

Fitting snugly among homes and operating on a summer honor box system, Palm Royale Country Club provides a quaint alternative to the golf gaudiness in California’s Coachella Valley.

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January 8, 2021

© courtesy of Palm Royale Country Club

Home to 120 courses, the golf-rich Coachella Valley has no shortage of big-name tracks spread across the desert marquee. But to overlook some of the region’s brightest co-stars is to miss the deeper narrative of desert golf.

Opened in 1986 at the height of the valley’s modern golf build boom, Palm Royale Country Club in La Quinta, California, is just down the street from some of the area’s most famed courses. While not as long or lauded as its championship counterparts, the 18-hole par 3 spread instead hangs its flat cap on proving a thesis of what the game is meant to be: fun, timely, affordable and some good exercise across its walking-only grounds.

“We want to be the best-conditioned short course in the valley. That’s our goal,” Palm Royale golf professional Phil Boyland says. “We want to produce a product and a service which exceeds what people expect when they come play. We know people aren’t traveling to Palm Springs to come play here four times but before folks go out and play the big, championship courses, this is a really good place to come for a day and a warm-up round.”

Designed by the late Ted Robinson, Palm Royale is one of 15 local courses crafted by the prolific desert architect known as the “King of Waterscapes.” Across a scorecard of about 2,100 yards, the moniker doesn’t disappoint. Nor does the engaging test.

“But there’s enough trouble out here that you can’t just pitch-and-putt around.”

With holes ranging from 80 to 170 yards, Palm Royale sports bunkering on every hole and a water feature on half of the card. And while the likes of World Golf Hall of Famer and part-time desert resident Fred Couples may have gone course-record low with an 11-under 43 during an industry skins game back in 2017, most guests are aiming to rally for pars.

Palm Royale’s wedge world proves an ideal fit for kids, families, nascent players, older golfers and even local sticks looking to refine their scoring clubs. The concept of fast and fun overcomes a potent pair of golf obstacles for many.

“The common complaints about golf are, ‘It takes too long, and it’s too expensive,’” Boyland says. “We feel like we combat both aspects of that. Plus, you’re gonna get good exercise out here, and especially in this environment we’re in now with social distancing — here, come out, grab a pull cart, head to that first tee and just start walking.”

For many folks simply looking to get out of the house in 2020, Palm Royale found further palatability amid the pandemic months.

“We’ve been waiting for ya’ to come around,” Boyland says smiling. “No, we’ve been doing it this way for a long time, and, in this climate we’re in right now, it’s an attractive way to get outside, get some exercise and not worry about getting paired-up in a cart with a stranger or something like that.”

In a time-demand world, and in-step with the game’s cyclical turn back to concepts of playability and affordability, Palm Royale is well-positioned.

“For some, maybe this is a better fit than a few-hundred-dollar round which takes five hours. Here, we play in a few hours,” Boyland says. “It’s a great place for beginners, juniors, seniors and we do see a lot of good players here. A lot of industry guys come out here after their shift. Maybe they work at an exclusive private club nearby where they’re not allowed to play once they’re done for the day, so they come out here in the late afternoon and work on their short game.”

With residential condos almost more “in” the course than “on” across these intimate surrounds, a coalescence of home-to-course grooming makes for an essential maintenance mind meld.

© courtesy of Palm Royale Country Club

“Along with the course, we also maintain the homes; outside the gate, everything,” superintendent Richard Jimenez says. “We’ve got three guys on the crew who maintain the homes, and then five who work the course.”

Having reduced its footprint with a turf reduction in recent years, enhanced D.G. (decomposed granite) routing and outlining has made the property easier to maintain, while concurrently resulting in improved course-to-residence distinction. A reinvestment in course conditions has also found Palm Royale on the upswing.

“When we started here, the course wasn’t the way it is now,” adds Jimenez, whose turf undoubtedly benefits from the walking only/cart path-free design. “We’ve done our thing by mowing the greens to the proper heights of 1/8-inch. We also leveled the tee boxes and made them larger.”

Close quarters call for a close rapport between residents (the HOA owns the course) and staff.

“Everybody here has a view of the golf course, and the course, that ownership, is part of what they bought into,” Boyland says. “There’s a community pride in how we run this course, how Richard and his staff maintain the course and the relationships here — with the condos kinda packed in — it finds people well-connected. There’s just a very good sense of community, and the homeowners have gotten to know Richard and his staff; whether it’s little a wave in the morning or a lady has some fire ants in her flower bed, there’s a real comfort of communication between the folks who live here and the people who work here. It makes life a lot easier.”

Perhaps best evidencing its quaint vibe and nod to the roots of golf purity, come the deep sizzle of the desert summer, guests need only plop a 10-spot in an honor box outside the pro shop in July and August.

“We’ve run the numbers and sitting in the pro shop and running the A/C all day in 115 degress, yeah, we go with the honor box system for those two months,” Boyland says. “And it’s very well-received. The locals know about it, they like it. Our grounds staff is here working, and I’m still here every day to check in and making sure nothing crazy is going on.”

Judd Spicer is a Palm Desert, California-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.