Indian Wells Golf Resort's Players Course - Giving new vigor to the desert

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeffrey A. Rendall

INDIAN WELLS, CA – The Encarta Dictionary defines renovation as “to make something new again – to bring something such as a building back to a former better state by means of repairs, redecoration or remodeling.”

The second definition reads: “to give new vigor to somebody or something.”

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It doesn't take long to be introduced to the charm of the Players course - here, the view from the 1st tee box.

When talking about Indian Wells Golf Resort’s Players Course (opened for play in November, 2007), the second definition is probably more accurate, though the entire description fits in some way. The Players Course essentially supplanted the golf course that occupied the land previously (the East Course), and is in all respects a brand new layout designed by John Fought and destined to be ranked amongst the best courses in the Coachella Valley.

The land’s the same, but all the tees, greens, bunkers and water hazards where rebuilt and relocated – in other words, it’s a different course altogether.

You may be familiar with the Players Course’s sibling – the Celebrity Course – it hosted the LG Skins Game in 2007 & 2008 and has a distinction all its own. Both Indian Wells courses starred prominently in Big Break Indian Wells.  Certainly the beautiful landscaping on both layouts helped attract the attention of the TV folks -- and it's something you'll remember as well.

Accuracy is a must to get near the flag on the par four 16th hole.

With all this notoriety, Indian Wells certainly stands out – and for more than just its name and history. The Players Course is already garnering attention for its quality, a reputation that will only increase with time.

Former PGA Tour player John Fought knows golf, and his accumulated knowledge shows up in the Players Course – a project he’s more than happy to be associated with. Here, Fought describes how he got involved with the endeavor: “The City of Indian Wells originally selected (English Golf Course Architect) Clive Clark to design both golf courses at the resort – but upon further consideration, the City felt it would be better to have two different designers with a different motif for each course.”

Fought continues, “So I was selected because I would design something different and I could develop a set of drawings and specifications for both courses. It was a perfect fit because Clive and I got along very well. I count Clive as a good friend and respect his talent and abilities.”

From the back tee, it's a 200-yard carry over the barranca to the fairway of the par four 5th hole.

The good working relationship shows. Fought was very pleased with his first look at the site where the Players Course would be built, with its rolling hills and beautiful, mature trees. Though the course is technically ‘new,’ the trees (because of the previous golf course) give it an ‘experienced’ look – the best of both worlds.

Another aspect that Fought liked about the site was what was under it – sand. Sand isn’t necessarily rare in a desert environment, but it’s just another benefit when building a golf course.

In addition to the property’s intrinsic gifts, Fought said there was little to restrict him from designing the type of golf course everyone desired. “When working in the desert, you need to be mindful of the heat in the summer. We didn’t have water restrictions like they do in Arizona, though we wanted to limit the amount of turf in order to be good stewards of the environment. For that reason, I integrated natural areas (barrancas) and native landscapes to minimize the use of water.”

The par five 7th hole (552 yards) is reachable in two for long-hitters - a good birdie opportunity if you play it right.

True enough, natural areas are prevalent on the course – but don’t call them ‘waste’ areas. The Players Course offers native desert vegetation in those off-to-the-side spaces, which enhances the theme of the golf course and adds a pleasant aesthetic element to the layout. Better yet, if you play from the right tee box, the natural areas will remain as merely something to look at as opposed to a real hazard.

Fought said the goal in building both courses was to improve on what was already at the resort: “They wanted courses that would be better, more modern (lengths) and be popular with vacationers coming to the desert. We wanted the resort to be the first choice for vacationers. The City also wanted the Players Course to be a championship course that could host tournaments which would promote the resort. Likewise, the Celebrity Course is perfect as a resort course.”

Fought says as clients go, the City of Indian Wells was terrific to work with, supporting their efforts to build the best golf course possible. But there was one aspect of the construction that made it more difficult – California’s prevailing wage laws.

Shadows obscure the par three 12th hole - if you're slightly off with your tee shot, you're probably in one of those huge bunkers.

“Because the labor rates are so high in California, it probably adds 25% to the budget, which is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Fought said.

That’s a matter for the politicians to decide. Fought said the City provided a generous budget for landscaping in addition to the large trees that were mentioned earlier, giving the course very much of a ‘lived in’ look, even on day one. Add in the fact that there are no homes, villas or condos on the sides of the holes and you have one of the more unique golf experiences around.

The course’s good looks only make the playing experience better. The layout offers a good deal of variety and challenge – a good mix of some risk-reward birdie opportunities and brutal long holes that will demand the best out of good players to try and make a par.

One of the largest bunkers on the course is found on the par three 8th hole - you could spend an afternoon in there.

Anthony Holder, Head Golf Professional at Indian Wells, describes the playability of the Players Course: “The greens on the Players Course are very large and firm with subtle undulation. The greens are well guarded by expansive, deep bunkers. Although grass is plentiful on the Players Course, strategic tee shot placement is important when trying to access some very challenging hole locations.”

One special note on the Players Course – conditioning. Nearly every course we’ve played in the desert has provided first-rate conditions, but even here, the Players Course deserves top billing. There was hardly a blade of grass out of place and the bunkers were in outstanding condition. The tee boxes weren’t overused and the greens were well cared for. Well done, all around.

Favorite holes included the par four fifth hole, a gentle dogleg to the right with barranca all down the right side. At 469-yards from the back tee, you’ll still have a lengthy second shot even with a long and accurate drive. The green is elevated and protected by bunkers – so it’s a tough play from start to finish.

The par five 9th hole claims the most intimidating tee shot on the Players Course, where it's nearly 230 yards to reach the fairway, even from the blue tees.

Things don’t get any easier with the 459-yard, par four sixth hole. This time, water guards the left-side of the dogleg, providing the opposite challenge off the tee. With Eisenhower Mountain as a backdrop, the sixth’s tee shot is one of the more spectacular scenes on the course.

Turning to the back, the 186-yard, par three twelfth is a memorable one. It once again plays back towards Eisenhower Mountain, providing great views from its elevated tee. Despite its short yardage, the green is well protected by five menacing looking bunkers.

The round concludes with an outstanding finishing hole. Holder describes it: “Playing adjacent to the Esmeralda Resort and Spa, this 491-yard par four demands distance and accuracy if par is to be a consideration. A deep ‘California Barranca’ hazard guards the front and right of the green, while four massive bunkers await shots long or left. A lay-up and pitch shot third shot may be your best bet.”

A huge bunker guards the right side of the par three 2nd hole's green.

That’s the truth, and that’s how we played the hole.

It may be hard to imagine, but the golf courses may not be Indian Wells’ most striking feature – that distinction belongs to the brand new IW Club. Holder’s pretty proud of the new facility, which was tabbed ‘2008 Clubhouse of the Year’ by Golf Inc. Magazine. “The IW Club is an amazing centerpiece of this great golf facility.”

The 53,000 square foot Clubhouse features sandstone walls, large expanses of glass, limestone and granite accents and stainless steel detailing. To advance the indoor/outdoor desert lifestyle, the IW Club has large sliding-glass doors in the dining areas that allow for an effortless transition to the outdoor patios.

Beautiful mountain views are prevalent throughout the Players Course - here, the par five 14th hole.

The IW Club’s fine dining and Bar & Grille (both on the second level, overlooking the golf course scenery) offer extensive menus with American and Asian selections, as well as a first-rate wine list. For those special occasions or business meetings, there’s also a grand ballroom that opens on one side to a reception hall and on the other side to an outdoor veranda overlooking the golf course.

The Club is so plush I felt a little guilty walking through it with my golf shoes on – no doubt, a place to spend some time during your visit to Indian Wells.

Another unique feature at Indian Wells is the Callaway Golf Performance Center, one of only nine in the nation – and the only one with two fully outfitted and staffed indoor fitting bays. “The Performance Center, located inside the golf shop, is the most advanced club-fitting and analytical tool in golf, incorporating the same equipment and technology that Callaway Golf uses in club development and club-fitting for their Tour players,” Holder added.

It's pure tranquility near the green of the par five 9th hole.

A final feature you might consider is challenging a lighted, nine-hole natural grass putting course – which is perfect for group outings, corporate team building events or for guests interested in a fun outdoor activity during the day or while enjoying a cool one after dinner.

It’s no secret that a visit to the California desert offers many, many choices on where to play golf – but having visited the ‘new’ Indian Wells Golf Resort, it definitely belongs on the top tier in the region.

Plan to stop there on your next visit – if for nothing else, to see exactly how ‘renovation’ can truly make things new, and better.


Indian Wells Golf Resort’s Players Course
44-500 Indian Wells Lane
Indian Wells, California 92210

Phone: (760) 346-4653
Fax: (760) 340-1035


Course Designer: John Fought
General Manager: Lon Grundy, PGA
Director of Golf: Joe Williams, PGA
Head Golf Professional: Anthony Holder, PGA


Cabernet          7376    75.3/139
Blue                 6913    73.3/134
White              6316    70.6/126          77.6/135 (L)
Platinum          5636    67.7/117          74.0/127 (L)
Red                 5108    71.3/122 (L)


Check the website for rates and tee times -- and book online.

Golf packages are offered through one of four partner hotels:

 Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa
 Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa
 Miramonte Resort & Spa
 Indian Wells Resort Hotel

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