Indian Wells Golf Resort's Celebrity Course -- What a 'Muni' Course Should Look Like

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeff Janas

INDIAN WELLS, CA – “It’s akin to letting a climber believe he has scaled Everest, whereas in reality he has conquered the foothills of Tibet...!” exclaimed Clive Clark, in describing what it’s like to design a course that looks really tough but plays quite a bit tamer.

Clark was enthusiastically referencing his work on the Celebrity Course at Indian Wells Golf Resort, a “municipal” course in fact, but hardly in style. Play this layout once and you’ll be heading back to your local planning board to ask why every public course doesn’t look like this.

The Celebrity Course opened in November of 2006 after eleven months of construction, a pretty remarkable feat considering the property’s impressive water features and mature, flowering greenery. Golf fans probably know the Celebrity Course from its hosting of the LG Skins Game in 2007 and 2008, as well as Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series, which aired in 2011 (the show also included the Players Course).

Plush playing conditions are the norm at Indian Wells Golf Resort. Here, the green of the par four 3rd hole.

If you’re also thinking, ‘that’s not the course I remembered at Indian Wells from all those years ago,’ your instincts are correct. The original Ted Robinson-designed layouts were completely replaced.

Clark shares the story. “The brief from The City of IW was to design a golf course of world class standard that would be in line with many of the best private courses in the Coachella Valley, and the City had applications from around 40 golf architects. They drew up a short list of 12 and the invitees submitted a 25-page report which included all aspects of how each architect would go about renovating the existing golf courses (the East and the West).”

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“Following the submissions, a further short list of 6 architects were selected and had to present their ideas during an hour-and-a-half interview with representatives from the City. I was fortunate enough to gain the contract to renovate the West course, now called ‘The Celebrity Course.’”

But the end result was no renovation.

Looking from the tee of the par four 13th hole, you would think hazards are everywhere. Actually, there is plenty of room.

Again, Clark explains. “The City planned a very reasonable budget to renovate the existing West course. That was the brief. However, looking at the plans in the office, it occurred to me that we could possibly come up with a totally new routing plan which would take best advantage of the very established trees, thus coming up with an entirely new golf course.”

Clark continues, “I started a new layout for the front nine, which worked. None of the existing holes remained – it would be a brand new nine! At this point I had a good idea that the same would certainly work for the back nine, as we had a brand new 35-acre piece of ground adjacent to the existing course which we could use.”

The challenging 442-yard, par four 9th hole concludes the outward nine.

“To cut a long story short, I took this concept to the City. It was a question of improving what was already there, OR treating the existing course as ‘a site’ and building a totally new golf course. The City liked my plan and although the cost was substantially more, so would be the benefits.”

Indeed, the only holes that stayed within the same corridors were numbers ten, eleven and eighteen. As to the last hole, Clark joked “they would not move the hotel for me!!”

Mountains make for a beautiful backdrop to the par four 10th hole.

No, the hotel couldn’t be moved – but all things considered, it was pretty remarkable that the City of Indian Wells was willing to devote the substantial resources needed to build new golf courses. It should be noted that the Players Course (designed by John Fought) was also completely redone.

The investment truly has paid off.  Clark says there are over 8000 public golf courses in America and Golfweek magazine voted the Celebrity Course in the Top Six municipal/public courses in the country (alongside such famous US Open venues as Torrey Pines, The Black Course at Beth Page, and Chambers Bay).

The 487-yard, par four 5th is the #1 handicap hole.

That’s pretty sound company. Clearly, an example for the rest of the country.

As hinted at above, The Celebrity Course’s spectacular looks create the illusion that it’s a brutally tough challenge. Well, it can be – the tips (Cabernet tees) stretch out to 7050 yards and offer a slope of 138 – which is more than enough for most folks.

Take a shot at driving the green of the short par four 12th hole.

Adding to the difficulty, thirteen holes have water hazards and a number of others have fairly narrow fairway corridors. Finally, the greens are undulating (with some potentially tricky placements) and at times are difficult to read.

In contrast, Celebrity’s White tees come in at 6012 yards and a slope of 124, reducing the difficulty considerably for resort or occasional players.

Challenge the bunker on the right-side of the fairway to shorten the par four 17th hole.

The Celebrity Course’s beauty and playability is built-in – but it didn’t necessarily come naturally. “Normally in the desert (Coachella Valley), to build a new golf course, one starts from scratch, usually on a flat piece of desert with no useful vegetation. That allows the architect to move a substantial amount of dirt to wherever you wish it to go,” Clark elaborated.

“But at Indian Wells, we inherited a 20-year-old golf course with large, established trees and some of the eucalyptus reached heights of nearly 50 feet. Intertwining the new layout over the old course had terrific benefits, but unlike a new golf course on a flat piece of desert, there is less grading flexibility due to the location of the existing trees.”

Flowers are in abundance on the Celebrity Course.

One thing Clark didn’t have to deal with was real estate. Both of Indian Wells’ courses are basically “core” golf courses without neighbors – somewhat of a rarity in the desert.

Both courses also have small areas designated as Indian Burial Grounds. Some artifacts were discovered on the property during construction, and the resort asks golfers to avoid those areas (they are designated as free drop zones with no penalty).

A pond in front of the green of the par five 4th hole will scare many players into laying-up on the second shot.

The Burial Grounds obviously add to the uniqueness of the property, but what makes the Celebrity Course really stand out is the vibrant color of the landscaping – and the relaxing quality of the resort. “I look at it this way – playing a round of golf is an experience...I want the courses I design to inspire golfers to play good golf, not to penalize them. I don’t want them to feel beaten up when they come off the course!”

“Therefore, I don’t want to intimidate the club golfer, but equally I want to add a great deal of interest, playing options and ‘risk and reward’ shots, such that the golfer has to think as well as execute,” Clark said.

The par five 14th hole provides many risk-reward options.

Hole highlights are many on the Celebrity Course, but Michael Tebbetts, Director of Sales and Marketing at Indian Wells Golf Resort, describes some of the locals’ favorites:

Hole # 4, 501 Yards, Par 5
“The fourth hole is the first of what is considered the ‘heart’ of the front nine – holes 4,5, 6 and 7 - where the experience intensifies. The Tiger’s line is down the right, taking on a nest of bunkers and a lone pine. For the more conservative player, a gigantic landing area is located to the left. But beware, the further left one goes, the more a bank of trees comes into play on the second shot.”

The well-bunkered tee shot landing area on the par four 8th hole demands precision and wise club-selection.

“Having played a heroic drive, the long-hitter is faced with a major decision. The second shot sets up similarly to Augusta’s 15th: water sits in front of the green framing a true risk/reward scenario from every point of view.”

Hole # 5, 487 Yards, Par 4
“Although the 5th hole is a Par 4, its 487-yard length effectively makes it a short Par 5 in disguise. Club golfers will be relieved to know that the one-up tee is situated some 60 yards forward of the back tees. A safe tee shot that carries over a lake will yield a dramatic view to an unusual green site: short left and short right are guarded by two huge Eucalyptus trees. The green nestles into a cradle which contains beautifully shaped bunkers.”

On the tee of the 18th hole, you will no doubt be planning your next visit to Indian Wells Golf Resort.

“Though it’s like selecting a favorite child, Clive Clark – under pressure – eventually conceded that this, in his opinion, was the best hole on the front nine.”

Hole # 14, 519 Yards, Par 5
“Set against the scenic backdrop of Eisenhower Mountain, Clive Clark considers No. 14 as the most entertaining hole on the golf course. The tee shot landing area is fairly generous, but once there, risk-reward decisions must be made. A waterfall tumbles down the right side of the green complex and empties into a lake. From the lake, a creek meanders across the fairway into the layup landing zone. A lay-up short that avoids the stream will result in a 150-yard approach to a large putting surface.”

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“Those who feel a little more adventurous may go for it in two, but a push right is dead in the lake. As the last reachable par 5 on the golf course, No. 14 may just figure prominently into the results of the competition.”

Hole # 17, 438 Yards, Par 4
“The 17th is set up to be a pivotal hole down the stretch. It’s a good length par 4 dogleg right, which again features the Eisenhower Mountain. There is water and a babbling brook and waterfall framing the green on the right.”

“For those using long irons and woods for the approach, the left apron area becomes player-friendly and allows the player to reach the green without taking on the water and bunkers to the center and right of the green.”

Supplementing the golf, Indian Wells Golf Resort offers an impressive list of amenities. First and foremost is the Callaway performance center, which provides tour quality club-fitting in the golf shop.

“Then there’s a 9-hole lighted putting course--in case the game ended in a tie or you have some non-golfers who want to join in the fun. We also have the award winning restaurant on the second floor, Vue Grille and Bar, and multiple indoor and outdoor venues available for group parties, weddings, etc.” Tebbetts explained.

Lastly, we were quite impressed with the service operation at Indian Wells, which was friendly and helpful in every way. As an example, I left my cell phone at the practice range during warm-up, and the staff personally tracked me down to return it. Very much appreciated.

Deservedly so, Clark gets the final word. “The City of Indian Wells were great to work with and gave us every assistance and opportunity to build a wonderful golf course that would stand out because of its playability, strategy and water features, including many waterfalls and babbling brooks which we were able to enhance with magnificent floral landscape, all set against the backdrop of the Eisenhower and Santa Rosa mountain range.”

Be sure and add Indian Wells to your itinerary for your next visit to the Coachella Valley.

Note: The Celebrity Course plays to a par of 72, but there is only one par three and one par five on each nine – a very rare configuration, at least for an American course.


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

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


Course Designer: Clive Clark
General Manager: Steve Rosen, PGA
Director of Golf: Joe Williams, PGA
Head Golf Professional: Tom Burley, PGA


Cabernet          7050    74.2/138
Blue                 6642    72.5/132
Yellow              6339    71.0/127
White              6012    69.3/124          75.6/137 (L)
Red                 5280    71.7/128 (L)


Rates vary by season, from a low of $75 during the summer to $195 in high season. In partnership with the four Indian Wells Hotels, every golf package is an unlimited golf package.


Walking is allowed at any time.

Indian Wells just finished construction of a 5800 square foot facility between the first tees of the Celebrity and Players courses -- the Pavilion. Glass on three sides, this venue is perfect for large golf groups, weddings and groups of up to 400 people.


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