The combination of Eisenhower and golf became powerful marketing tools for the Coachella Valley after that initial trip.
Daniela Franco/The Desert Sun
Everyone knows that the Coachella Valley golf scene is about high-end private golf clubs, sparkling golf resorts and public golf courses that are capable of hosting professional golf events.
Well, maybe that’s not as true as you might think.
When you get behind some of the smaller, gated communities built specifically around golf in the desert, you see a world that is a long way from the PGA Tour or massive clubhouses or multi-million dollar homes. You see people who are in the desert and at their golf course for fun, camaraderie and a chance to live in the glorious winter weather of the desert.
A recent charity golf tournament at Seven Lakes Country Club in Palm Springs was a perfect example. Most people, even most golfers in the desert, may not know that Seven Lakes even exists. It is tucked away off Gene Autry Trail between the wash to the north and the Parker Palm Springs hotel in Palm Springs to the south, with none of the holes visible from outside the gates.
The tournament was the 50th anniversary of former President Dwight Eisenhower’s only hole in one, scored on the 13th hole at Seven Lakes on Feb. 6, 1968. A monument to the moment is next to the 13th tee, and money raised from the event went to the Lucy Curci Cancer Center at Eisenhower Medical Center.
The event offered a glimpse inside the gates of Seven Lakes, one of numerous courses that aren’t necessarily on many golfer’s radar in the desert. Par-3 courses and executive courses, like the one at Seven Lakes, somehow fall through the cracks when people talk about great desert layouts. Most visitors, snowbirds and even potential new residents to the desert gravitate toward 18-hole regulation layouts, or maybe to facilities with two or three courses to play.
But the folks who are members at Seven Lakes – and I’m sure this is true at similar courses around the Coachella Valley – seem more than content with their courses, their clubs and their homes. Opened in 1965 and developed in part by desert icon Johnny Dawson, Seven Lakes is just over 2,700 yards for 14 par-3s, four par-4s and seven man-made lakes. The course is surrounded by single-story condos (there are a few two-story buildings at the western edge of the property), many of which were built in the 1960s. Standing on the early holes of the back nine at Seven Lakes looking up at Bob Hope’s old house in the southern hills, you get a pretty good idea of what old Palm Springs must have been like.
The course will never be known for bringing golfers to their knees, but with double-cut greens for the Eisenhower event, even the par-3s under 120 yards had teeth. But the key to the event was the fun and social atmosphere, something that a course like Seven Lakes embraces. Members played in the tournament, volunteered for the tournament, attended a post-round lunch and even a dinner the night before. They talked, joked, laughed, compared scores and generally did things that an old-style private club was known for. The members at Seven Lakes are members for the lifestyle, not the prestige or the honor or the demands of the golf course. Playing golf and not being beaten up by their own course is part of that lifestyle.
That’s not to say the smaller, older clubs don’t face some of the same concerns as bigger, better-known clubs — issues that include declining membership or the challenges of finding new members. But if you don’t know much about the depth of golf in the desert, you might pass over a course like Seven Lakes or courses like Chaparral, Oasis, Marrakesh, Sunrise or any numbers of smaller, private clubs with shorter courses.
It’s important to remember that these courses with their 1,400-square-foot condos and snowbird memberships are a vital part of the desert golf world. And it’s important to remember that it is golf in the desert that has led the members to such courses and to what seems to be a pretty good life of golf.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan.