By Judd Spicer
Courtesy of Golf California
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Like its desert cousin Las Vegas, Palm Springs is a destination where the halcyon hunt of drink, dine, dice and, yes, golf exists as the driving pursuits upon one’s agenda.
Despite being new to the Palm Springs’ golf scene, Escena Golf Club is among the locales that genuinely paint the mirthful ideology upon which this playground was framed.
"The interesting thing about the whole place is that it starts with the clubhouse," said John Fitzpatrick, managing director at Escena Golf Club. "It’s not your typical desert clubhouse. You’ve got a host of Tuscan-inspired clubhouses, and we’ve got the mid-century modern design, which speaks to the architectural heritage of Palm Springs."
The clubhouse is indeed among the most sleek in the area and sets a tone for a round of mirrored pleasure.
"We know there are a lot of great golf courses out here, but we want to be different in how we present ourselves," Fitzpatrick added.
Originally debuted in 2005 before financial bogeys forced a two-year closure, Escena reopened in 2009. A segue from clubhouse to course impresses with a look of maturity that belies its newcomer status. Bearded palms line the fairways, and a wash of foliage across 172 acres of property give the feel of a track that’s been present since the days when Sinatra took his desert getaways.
"It’s a nice desert palate," Fitzpatrick said of the ample plantings. "You’ve got lantana and then agave plants for color and variety. The palms have been here awhile, and one of the requirements of the city is to leave them in their native state, so that’s why they’re bearded. It gives the whole landscape a really established look."
Escena Golf Club: Study your approach
The vast landing areas drawn by Nicklaus Design at Escena are wider than the late Bob Hope’s grin, instilling scoring confidence from the box and encouraging fluid pace-of-play.
"With wide, generous fairways, you’re not feeling claustrophobic on any of the tee boxes," Fitzpatrick said.
School of thought varies on the design duty of starting holes, and it’s not uncommon to see a double-take upon recognition that Escena begins with its top handicap at No. 1, a 611-yard par 5 that establishes the look of desert waste areas lining the spacious fairways.
"It’s cool, with that iconic view of the windmills in the backdrop," Rich Enriquez, director of golf operations at Escena, said of the introductory hole. "It lets everybody know, ‘You’re in Palm Springs now and about to experience it dramatically.’"
At 7,200 yards from the tips, Escena is a mesh of muscular par 3s (four of the five play at 200 yards or more) and readily enjoyable par 5s that should even out the scorecard. The real test comes via approaches to bunker or water-guarded putting surfaces that are generally sizeable but oft-tiered, slightly elevated and skinny. Hole placement is a major factor here, and the cerebral player will think twice about consistently playing for pins.
"There’s varying depths to the greens, that’s for sure," said Fitzpatrick. "Depending on the hole design, some are deeper than others. You’ll find longer, skinnier greens for the longer holes."
The first of the three par 5s on the back appears on No. 13, playing a dogleg right at 554 yards. The diminutive, 502-yard 15th is an excellent birdie opportunity for those who avoid water running along the entire left side of the fairway and fronting the green.
No. 18 reads as a fine final chapter, as the 502-yard par 5 offers a convergence of all the pleasures written across these grounds. Desert waste area fronts the box of the home hole, before a wide landing area greets to the right, matched with a creek running along the left.
To reach the elevated green past guarding water is to earn a deserved refreshment upon the nearby patio overlooking a reminder of Palm Springs of yore.
Escena Golf Club: The verdict
Escena Golf Club’s classic Palm Springs’ look combines wide landing areas and a host of playable par 4s and par 5s to make this a most pleasing round.
Approaches to large but skinny greens are testy, so GPS rental will prove helpful, or it’s advised that first-timers inquire about a complementary yardage book given to newcomers.
"Being near the airport, I thought there would be lots of noise," said Gary Duke, a first-time visitor. "I saw lots of planes during the round but didn’t hear a thing."
The close proximity to Palm Springs International Airport proves a positive, as ample guests play upon arrival or prior to departure and make use of the excellent public locker room facilities. The Escena Grill is among the top dining options in the desert, and visitors should, at the very least, enjoy a beverage on the patio.