INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Where there was once Hope is now the Humana Challenge. Gone are most of the big name celebrities who used to play in the this event when it was the Bob Hope Classic for the better part of a half century. But the PGA Tour's Humana Challenge and the Palm Springs area, which also has the LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Championship, has moved on, perhaps much of it for the better.
Now the emphasis -- with Humana as the title sponsor, and the Bill Clinton Foundation as its partner – is health and well-being, and I can't think of a better place to find both. (The former president has been here all week in support of the tournament and his foundation.) Incredible mountain views, pure blue skies and spa resorts around every corner make this the perfect setting for rest and relaxation. And if you're like many golf fans spending the week out here for the Humana Challenge, you're going to do more than just watch, you've got to play golf as well. With more than 100 really cool courses in the area, this is golf Nirvana.
That's certainly been the case for me this week. With temperatures soaring into the 80s, the deep freeze that engulfed most of the rest of the country seems like a bad dream. My sampling this week has included courses that were once part of the Hope and some that could be. Yesterday, it was the SilverRock Resort in La Quinta, which is right next to where the Humana Challenge is taking place this week at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club.
Arnold Palmer's Classic Course at SilverRock was in the rotation for the tour event from 2008-2011, and while the PGA Tour pros ate it up, it's perfect for the golfers who live here or visit in the winter because it's not overly difficult, unless you tip it at 7,578 yards. Wide fairways and big greens make it very playable, but plenty of water and large bunkers provide challenge.
Not to be confused, another former Hope course, the Classic Club, was also on the agenda. Designed by Palmer as well, you might be surprised to find out that the Classic Club is non-profit, meaning the green fees aren't always exorbitant.
Along with the golf, of course, are the resorts, and there are no shortage of ways to relax. I've been staying this week at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa, which is next to two anything-but-typical municipal golf courses – the Players and Celebrity courses, which are owned by the city of Indian Wells. The courses, designed by John Fought and Clive Clark respectively, are simply fun, and the Celebrity Course is exceptionally stunning.
The resort is everything you might expect from a Hyatt Regency and then some, including the Agave Sunset Bar, where you sample some of the best tequilas in the world, and the Agua Serena Spa, where you can get an "athletic restoration" massage treatment (translation: kneading, prodding, and stretching for those who are trying to recover from the bad shots of the day). If you’re not into that, though, no worries: Swedish massages and facials are on the menu, too.
Golf is just one form of recreation here. This is also a tennis mecca. I took a tour this week of the incredible Indian Wells Tennis Garden next door. Home of the BNP Paribas Open, which is held in March, it attracts all the top players in the world. The Tennis Garden has added a new Stadium 2, which holds 8,000 to go with Stadium 1 (16,600). Restaurants, beer gardens, giant TV screens and huge merchandising areas rival anything in professional golf.
The tour, however, was just one of the non-golf highlights of my week here. Yesterday after golf I managed to get a tennis lesson from former Davis Cup captain and player Tom Gorman over at La Quinta Resort. (Gorman and Stan Smith made tennis big-time in the Coachella Valley when they opened the La Quinta tennis center in 1980.) And there's more tennis, including grass and red clay courts -- at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, as well as two Ted Robinson resort courses that were recently overhauled. Again, those courses are great examples of Palm Springs area golf – perfect course conditions, spectacular scenery and golf that doesn't beat you up.
Here's more fun stuff: The Palm Springs Aerial Tram will take you from temperatures in the 80s to the top of the mountains at 8,000 feet and freezing conditions. (There's often snow on top of the mountains here in winter). Jeep excursions, hot air ballooning, hiking, biking and shopping can fill in the rest of your schedule. And there is no shortage of great restaurants and night clubs. This week, I've had the chance to sample several excellent eateries this week, including great breakfasts at the Hyatt and Marriott and dinner at the famous Wally's Desert Turtle in Rancho Mirage and 6.5 acre Jackalope Ranch in Indio for dinner. As for a nightcap, check out The Nest in Indian Wells near the Hyatt. It caters to the older, middle and younger dance crowd respectively as the night turns toward dawn.