Local histories are often charming, well-written – and only of interest to residents of the local area about which they are written. But when the local area being written about is a world-renowned golf destination, not to mention a well-known playground of stars from the worlds of entertainment and politics, and the book is authored by a longtime area newsman possessed of a deep knowledge of the game of golf and a keen interest in local history, the book takes on a wider appeal.
Palm Springs Golf – A History of Coachella Valley Legends and Fairways is just such a book. Authored by Larry Bohannan, the award-winning golf writer and columnist for the Coachella Valley region’s Desert Sun newspaper, Palm Springs Golf is a complete history of the evolution of the Palm Springs, California, region from sleepy desert hideaway to dynamic vacation destination – all through the power of the game of golf.
Bohannan’s prose, fashioned by a writer who has been honing his craft since 1982, brings the history of the Coachella Valley alive for the reader. From the first chapter, in which the reader will learn a bit of the earliest history of the Coachella Valley; to the last, in which the state of the region’s world-famous golf resorts and renowned professional tournaments, in the present day and beyond, is detailed, the author faithfully chronicles the people, places, and events that made the region what it is today.
It is the presence of high-quality resort golf and top-level professional and amateur golf competition which has, in large part, forged the region’s identity as a wintertime resort destination. Television coverage of golf competitions being played under sunny skies in shirt-sleeve conditions while much of the rest of the country is shivering in frigid temperatures and shoveling snow off the doorstep has for decades been some of the best advertisement the business and development communities in the Palm Springs area could hope for.
Even before the advent of televised sports coverage, the ability to play golf in sunny conditions in wintertime was a draw the Coachella Valley business leaders exploited. From nine-hole courses associated with the early resorts such as the Hotel La Quinta and the Desert Inn of the 1920s, to the full 18-hole courses of the 1950s built at the Thunderbird Country Club (the first in the area, in 1951), Tamarisk, Indian Wells, and many, many others, golf and the beautiful winter climate brought everyone from movie stars to presidents to the desert.
Golf competitions are a big part of the Palm Springs story which Bohannan relates in the book. Early amateur competitions were draws for top golfers (and enthusiastic vacationing golf fans), and professional competitions followed. The Coachella Valley’s best-known pro tournament has for decades been the star-studded Bob Hope Desert Classic (known by different names over the years as sponsorship changed) and it was joined by a variety of smaller, shorter-lived made-for-TV events such as the CBS Matchplay Classic and The Skins Game. And not only was golf good for the desert, but the desert was good for golf – two visits to the Palm Springs area by the international Ryder Cup competition, in 1955 and 1959, were instrumental in raising the profile of that event from that of an obscure USA vs GBI trophy event to the important position in the international sporting calendar which it now enjoys.
Women’s golf has long been a part of the desert scene, and author Bohannan gives the distaff game its fair share of attention in the book. The Colgate Dinah Shore Classic, played at Mission Hills Country Club, became a major event on the LPGA schedule, and remains so to this day in its current incarnation as the ANA Inspiration.
From early settlers and quaint, practically home-made courses built alongside the early resort hotels to the seemingly countless number of resort and country club courses which carpet the valley floor; from everyday folks looking for a respite from the crowding of the Los Angeles Basin or the frigid wintertime conditions of the East and Midwest to the movie stars and political figures (including presidents from Eisenhower to Obama) who added a tinge of glamour to Palm Springs, the story of the Coachella Valley golf scene is more than just a local success story. Larry Bohannan’s book lays out the fascinating history of this world-famous golf destination in a diligently researched, well-written account that every golf fan who has ever visited the area (or dreamed of it while shivering through a frigid East Coast winter) will want to read.
Palm Springs Golf is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and if you are lucky enough to be visiting the region already, at pro shops in the area.