The Unique History of Indian Canyons Golf Resort
Indian Canyons Golf Resort originally opened in 1961 as Canyon Country Club. At the time, its location at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains was nothing more than a vast expanse of sand.
In the early 1960s, Palm Springs was considered mostly just a winter getaway and in the summer it became a ghost town. The nearby airport had only a small terminal with no major airlines coming in and Route 10 only passed through Redlands, making it over a three-hour drive from LA.
The club, being one of the first developments in the area, was considered too far off the beaten path to draw many members at first. This began to change, however, when the club formed a partnership with the Palm Springs Racquet Club, a popular weekend destination founded in 1934 by actors Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy.
Soon after the partnership deal was struck, celebrities began to flood the club, as it was the only 18-hole golf course in Palm Springs at the time. The only other course in the area, the first ever to be developed in Palm Springs, was a nine-hole layout. Bob Hope and Jack Benny frequently graced the fairways and they even bought homes in Palm Springs. As did Walt Disney, who purchased properties along the second hole of the North Course and donated a copper fountain to the club that still serves as a major showpiece between the 9th and 18th holes.
The club’s membership soon started to look like the guest list of an exclusive Hollywood premier. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason, and Milton Berle were all regulars. It wasn’t just celebrities that frequented the course either, politicians were also known to stop by for a round. For these high-profile guests, which included Lyndon B. Johnson, Spiro Agnew, and Gerald Ford, there was a special red phone that was directly connected to the White House in case a situation more important than their game arose. Then-governor Ronald Reagan would sometimes reach for the phone, an indication of things to come perhaps.
One of the biggest tournaments held during the early years of the club was the Frank Sinatra Invitational, which drew a vast array of some of the most well known celebrities and athletes of the time. Sinatra always held a close connection with the club and its general manager Jack Quigley, who he would send a private plane for Sinatra when he was doing shows in Las Vegas.
Despite its popularity amongst movie stars and politicians, the club was still having a difficult time keeping up a permanent membership. It was still considered out of the way and if you asked people in downtown Palm Springs where the club was, they would often have no idea since it was almost hidden back in the canyon. Its location may have made it hard to find but it also sheltered the courses from the wind, which blows strongly throughout the year. It may be remote but the location was highly coveted for this reason. When the club was in its initial development stages, the name “Wind Free” was even thrown around.
What eventually led to the now ever-growing membership was the club’s innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. The club boasted many firsts including early-morning tee times and mandatory shotgun starts on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Soon, they were teeing off more than 100 players on those mornings. It became a popular club amongst the ladies as well, they even hosted a regular women’s invitational called the Ladies’ Can-Can that drew southern California’s finest women players.
The North Course was the club’s original layout before the South Course was later added across the street. Building on its existing popularity among women players, LPGA Hall of Famer Amy Alcott was brought in as a design consultant to Casey O’Callaghan during the 2004 renovation of the South Course. Both courses offer challenging rounds with stunning mountain vistas that are completely sheltered from the wind but they are also distinctly unique from one another. Despite the name change, Indian Canyon stays true to its roots and continues to offer one of the greater Palm Springs area’s best golfing experiences.