How Golf Connects Chicago and Palm Springs

Indian-Wells-14Ever since golf first made its way to the Coachella Valley in southern California, Chicagoans have had an impact on its growth and development. Back in 1951 the first 18-hole golf course in the Coachella Valley opened in Rancho Mirage; it was built and owned by ex-Chicagoan, John W. Dawson. In partnership with Milt Hicks, Dawson quickly changed the former, financially strapped, Thunderbird Dude Ranch into a very successful, and desirable, private country club.

Hollywood celebrities flocked there to become part of this new golf community. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were the first to buy homes in 1951; Lucy and Desi Arnaz followed, and within a year all the lots were sold. Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Hoagy Carmichael, Gordon MacRae, Ruby Keeler, Dean Martin, Billie Dove, Esther Williams, Randolph Scott and Mary Pickford all became Palm Springs area residents.

The success of Dawson’s Thunderbird golfing club, and the following meteoric rise of the golf industry in Palm Springs proved Ben Hogan to be wrong when he believed that golf in the California desert would “never make it”. Linking back to his Chicago ‘roots’, Dawson selected Jimmy Hines to become the first golf professional of Thunderbird Ranch and Country Club; Hines brought his entire staff from North Shore Country Club (Glenview) to join himself at Thunderbird.

Years later, another noted head professional from North Shore Country Club, Bill Ogden, would continue the Chicago-Palm Springs connection by spending many winters as golf professional at a handful of famous Coachella Valley clubs, most notably Bermuda Dunes. As a developer, John Dawson went on to design and build the Seven Lakes, El Dorado, and La Quinta Country Clubs. As well as his country clubs, dozens of other country clubs have opened up in California too, creating a golf haven! People from all over the world click here to learn more about the country clubs that are on offer and then venture to California to play. Who wouldn’t want to play golf in the sunny state?

Just recently, Palm Springs hosted the 14th annual Media Golf Classic, which is held each December at prestigious golf destinations throughout the Southwest. Golf writers from across the United States, Canada, and even Iceland participated. Chicago was aptly represented by a group of our own golf writers: Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times, Greg Miles of Chicago Golf Report, Scott Rude representing 120Sports-SI, and Ed Sherman of the Additionally, Wayne Mills, contributor to Chicago District Golfer magazine, and noted former Chicago suburbanites Brian Hewitt and Jeff Rude also attended.

The sunny weather was just perfect over the four-day event at 76 to 81 degrees, with no wind, and the golf writers tested their winter swings at two Pete Dye courses (Westin Mission Hills and PGA West-Stadium Course), one Arnold Palmer course (The Classic Club), and the recently remodeled Indian Wells Golf Resort Celebrity Course by Clive Clark. At dinner after golf in the Indian Wells’ restaurant, former Ryder Cup golfer (opposing GB&I team), turned golf course architect, Clive Clark entertained the writers, then detailed the steps of his re-design of Indian Wells.


As a warm-up for golf on the final two days, Katherine Roberts ( gathered the writers for a yoga clinic before each round. And as a sensational finale, special guest and Coachella Valley resident, Al Geiberger, relayed his memories of the first-ever PGA Tour score of ‘59′ in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle.

As for the future, CareerBuilder, a Chicago based company, which operates, one of the most visited employment websites in the United States, has signed a six-year contract to become the title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s annual tournament in La Quinta, CA. The Career Builder Challenge is the new name of the former Bob Hope Classic tournament.

Scott Easton, managing director of the Career Builder Challenge, informed the golf writers that for 2016 the tournament would utilize three courses in La Quinta. After an absence of twenty-nine years, the tournament will return to PGA-West’s Stadium Course; also in the 2016 rotation will be PGA-West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course and for the 50th year, the La Quinta Country Club course will also be a host site for this tournament.

$29,000 will be the entry fee for each amateur to participate in the tournament. A team of two amateurs will be paired with two different professionals in each of the three competitive rounds, enabling the amateurs to meet and play with six different PGA Tour stars. For those of us golf fans back in Chicago who are ‘financially challenged’ or who are a bit unwilling to pull $30K out of our retirement funds, TV coverage of the CareerBuilder Challenge will be on Thursday, January 21 – Sunday, January 24, 2016, exclusively on The Golf Channel.



Greg Miles

Greg Miles has been a writer following golf in Chicago since 1990. For the past 28 years he has been a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and currently is classified as a GWAA "Life Member". He played his first round of golf on his 11th birthday, and since then has played more than 7,200 rounds of golf in his lifetime at 517 different courses. He has interviewed more than 280 golfers across all the professional tours along with famous celebrity golfers. Additionally, he is a member of several other competitive and honorary golf associations, as well as the Golf Nut Society.

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