Where I played: Indian Wells Golf Resort boasts stunning vistas and an abundance of fun

Indian Wells Golf Resort

A beautiful approach awaits at Indian Wells' Celebrity course.

Jessica Marksbury

The glory of October in the California desert may not be a well-kept secret, but it sure felt that way when I visited.

The seasonal crowds had not yet returned, and the vibe was relaxed. The temperature was an ideal 90 degrees. That may sound hot to people who live in colder climates, but in the desert, it’s perfect. Warm enough to coax you into the pool but not so hot you’re sweating. The best!

I took a weekend jaunt from my home desert in Phoenix to my original hometown desert in California to spend two days at Indian Wells Golf Resort in October, where I stayed in a two-bedroom villa at the onsite Hyatt. While there, I was lucky enough to snag the first tee time of the day at the Indian Wells Golf Resort’s Celebrity course, one of two courses on the property, and for the first time ever, I played a solo round.

Strange but true! My plans to play with my husband fell through, as work commitments kept him from making the drive. But the kids were on fall break, and postponing the stay wasn’t an option. So my mom graciously accompanied me on the trip and stayed back with the kids in the room while I embarked upon what I hoped would be a Zen-like golf experience by myself.

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The sun hadn’t yet come up over the mountain when I quietly left our villa. It was one-layer weather, even at 6:15 in the morning. Shuttles are abundant at the resort, but it was a quick 10-minute hike on foot to the course, so I decided to hoof it. The Pro Shop was brightly lit and stocked with lots of cool merchandise. Check-in was easy, and I opted to head straight to the tee. Who needs a warm-up at 6 a.m., right?

I grew up about an hour west of Indian Wells, so playing desert golf always gives me a happy, familiar feeling. Approaching the first tee brought back a wave of nostalgia for my younger years, when I played a lot of summer junior golf tournaments in the desert. The Celebrity course was designed by Clive Clark and opened in 2006, while its sibling, the John Fought-designed Players course, opened in 2007, so the courses were never a part of my childhood rota.

Needless to say, I was excited to get going. At 6:48 a.m., I managed to get the ball in play off the first tee with an audience of one, the starter, though the jury is still out on whether or not he was watching, since I jetted ahead of his post to the green tee. But I was off! And so were my sleeves, after just one hole. The weather was absolutely perfect. Warm, no wind. The nearly-full moon was still visible for the first third of my round before it dipped behind the Santa Rosa mountains. Simply stunning!

Indian Wells Celebrity course
A beautiful October moon at Indian Wells’ Celebrity course. Jessica Marksbury

One thing I really appreciated about the Celebrity course was its tee options. There are six to choose from, ranging from 7,000+ yards from the tips to 5,280 from the reds. The greens played to 5,601 — a nice yardage for me. You can’t always find that kind of accommodation, as lots of courses like to go straight from the 5,100 range to 6,000, which is a bit too long for me.

Zipping around as a single without anyone ahead of me was an incredible feeling. It took a few holes to reach the maintenance team, but playing through was easy.

One thing I have always loved about resort golf is its playability. The Celebrity course is no exception. There are obstacles — plenty of bunkers and water to navigate — but it feels just challenging enough, not a torture-fest. I lost three balls to water hazards and basic blind-shot ignorance (the par-4 13th has reachable water to the right of the green — oops), but the course was otherwise immensely playable.

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Though the Celebrity course is a par-72, it’s unique in its inclusion of only two par 5s and two par 3s. The fairways were lush — firm and beautifully maintained, and the green speeds were just right. There’s a lot of beauty to enjoy, from the lushly landscaped surrounds to multiple water features. There’s loads of shot variety, and risk/reward opportunity, like the drivable par-4 12th. A few other highlights: The par-4 3rd offers a beautiful vista of the Santa Rosa mountains to enjoy, especially on the approach. The par-5 14th hole is a signature hole, with a meandering creek that demands a strategic forced carry to the green, and on the par-3 16th, you’re greeted by a gorgeous waterfall to the right of the green. The par-4 18th is a tough closer that requires not one but two carries over water.

I didn’t rush, but I still finished my round at 8:30 — clocking in at about an hour and 40 minutes. How exhilarating! Maybe there’s something to this crack-of-dawn tee time, solo-golf thing. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.