A Classic Combo

The Classic Club is more than just another addition to the desert’s roster of golf courses.

For one thing, this expansive layout burst on the scene wrapped in instant credibility — as the host course for this year’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. It is the only tournament-owned course on the PGA Tour.

It also represents a different breed as desert courses go. Spread across 246 acres on the north side of Interstate 10 in the outer reaches of Palm Desert, this is a course with no palm trees. Filling that void are some 4,800 other trees and plants. Spacious, sculptured fairways and 30 acres of lakes and streams add serenity to this 18-hole, par-72, Arnold Palmer-designed
project. There also is minimal adjacent residential development. Only four holes will have housing units within a tee shot.
“This is a more traditional kind of course with a lot of pine trees. And you play 18 holes without going through neighborhoods,” says Marc Aulerich, the course’s general manager. “The course has a lot of contouring [more than five million cubic yards of dirt were moved during construction] and it will be a great course for tournament galleries because of vantage points. In one spot, you can see the 11th, 12th and 13th holes. Basically, they’ve taken a flat piece of land, carved it, and turned it into something special. There’s a lot of grass out there.”

A public course, the Classic Club was built by the valley’s ultra-benevolent H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, then donated to the Hope Classic’s parent organization as a way to benefit the foundation’s charitable giving throughout the valley. Construction began in 2004 and was completed in October — except for a 63,000-square-foot clubhouse that won’t be ready until this fall.  Other than early limited play by VIPs, the course debuts during the 2006 Hope event, scheduled Jan. 16-22. Public play is scheduled to get under way following the tournament.

The course still was taking shape when the foundation’s board of directors voted to donate the land and the course to the tournament organization, according to Chris McGuire, foundation vice president of programs, who characterized it as an easy
decision for this organization founded 44 years ago to “help people help themselves.”

“We felt it was a nice thing to do for them; something that hopefully would serve the foundation and community charities for many years,” says McGuire, noting the tournament’s track record in increasing its annual donations to a level that exceeds $1.5 million. “We envisioned it as an additional boost, that it would perpetuate the giving and even increase the amount. The tournament benefits many charities.”

Bob Hope Chrysler Classic Assistant Tournament Chairman John Foster says it was “highly rewarding to work with the Berger Foundation.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the tournament,” says Foster. “It gives it a home. We always were guests at the courses before.”

Berger Vice President of Real Estate Doug Vance notes that the course was designed and constructed to maximize 360-degree vistas. There are unobstructed views of the mountains north of the course because the adjacent land is a preserve for the fringe-toed lizard.

“The experience of golf here, from a player’s or spectator’s perspective, will be completely new,” says McGuire. “This will be, by far, the best spectator viewing for tournament play of any course in the valley.”

As host course for this year’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, The Classic Club joins La Quinta Country Club, Bermuda Dunes Country Club and PGA West’s Arnold Palmer Private Course in the rotation.

Palmer, a legendary tour player who now has a company that designs courses, described the Classic this way: “It is challenging enough for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, yet enjoyable for valley residents and visitors. It gives golfers a unique visual setting with an abundance of water and the feel of a pine forest.”

Aulerich and Foster term it a “very playable and fair course for average golfers.”

It stretches to 7,305 yards from the back tees and has water features on 13 holes and numerous fairway doglegs. Waterfalls, 150 acres of various types of turf,14 natural-stone bridges, white sand traps, and mature landscaping add to the course’s natural aesthetics.

“We will have high standards of service across the board,” says Aulerich. “Caddies, valeting of vehicles. We want to set a standard rather than follow one. There always will be public play, but there will not be twilight rounds [with reduced rates]. It’s not that kind of marketplace. We think people who watch the tournament will want to play the course because of that sense of memory.”

Foster says the course’s scale is up to two times larger than a normal course. “It’s 18 holes laid out on a design for 27 or 36,” he says, “It’s a strong course with imposing size, but with lots of tees. We’re looking for an image for the tournament and this does so much for us. This is a public-access course with the amenities of the best of private clubs in our area. It will be exciting for the general public to hit shots that they have seen during the Hope tournament.” 

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