Best of the Best 2021: Public Golf Courses

Indian Canyons Golf Resort has been described as “a design from heaven” because of how the course unfolds before the San Jacinto Mountains.

July 28, 2021
Story by Steven Biller
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Former Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre describes the South Course at Indian Canyons Golf Resort as “a design from heaven, with an occasional visit from hell.”

The 6,582-yard layout sports five par 5s, eight getable par 4s, and five par 3s and winds around four ponds and through 850 palm trees, including 500 Washingtonia filifera, the desert’s indigenous “bearded” palm.


Heavenly, Dwyre says, is the way the 18-hole course, operated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, unfolds before the backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Hell is the way those trees challenge players on the course’s top handicap, framing the green on the 512-yard, par 5 third hole. Indian Canyons Golf Resort golfers must approach from just the right position to negotiate the tall palms.


The clubhouse has a pro shop and restaurant.

But later, on the back nine, the water-guarded, 321-yard, par 4 16th hole underscores the playability of the course, offering the same approach shot whether your hit 250 or 180 yards off the tee.

Billy Bell designed the South and North courses at Indian Canyons Golf Resort in the early 1960s, when it was known as Canyon Country Club, and Casey O’Callaghan — with the help of LPGA legend Amy Alcott — redesigned the South in 2003, completely reversing the original layout: Today’s 18th green was the original first tee.

O’Callaghan later explained, “I approached the project to create a beautiful resort-style, golfer-friendly course; to create an oasis character and feel throughout … to maximize dramatic views … and to create two dramatic finishing holes.”

When the tribe temporarily closed the course in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the main greenskeeper, Jason Brewer, used the time to freshen the fairways, sand traps, and greens, making them “as close to country-club special as you can get at a place that, in a good year, hosts 41,000 rounds,” according to Dwyre.

Golfers also enjoy lunch, dinner, and drinks in the clubhouse while taking in views of the surrounding San Jacintos.— S.B.


Winners Voted by Our Readers

Desert Hot Springs

Mission Lakes Country Club

Low-handicap golfers come to to conquer four of the toughest finishing holes in the Coachella Valley and take in the elevated (1,500 feet) views of the Coachella Valley, especially the snow-capped north face of Mount San Jacinto.

Cathedral City

Cimarron Golf Resort

The 6,782-yard-long Boulder Course offers four sets of tees to accommodate players of all abilities, while the 3,020-yard Pebble Course is popular with couples and juniors.

Rancho Mirage

Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa

Set among rolling hills with panoramic mountain views, this 6,706-yard layout by legendary golf course designer Pete Dye has four par 3s, 12 par 4s, and two par 5s, and features railroad tie borders around the tee boxes and ponds.

Palm Desert

Desert Willow Golf Resort

The Mountain View and Firecliff courses, both designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, offer beautiful layouts, fast greens, and a number of bunkers for tough but fair challenges along the way.

Indian Wells

Indian Wells Golf Resort

We see why Golfweek magazine named the two Ted Robinson-designed layouts at Indian Wells Golf Resort among the top 25 Best Municipal Courses in the United States. Golfers would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful public course or amenities, which include a luxurious two-story clubhouse with an excellent restaurant and bar.

La Quinta

SilverRock Resort

The 7,578-yard Arnold Palmer Classic Course at the picturesque Silver Rock Resort sprawls across 200 acres, challenging players with massive bunkers, shimmering water features, and several holes bordering the Santa Rosa Mountains. After a round, players enjoy the clubhouse situated in a former working-ranch hacienda built by Howard Ahmanson of Home Savings & Loan fame.


The Lights at Indio Golf Course

The only night-lighted course in the Coachella Valley, The Lights at Indio GC is an easy, fast-moving layout with no bunkers and few places to lose your ball in the water. Golfers of all skill levels can enjoy one of the longest par 3 layouts in the country.