Toscana is a golf venue with lots to offer, like many of its brethren in the Coachella Valley. But the Indian Wells property, with its recently finalized 36 holes of challenge and torture, has that something extra. Call it the cherry atop the hot fudge sundae.
The cherry’s name is Bill Harmon.
Harmon has been there since the day Toscana opened in 2004, and his surname quickly conjures up the game of golf. His father was the famed Claude Harmon, who walked and played in the company of the likes of Ben Hogan, and who won the Masters as a club pro in 1948. All three of Bill’s brothers were (or are) renowned teachers, including celebrity instructor Butch Harmon, who has worked with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, among others.
But Bill Harmon has his own renown, especially in the Coachella Valley, where he has made his home since Claude became the club pro at Thunderbird in 1959. He teaches the game in the direct and simple way his father taught him, and he does so with a friendly and self-effacing approach somewhat uncommon among his peers.
He offers a reporter a golf lesson.
“Come on out, any time,” he says, “and I’ll screw up your swing in 10 minutes.”
Toscana is relatively new to the desert. Its November opening of the final nine holes of the North Course further boosts its prestige.
“Our rounds are up about 10 percent since we opened it,” says Dave Craig, Toscana’s director of golf. “And 55 to 60 percent of the rounds are now going onto that North Course. Members are proud of it, and they are bringing their guests to show them.”
The desert’s valley is an established golf world, and new courses — or even new additions to courses — are rare.
Part of Toscana’s buzz is that the North Course is so unlike the South. The addition completes a layout that is more desertlike. The South, as head pro Tucker Campbell calls it, is “wall-to-wall grass.” That gives members and their guests nice options when reserving a tee time.
Jack Nicklaus designed both courses, and Craig says he was impressed by the follow-through of the golfing superstar and busy course designer.
“I was amazed at how much attention Jack paid to completing something he had started more than 10 years ago,” Craig says.
The Bill Harmon Performance Center opened at the same time as the final nine holes of the Nicklaus North and is at the far end of Toscana’s driving range. If you can drive it about 520 yards, you can roll a shot right onto Harmon’s training carpet.
“I never was the kind of guy who thought much about having his name on a building,” says Harmon, who is 67, still works six days a week and professes to be old school when it comes to golf. He admits to being amazed at how well the technical bells and whistles of his training center have been received.
Part of Toscana’s buzz
is that the North Course
is so unlike the South.
The addition completes a layout
that is more desertlike.
“Everybody is now a product of the information age,” Harmon says. “All my students like the technology. So I tell myself, why fight it?”
Harmon spends most of his time in a techie-teaching world where a computer will track everything from swing speed, impact speed, and ball-flight tendency to whether your golf shoes are too tight. Want to compare your swing to Freddie Couples? Push a button. Want to see why your putts roll left of the cup? Push a button.
Want to see why every drive you hit seems to get shorter and shorter? Consult an actuarial table. Harmon will chuckle, and help you with the travails of aging, too.
To Harmon’s amusement, one of his least-techie students is also his most-famous one, tour star Bill Haas. Haas, the son of tour veteran and current Champions Tour star Jay Haas, won the 2011 FedEx Cup and its accompanying $10 million, as well as the 2010 Bob Hope Classic at La Quinta, the 2012 Northern Trust Open at Riviera, and the 2015 Humana Challenge (formerly the Bob Hope, but still at La Quinta, where it was rebranded this year to Desert Classic).
“Bill was out here and saw the new training center,” Harmon says, “and he is really not into the tech stuff. He didn’t want a picture of himself swinging, and when I asked why, he said, ‘I like how it feels. I don’t like how it looks.’”
The public may use Bill Harmon’s training center, but its proximity is added value for the members who pay $150,000 to join Toscana.
Harmon says Toscana sells itself: “It has great facilities and a staff that doesn’t hound you,” he says. “Steve Stricker [tour pro] was here for a week and said he instantly felt like a member.”
Campbell and Craig agree. But they know that Harmon is key.
Campbell says, “The fact that he is here draws people.”
“He’s the best,” Craig says. “No doubt about it.”
If Harmon heard that, he would blush, then tell you a great story about somebody else.
Bill Dwyre is a former sports editor of the Los Angeles Times.