PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHASING LIGHT
Members Kristen and Bob Nelson sneak a celebratory moment alone after their May 2021 wedding at Tradition Golf Club.
Tradition Golf Club - A rustic homestead established in 1902 seems an unlikely place for an intimate golf club of worldwide renown. Yet that is exactly when the first cottage was built on barren desert land once owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. From its modest days as a farm ranch then a celebrity retreat, Tradition Golf Club and its magnetic mountainside locale were destined to become Arnold Palmer’s own West Coast home, retreat from the world, and beloved links. To this day, no sign indicates the gate leading into this La Quinta legend said to be “hiding in plain sight.”
All who enter tend to pause on arrival as past eras envelop them with a time-honored peacefulness and privacy. Tall olive trees with wispy tresses that catch the breeze provide shade above early Spanish Hacienda-style structures, now elegantly preserved and still in use.
The former homestead now reveals an 18-hole Championship Arnold Palmer course with Augusta white sand bunkers and secret hidden tees. The 9-hole short course and practice range too are surrounded by the charm of 1920s buildings and century-old gardens, lending a weighty significance and sacred reverence to the mix of old and new.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IMAGINE IMAGERY PHOTOGRAPHY
Carpets of colorful flowers at the entrance hint at the floral vistas throughout the property.
Between the original Santa Barbara Hacienda design and artisan craftsmanship and tile work, 10,000 flats of colorful flowers are dotted like a painter’s hand on the landscape, one of Palmer’s enduring touches. Birds twitter by day and string lights glitter by night in what members agree is nothing short of an idyllic storybook setting.
This unique sense of comfort and serenity is mirrored by the family of friends who live and play here. Capped at a cozy 210, golf members of all ages and stages mingle as if they’ve known each other a lifetime.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IMAGINE IMAGERY PHOTOGRAPHY
From its bygone eras as an early California homestead and a haven for celebrities, Tradition Golf Club retains historic architecture and authentic charm. Fountains, pathways, and mature trees complement the manicured lawns and bocce ball courts.
“Many of us call this ‘our sanctuary.’ You can make it as serene or as social as you want it to be,” says Jenn Hallock, Chair of the Board of Directors. As first female chair of the board, Hallock came to Tradition six years ago with her husband as new members. Chad, an entrepreneur and CEO, planned to sell his company in Orange County and the two were eager to find their forever home.
Having served as freelance chief marketing officer for Chad’s franchise business, Hallock soon accepted the club’s Membership and Marketing Chair position, enlisted to elevate branding and social media. She knew firsthand that the club could appeal to prospective members in all of life’s seasons. Her passion and fire earned her an invitation to join the Board at age 41.
Though a highly uncommon honor, she is comfortable taking the lead while learning from co-members’ experience at Tradition and in heavy-hitting business environments. Now she heads up a relaxed club of individuals who have always been at the top of their fields yet keep their feet firmly planted on the immaculate grounds.
PHOTOGRAPH BY IMAGINE IMAGERY PHOTOGRAPHY
Jenn serves as Chair of the Board of Directors and the couple appreciates the sense of belonging among like-minded members who share their interests.
Hallock explains the board’s current design for a “dream golf lifestyle” combines the luxury of a boutique hotel with the personal warmth of a family gathering. New member mixers bring them into the fold while programming evolves sensitively to the needs of all. “We’re creating our own niche. Especially in the valley, there’s nothing like it.”
Hallock credits the more tenured members with creating Tradition’s authentic and gracious culture. Notably Arnold Palmer infused his own easy style into the club. He loved to have a good time and didn’t need to talk about his accomplishments.
The Hallocks had toured 8 clubs in one day before their realtor suggested they make one last stop. “We came through the gates and felt this spiritual, emotional connection,” she recalls. “As we toured the old Spanish adobe buildings and heard the stories, we were pinching ourselves.” They found their ideal home, formerly owned by a famous clothing designer, and barely touched a thing.
A “Dream Golf Lifestyle”
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHANNING BENJAMIN
The front nine holes of the Championship Course play through a landscape of wildflowers and challenging water features; rugged mountains and natural desert terrain define the back nine.
Work-life balance comes easy. Hallock has gained a new set of girlfriends, meets other couples for dinner at the club, and always makes time to hit the greens, where she senses Palmer’s palpable legacy. “Every hole has an Arnie story,” she says. “We uphold his values on the board and, on the course, our Superintendent will never let go of his vision. It’s very specific because this was one of Arnold’s favorite courses he ever built.”
She and Chad spend lakeside summers with her family in Minnesota. “You don’t even need a vacation from here,” she adds. “But we’ve had a blast traveling to Cabo, Montana, and Pebble Beach with other members.”
Hallock believes “there’s a club for everybody based on personality and a gut feeling. But here, it’s an intense love at first sight — and that doesn’t fade.”
Case in point: Members of just a couple years, Bob and Kristen Nelson, took their time getting know each other, but meeting the club led to a whirlwind romance with Tradition.
Both lifelong Northwesterners, they met at Costco Corporate in Washington state where Bob is a Senior Vice President who manages financial planning and Kristen is an Assistant Vice President in Financial Audit. They were cordial business friends for years before a first date in 2015. Even then, growing careers and raising kids kept their relationship casual until the pandemic opened the door to a new beginning.
In early 2020, “friends invited us down to the area and we went from rain and 60-mile-an-hour winds to sunshine with not a cloud in the sky and a mountain backdrop,” says Bob. “I’m a big golfer, and the minute I stepped on the first tee box at Tradition, I thought, ‘This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to the Master’s at Augusta — it had that same vibe. Manicured to a tee, flowers everywhere, and the architecturally different homes not too close to the golf course” had his eye.
The Nelsons purchased a home, joined as Club members, got engaged, and hosted a spectacular wedding weekend at the club last spring. Joined by their five adult children and with live music from the band Train (who are personal friends of the couple), “we couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Kristen says.
For these newlyweds, the true sign of love was the genuine and welcoming nature of members and staff. “People would see we were new faces and would immediately come over, introduce themselves, and want to connect,” Kristen recalls. They recently transferred to a Golf membership. “I’m practicing on the par three and everybody is very encouraging, which is so nice as a new golfer. I also use the workout facility and am looking forward to some winter hiking.”
Bob has realized he knows more people in Tradition than at his home club where he has been a member for 20 years. “With its small-town feel, there’s a lot of humility. Members are very easy to talk with and the people who work here treat everybody like family,” he says. “That is exactly how we are Costco. We’re all part of the family on the same team, which is how I felt at Tradition from that very first visit.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY @CLOUDBETHEDAY
For Armand “AJ” Barragan and his wife, Sarah Rose, Tradition lets them de-stress and ease into vacation mode as soon as they arrive from Orange County for a weekend of golf, pool time, or just relaxing together.
For as under-the-radar as this 290-residence community is, word travels. The club was distinguished as a Platinum Club of America in 2017. (Only 3 of the 50 clubs recognized are in Southern California.) Recent years have marked its fastest growing seasons. And several months ago, Tradition’s 18th hole graced the Fall 2021 cover of The Golfer’s Journal, an artful quarterly publication on par with a prized coffee table book.
The winning image — a sunrise shot of the 18th green at first light — was captured by Armand “AJ” Barragan, a 30-something member and professional photographer. The timing of the issue coincided with another cause for celebration: He and his wife, Sarah Rose, welcomed their first baby, Justus, who became Tradition’s youngest member.
“The course is so unimaginably beautiful it inspired my interest in photography,” says the new dad. “Now it’s a full-blown business and Tradition remains our best canvas.” Barragan and a golf buddy founded their Instagram team, @couldbetheday, in 2018. Top industry manufacturers including Cleveland Golf, Puma, and Srixson have commissioned their golf and golf-lifestyle shots. Now they travel across North America, shooting while they play.
Barragan also serves as Chief Operations Officer of Jay’s Catering, established as an Orange County icon by his grandfather over 50 years ago. (The same one who brought him to the desert when he was young, creating cherished memories he wanted to give his own child.) Sarah Rose manages several event venues, resplendent in period buildings the company restored.
“We looked at all the usual suspects, but we fell in love with the quaintness and the historical aspect of Tradition,” he says. “It feels like it has been there even longer than it has, and the new renovation perfectly enhanced that feeling.”
The couple has been Junior Members of this “magical place” since 2017, proving that, in the thick of it all, club life is accessible, and even a necessary stress-buster from work. Barragan says they fit right in, escaping behind the gates every weekend and holiday they can. “As soon as we get there, we feel like we’re on vacation,” he says. “And it doesn’t hurt that I’m golf-obsessed!”
For this family, the game will be a lifelong love. “Sarah Rose only golfs at Tradition, where she takes lessons,” Barragan also adds. “She won’t take lessons from me or anyone in Orange County.” Barragan sees the game in his young son’s future, too, as soon as he can swing a club.
“My favorite hole is 12,” he shares of the fairways named “the prettiest course in Palm Springs” by Golf World Magazine. “When you play in the afternoon, the bunkering looks like a postcard. Through our photography business, I’ve played almost all of the local courses now. And, yes, I’m biased. But this is the best course in the desert.”