|By Herbert Atienza, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 31, 2004 - INDIO, Calif. -- In a valley where golf is an obsession, some golf-course operators are discovering that being the old standby is no longer good enough.
Some golf course operators are planning on spending serious money to give their courses a makeover to better appeal to players and be more competitive with other courses.
When it was built 40 years ago, Indio Municipal Golf Course's relatively flat terrain represented the latest in golf-course design. But its operators say what was standard four decades ago no longer makes the cut today.
Indio plans to spend about $5 million to completely remodel the city-owned golf course -- which has hosted such names as Bob Hope and Willie Nelson -- in a bid to keep up with an increasingly choosy clientele and modern golf courses that are sprouting all over the Coachella Valley.
"I think that would be wonderful," said Indio resident Flo Tocheniuk, 65, about plans to remodel the course at the Indio Golf Club. She plays a couple of times a week at the municipal course and other courses throughout the valley.
"I think the greens are really bad and the tee-off spots are uneven and rocky and often bare," she said.
Besides Indio, the city of Indian Wells plans to spend about $21 million in redevelopment funds to make over The Golf Resort at Indian Wells, built in the 1980s, to better attract the higher-scale clientele that stay at the nearby Hyatt Grand Champions and Renaissance Esmeralda hotels.
"The general vision is to improve the entire experience at the golf resort, from arrival to departure," Tim Wassil, Indian Wells public works director, said. He said the remodeled golf course could be completed by winter 2006.
"We have kind of a dated facility," he said. "It's no longer acceptable to just keep it the way it is. We want to stay competitive."
Competition is not in short supply in the Coachella Valley, which now has more than 100 golf courses, and many more on the way, including the upscale SilverRock golf course in La Quinta, a city-owned course that opens next January.
Golf experts say golf courses have to set themselves apart from the rest if they want to keep their customers.
"Everyone's trying to up the ante," said Jesse Stolp, golf pro at Big Horn Golf Club in Palm Desert.
He said golf courses now find themselves going to great lengths to please their customers. At Big Horn, where the LPGA tournament was held recently, players can partake of luxurious amenities, including a posh clubhouse, a salon and spa, and even jet service for its customers.
"It's like its own little town," Stolp said.
Nowadays, golf-course designers are more exacting with details, from the type of grass they want to addressing environmental concerns, like incorporating natural features such as habitat and wetlands in their designs, said Kory Williams, of Palmer Course Design, the Ponte Vedra, Fla.-based firm that designed SilverRock.
"I think as an industry, we're getting better at addressing environmental issues, like using grass strains that require less herbicides and pesticides," he said.
The plan for Indio Municipal Golf Course calls for a complete revamp of the course, which could open Fall 2005. The money to fund the renovation would come from proceeds of a municipal bond, city officials said.
"We will take everything that's existing there and they will cease to exist," said Ruben Ramirez, project manager for David Evans and Associates, the Palm Desert firm hired by the city to redesign the golf course.
He said the 18-hole, par 3 golf course would be turned into an executive golf course that would expand to 50 acres from its current 38. Plans also call for redesigning the driving range to include a putting green and education center, more waterscapes and sand traps, improved restroom facilities, a temporary clubhouse, a pad for a future clubhouse, and a new maintenance and storage facility.
"The plan is to make the course a little bit more challenging, but still be player friendly," Ramirez said.
"You've got to compete," said Mike Carrol, general manager of the Indio Municipal Golf Course.
"People are no longer going to accept inferior facilities. They've got too many choices," he said.
He said the golf course struggles with aging facilities, including decrepit restrooms. Its clubhouse is an old cafeteria-type establishment. Golf carts are stored in truck containers.
"We don't need a Taj Majal or anything, but we do need a nicer building," he said.
Some golfers say they welcome plans to improve the course, but say the city should be careful not to alienate its regulars.
Paul Petersen, 78, of La Quinta, said he likes playing the relatively easy course and is pleased with its affordability. A round can cost $10 to $18.
"The price is one thing that brings me back," he said.
Carrol said prices have not been determined, but said he expects the remodeled golf course to remain among the best deals in town.
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