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Archive for November 1, 2014

A Piece of the Pie

A world on edge presents a paradise from which to work, connect, stay healthy, and live a whole lotta life.

Game On!

The desert’s high season coincides with the hockey season.

One year from now, if the schedule holds, the new Coachella Valley Arena will propel the local concert and event calendar closer to big-city heights — and lay the ice for the desert’s first-ever pro sports franchise.

Set across more than 43 acres of unincorporated land adjacent to the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course at the Classic Club in Palm Desert, the privately funded, $250 million arena will be home to a yet-to-be-named American Hockey League franchise, which will play about 40 home games a year beginning in November 2022. The team will be the minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.

The arena, designed by Kansas City-based Populous, architect of sporting venues ranging from Yankee Stadium in New York to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, has an A-list of backers, including Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment titan Oak View Group and global music, concert, and event promoter Live Nation.

It’s a welcome development for Visit Greater Palm Springs, which promotes the region for business and leisure tourism. In destination marketing, says Scott White, the agency’s president and CEO, “you have to be either constantly improving the attractions you have or adding to the menu of what people can do while they’re here.”


Promising to host roughly 160 events a year — concerts, hockey games, boxing matches, and possibly preseason NBA and NHL games — the arena appears primed to impact a desert economy on the rebound from the pandemic. In late May, a Visit Greater Palm Springs-commissioned economic impact study projected that the arena would generate $141 million annually, while creating about 1,600 full- and part-time local jobs on and off the site.

While the Coachella Valley has established itself as a concert destination by virtue of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a pro hockey team adds an exciting new entrée for visitors and locals.

“From a tourism perspective, our story now broadens,” White says. “The hockey season aligns greatly with our winter visitors coming from the Midwest, [Pacific] Northwest, and Canada.”

From the team’s purview, a fresh franchise in a new arena is ripe with potential.

“It is an opportunity to be able to build something from the ground up,” says Troy Bodie, director of hockey and business operations for Palm Springs AHL. “For people to rally around the club as a first-to-market sports team, something to call their own. It’s a chance to be the big event in town, to really engage the whole Coachella Valley.”

Bodie, a veteran winger who played in 159 NHL games and almost 400 AHL games, with stints in San Antonio, Texas, and Stockton, California, has an informed perspective on sports in small cities.

“What I’ve learned from playing in these non-traditional markets is that there is a demographic of fans out there that maybe doesn’t know hockey that well, and getting them educated on the game, yeah, it might take a little time,” Bodie says. “In the Coachella Valley, I think we’ll have a unique fan base with a lot of snowbirds, along with a lot of people who may have never been to a hockey game. I don’t see it as a challenge; I see it as an opportunity.”


The arena amenities include VIP clubs.
Becoming a familiar, visible presence across the community appears paramount, especially connecting with the Coachella Valley’s 70 percent Latino population.
It’s hardly an insurmountable feat. Since the Los Angeles Kings’ 1988 trade for Wayne Gretzky, the Southland, if not the entire Southwest, has shown continued interest the game, even in cities and regions that were once considered non-traditional skating locales.

In the decades since acquiring The Great One, the Kings have refined a model for farming new hockey fans and reaching out to the Latino community. In addition to Spanish-language broadcasts of games, the team’s broad outreach — which includes sponsoring street hockey leagues in L.A. and coordinating ball hockey programs in dozens of YMCAs in the city — has resulted in nearly a quarter of its ticket buyers coming from a Latino background, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to the main ice for the hockey team, the Coachella Valley Arena sports a second, all-purpose rink for community use.

“With the Desert Ice Castle shutting down during the pandemic, that fueled the passions for bringing in this community ice aspect,” Bodie says, referring to what was the Coachella Valley’s only ice rink. “I feel like there’s a duty to the community to not just bring in events and concerts, but to bring something that provides opportunity for everybody. The community rink can do this in several ways, including youth hockey programs, public skating, and figure skating. Outside of building this [hockey] club, the part of this I’m most excited about is seeing what we can do with this community ice.”

For the desert’s hockey venture to score big, the team may take a page from its soon-to-be nearest rival, the Ontario Reign, the AHL affiliate of the Kings since 2015. Preceded by a squad of the same name in the East Coast Hockey League (one level lower than the AHL), Ontario welcomed pro hockey in 2008 to the Toyota Arena.


Music lovers land a year-round concert venue.

“From the get-go, the team did a great job of getting people excited about pro hockey,” says Sue Oxarart, director of marketing and communications for the Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau, which also manages Toyota Arena. “They immediately ingrained the team in the community.”

For Oxarart, who worked for the arena while it was being constructed, the team’s biggest score came before the first puck dropped. “The team partnered with local nonprofits, began their own nonprofit, and started going out to youth sporting events and letting people know about the debut,” she says.

With 300 event dates a year, Toyota Arena — also home of the Ontario Fury pro indoor soccer team and the Agua Caliente Clippers, minor league affiliate of the NBA’s L.A. Clippers — draws from the 4.3 million residents of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The Reign’s fan base is considered provincial, with most ticket buyers driving between 25 to 50 miles to attend games.


The arena could create 1,600 jobs and pump $141 million a year into the economy, a study suggests.

From 2019 to pre-pandemic ’20, the AHL’s 31 teams’ average attendance per game was a little more than 5,500. The Reign draws about 8,200 fans per home game.

“I tell other teams that call our arena home to do exactly what the Reign has done,” says Michael Krouse, president and CEO of the Greater Ontario CVB.

“They are a well-oiled machine. I haven’t seen a team in the league that has done it as well as they have, and we’ve benefited greatly from the relationship. They’re part of our community, part of our family.”

Debuting in the AHL a year after the Reign, the Tucson Roadrunners, based in another non-traditional hockey market, has also seen a local vibe created by way of ice.

“Hockey brings an energy to our downtown on game nights,” says Dan Gibson, senior director of communications for Visit Tucson. “There are people all around in hockey jerseys, and it was visible from the start. On a surface level, there are more hockey fans than I think anybody realized.”

The Roadrunners, a minor league affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes, akin to the Reign, have gained interest and support through boots-on-the-ground relationship building. “The team has connected to the entire community,” Gibson says. “Before games, the mascot is around town. They’ve held lots of events to drum up season ticket sales, and for the first few years, they were giving away tickets left and right. As we’re not a place with ice skating rinks all over, they’ve connected with the youth market by building street hockey rinks.”

The Roadrunners have further scored via demographic diversity, as half of Tucson’s population is Latino. “[The team has] done a very good job of reaching out to the Hispanic community,” Gibson says. “They created an alternate jersey, which is directly intended to market to our Hispanic community; they’ll have a Tejano band in front of the arena before games, and they’ll play Hispanic music during the games. They’ve done a lot of outreach to schools that are predominantly Hispanic.”

Likewise, the Henderson Silver Knights, located 20 miles from its parent team, the Vegas Golden Knights, made its debut in the 2020-21 season. Henderson quickly embraced the new hockey culture following the instant success of Vegas, which reached the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural season in 2017-18.

The Golden Knights’ two-rink facility in nearby Summerlin created immediate demand for all levels of skating and ice hockey across Southern Nevada. In short time, the city of Henderson and Vegas ownership partnered to revamp an existing downtown Henderson structure into Lifeguard Arena, a two-rink Silver Knights/community locale that opened in November 2020.

“When the Summerlin rinks reached a critical mass,” says Robert Herr, assistant city manager and chief infrastructure officer for city of Henderson, “we entered discussions with them about our interest in seeing rinks on our east side of town.”

The Vegas success trickles down on Henderson. “The team wanted to have an impact on the coaching and training aspects, so through their programs, it’s been everything from Learn to Skate to open skating all the way up to our Henderson Junior Knights team,” Herr says.

Creating a new sporting tapestry in the Coachella Valley may skate with surprising alacrity. “I recall one of our council members recently diving home and telling me that he saw the neighborhood kids all out in parks with sticks and a net and their street hockey gear,” Herr says. “It’s something you never would have guessed to see out here.”


Eighteen months of construction will yield the state-of-the-art Coachella Valley Arena with two rinks — one for the AHL franchise and the other for community use.

With almost 10,000 seats for hockey and 11,500 seats for concerts, the arena will also include 20 suites, two VIP clubs, and a private club that can accommodates 150 people.

Design firm Populous did its homework in creating a design aesthetic for the desert arena. “We spent a lot of time studying the area in the early stages of the project, looking at local architecture and understanding the colors, the materials, the forms, the vernacular,” says Scott McCracken, architect and associate at Populous. “When you look at this building, you think of Palm Springs, of desert architecture.”

An inside-outside homage to desert living will be immediately evident on entry.

“Being outdoors is, of course, a big part of the valley’s culture,” says Bridget Schmidt, architect and senior associate at Populous. “So, the main concourse is actually outdoors. We’ve found ways to integrate and engage that atmosphere of the desert.”

Arena interiors will honor the area’s Native American heritage and scene-shaping modern architecture.

“We all know that Palm Springs is known for midcentury design, so that was a fun thing to explore,” McCracken says. “Those elements show up on the interior finishes, where we play with pattern and color. The center-ice bars, east and west, are themed around a pool party.”

• READ NEXT: What is the Future of Downtown Palm Springs. We Ask the Key Players.

Dining Around the Desert: Mankas Grill, Fairfield, CA

This last weekend, Michael and I attended a wedding in Napa, CA, and had a free night before the festivities, so I did some investigating and found a gem of a place, Mankas Grill in Fairfield.

Two brothers, Kyle and Jason Barraza, opened Mankas Grill recently and are doing a bang-up job. Named after one of the original owners, the building was established in 1853 as a major stagecoach stop. Today, they offer new and sensational twists on culinary staples that they are excited to share with the community.

We arrived very early, but they managed to get us seated within about 10 minutes at a great table. The place was packed and everyone was having a great time. There was truly a really nice buzz about the place that no doubt starts with the brothers who are very visible, including at the hostess stand where they are there to greet their guests. I’d say about half of the diners were regulars, and it’s easy to see why.

They have a small menu, but they cover all the bases. From Shrimp Cocktails, Lobster Bisque, Gorgonzola Wedge Salad to Hungarian Rubbed Ribeye, Pasta Bolognese, and a Grilled Portabella Burger.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_5134-1-dragged.tiff

We started out with Pork Belly Nachos, with a beer cheese sauce, pico, and sour cream. These are not your usual nachos! We could have licked the plate.

In keeping with the pork theme, Michael had the special that night, a perfectly cooked Pork Chop. To be honest, I don’t remember what the sauce was, but it was heavenly.

I tried the Cajun Shrimp & Truffle Infused Grits with bacon and cheddar. Unbelievably good.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_5135-1-dragged.tiff

We had a very nice 2018 Prohibition red blend from Vino Godfather Winery in nearby Vallejo.

Next time I’m up in the area, I will absolutely go back. In fact, the whole corner is so quaint that I can’t wait to explore what else is around.

We are open for Lunch & Dinner

Wednesday 4-8

Thursday- Sunday 11:30-8!

Thank you for all the support this last year!

Our dining room is now open with our regular menu.

Please check open table for availability or call us

at (707) 428-1600 during business hours to make your reservation!

See you at Mankas Corner!

After a two-year hiatus, the Indian Wells tennis tournament returns with a different feel


The Indian Wells Tennis Garden at sunset during the 2018 BNP Paribas Open.

The sun sets at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the 2018 BNP Paribas Open. After a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BNP Paribas Open returns on Monday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)



The BNP Paribas tennis tournament, like so many things in sports lost to the need for COVID-19-precautions, will have an event for the first time in 19 months, starting this week.

The prestigious event at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden canceled its March event in both 2020 and 2021 and successfully and controversially negotiated to move to October so it wouldn’t lose two full years. The October dates partially conflicted with the Shanghai Masters and smaller tournaments in Asia and Europe, but the governing bodies of tennis eventually decided to allow Indian Wells to go ahead Oct. 6-17. Shanghai eventually canceled its Masters 1,000-level event, citing pandemic concerns.

There is a coincidental element at play. In early 2000, when the Indian Wells tournament was struggling financially, Shanghai pushed to purchase it and move it and its dates to China. Tournament founders Charlie Pasarell and Raymond Moore found new investors in the eleventh hour, retained the event for the desert and turned it into one considered the fifth major in the sport.

Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic, of Serbia.

Tournament qualifying will be held Monday and Tuesday, followed by the start of the women’s main draw Wednesday and men’s main draw Thursday.

This 2021 event, while still one of the biggest stops on the pro tours, will have a different feel on several fronts. The men’s star attractions for years — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, each of whom has won 20 major tournaments — will be absent. Federer and Nadal are injured and Djokovic withdrew last week. The women’s star for years, Serena Williams, is also not entered.

But the recent announcement of two wild card entries may have spiced up the field.

Andy Murray, a three-time major champion and once considered a part of the Big Four with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, has recovered from a long spell of injuries and took a wild card into the tournament. Same for crowd favorite Kim Clijsters, who won four Grand Slam events and won twice in the desert.

Andy Murray reaches to return a shot
Andy Murray returns a shot during his loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the U.S. Open on Aug. 30.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Men’s defending champion Dominic Thiem of Austria will not return. He is still recovering from a wrist injury. But women’s 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada will play. Andreescu came out of nowhere to win at Indian Wells in 2019, then six months later stunned Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open.

Even bigger attractions may be the success stories from this year’s U.S. Open. Daniil Medvedev of Russia spoiled Djokovic’s quest for a calendar-year Grand Slam, the first since Rod Laver’s in 1969, with a stirring five-set victory in the final in New York. And newcomers Leylah Fernandez and Anna Raducanu played an inspiring U.S. Open final and charmed the packed house in Arthur Ashe Stadium with both their tennis and their post-match warmth. Raducanu became the first qualifier to win the event and Fernandez was equally unheralded coming into the Open. Both are teenagers, Fernandez from Canada and Raducana from England.

As large and prestigious as this event has become, there will be many differences from past years.

Tournament officials say they are shooting for 60% capacity attendance, which would be about 300,000 people over the 12-day event. There will be no paper tickets. Spectators will receive tickets through an app and show them on their phones at the entrances. It will also be a cashless event. All entrants must be vaccinated. No spectators under age 12 will be allowed.

There will be a chair umpire and ball kids for each match, but no line-callers, as was the case at the U.S. Open. The electronic Hawkeye cameras, long ago installed on each court at Indian Wells, will be the final word on line calls.

As a nod to potential hot October weather in the desert, there will also be an emphasis on night matches. Official night matches will be held, as usual, on Center Court and Court 1, but on seven other courts with lights, day sessions will be scheduled with later matches not starting before 6 p.m., pushing many matches on those courts well into the evening and the cooler weather.

Those who purchased tickets for the 2020 event, which was canceled one week before it was to begin, have been given three options: a full refund, the ability to apply their purchase to this October event, or the ability to do the same for the March tournament, which will return the BNP Open to its normal spot on the tennis calendar.

Dining Around the Desert: Joolz in Bend, OR

This August I returned to Bend, OR for the first time in six years with Michael in tow. Bill and I owned a home at Crosswater years ago, and I had friends that I was eager to see – both from Bend and also recent transplants to the area.
Our first stop was at one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Joolz on Main St in downtown Bend. Joolz is owned and operated by two of the best people I know, Julie (Joolz), and Ramsey Hamdan. I was so excited to see them and partake of their Middle East Meets The Wild West food. 
Suffice it to say that absolutely everything on the menu is fabulous. I’ve never been disappointed, and I’ve eaten there a LOT! We actually visited them several times over the course of our stay so what follows was not all in one sitting.
Hazelnuts, almonds, pistachio, sesame seeds & cumin roasted & crushed, focaccia, olive oil
Flash-fried cauliflower tossed in lemon and parsley, tahini dipping sauce
Three house-ground falafel, fried crisp with tahini sauce and arugula garnish
Lamb meatballs with bulgur wheat, garlic tomato sauce, pine nuts
Hummus topped with sauteed elk, lemon, parsley, olive oil, sumac & pine nuts

For our main courses, I had the dish I had been dreaming of, FORBIDDEN BLACK RICE CHICKEN BOWL 
Moroccan barbecue braised chicken over rich black rice, garlic toasted nuts, chilled tzatziki
Michael had the TROPHY ELK CHILI 
Braised organic elk, chickpeas, secret spices, tabbouleh, feta and Frito chip garnish, which as a chili aficionado, blew him away.
On the night our friends came along, they had the SMASHED FRIED FINGERLINGS WITH WICKED GARLIC SAUCE
Wicked garlic sauce, Yemeni shoog
Shawarma spice-rubbed Oregon beef, grilled onion, hummus, tabbouleh, Armenian pickles, naan
And even though we were stuffed, we ended it all both nights with the STICKY TOFFEE DATE CAKE  
Our sticky toffee Medjool date cake with warm caramel sauce, whipped cream
Joolz also has a delightful wine list that has a lot of affordable, surprising wines, as well as wonderful craft cocktails.
Joolz is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00PM to 9PM.
If you are in Bend, OR, you owe it to yourself to make a reservation and experience this food. You will not be disappointed.
Another fave is 900 Wall just a few doors down from Joolz. I’ll save that review for another time, but I will say that on this trip we had the Powdered Sugar Beignets with bittersweet chocolate sauce, raspberry, and vanilla mousse, twice! They were that good.

Dining Around the Desert: Larkspur Grill in Palm Desert

One of the casualties of the pandemic was AC3 at Hotel Paseo in Palm Desert. While we were sorry to see it go, the new Larkspur Grill is in its place, and we are loving it! The room has been slightly redone, and they’ve added a stage for live entertainment.

On Thursday nights, they have a fantastic band called Fun With Dick And Jane Band that plays everything from Woodstock to Coachella. On the weekends, they have a jazz group. Hopefully, once season gets here, they’ll add more nights to the lineup.

The first night we went, it was me, Betsy, and Kayla from my team. We started with a cocktail and were brought Skillet Cornbread with a shallot herb butter and roasted jalapenos. It was so good that I will never not order it!

I started with a County Line Harvest Roasted Beet Salad with oranges, quinoa, avocado, toasted hazelnuts, wild arugula, Humbolt fog goat cheese, and a lavender honey citrus vinaigrette.

Betsy had the Organic Mixed Greens with heirloom tomatoes, English cucumber, red onion, and a toasted torn bread sherry vinaigrette.

For entrees, Kayla and I had the Honey Garlic Glazed Skuna Fjord Salmon with toasted fregula, roasted onion, heirloom tomatoes, and season roasted veggies. Betsy tried the Heirloom Tomato & Artichoke Crusted Alaskan Cod with celery root puree, seasonal roasted veggies, and a citrus beurre blanc.

Michael and I have been twice, and we started with Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with goat cheese and rosemary honey. This is a quintessential California appetizer and one that I always make for parties. Fabulous!

We’ve also had the Classic Shrimp Cocktail with tangy cocktail sauce, Mary’s Fred Chicken with applewood smoked bacon, braised collard greens, mascarpone mashed potatoes, and a honey thyme jus. Also, a 14 OZ Grilled Herb Brined Pork Chop with those same decadent mashed potatoes, seasonal roasted veggies, balsamic maple-glazed apples, and a celery parsley salad.

The girls and I shared a Crème Brulee. Michael and I were too full to dare.

Everything was prepared wonderfully, came out quickly, and the service has been excellent every time. The general manager is visible, makes his rounds, and the staff has a great attitude, from the hostesses to the bartenders to the servers. Some of which you will no doubt recognize if you go out at all in the desert.

We’ll all be back and are very happy with the new Larkspur Grill. If you go, tell them we sent you!

See menu, drinks, happy hour, and location here...

Dining Around the Desert: Flora Farms in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

Since there hasn't been a lot of new restaurant openings in the Valley lately, I decided to review a fabulous place in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. Michael and I were down there at the end of April for my birthday, and Flora Farms was the number one place on my list to go.

Flora Farms is a 25-acre organic working farm in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. Home to Flora’s Field Kitchen, The Farm Bar, Flora Farms Grocery, and Flora Farms Celebrations. The farm is also home to the Shoppes at Flora Farms, the Culinary Cottages & The Haylofts, (their hand-built, straw bale luxury homes for the culinary-inclined), as well as The Farm Spa, an intimate spa and wellness experience achieved through nature-based spa services, in a supremely peaceful setting.

Flora’s Field kitchen is about handmade food using their farm-fresh ingredients. Their goal is to create a healthy family meal with a sense of place.

The original Flora Restaurant was in San Jose del Cabo. After 5 years in town, and the farm serving as the main provider for the restaurant, the owner decided she would rather bring the restaurant to the farm instead of the other way around. Flora’s Field Kitchen strives to only serve what they make, raise and grow.

Their menu is seasonal, with some permanent classics. All meats served at Flora’s Field Kitchen come from their nearby 150-acre ranch where animals are humanely raised on diets that do not include hormones or antibiotics - and they do not offer beef on the menu as it is not sustainable as there is not enough water in Baja.

We started out with a couple of the house specialty margaritas. Michael had the Citrus, while I had the Hibiscus. Both were simply wonderful.

To start, Michael and I shared the Burratta bruschetta, beet salad with goat cheese, and tuna stack in a mango sauce. I cannot give a full description of all the ingredients as I don't fully remember, and they don't have their menu online since it changes all the time.

For our entrees, Michael had the pork shoulder and I continued to work on the starters. We followed it up with key lime pie and carrot cake.

Suffice it to say that I could easily run out of adjectives to describe how delightful not only the food was, but the entire experience. From wandering through the farm ahead of time to just the whole vibe of the property, Flora Farms is a place that will always be one of my stops when I'm in Cabo.



For more on Flora Farms, click here.

Flora Farms

Animas Bajas, San Jose del Cabo, Baja California Sur, Mx.

Mexico Phone # (+52.624) 142.1000 / 142.1458

US Phone #: 949.200.7342



Tuesday thru Saturday:

Breakfast 9:00 to 10:30 am

Lunch 11:00 am to 2:00 pm

Dinner 5:00 - 9:00 pm

Sunday Brunch

From 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

The Big Swing

With the latest influx of homebuyers, the desert’s country clubs have a younger look.



Todd Hewlin and Lo-Ping Yeh, new owners and members at The Reserve Club in Indian Wells look perfectly at ease seated on their broad patio as the breeze ripples the water in the infinity pool situated between the house and the 12th hole, framed by the dramatic Santa Rosa Mountains. The couple, who moved here from the Bay Area and run a tech consulting firm, reflects a growing demographic of desert residents that are more youthful and working from wherever they want.

Before the pandemic, country clubs were trying to appeal to younger buyers by renovating clubhouses, retooling tennis courts for pickleball, and introducing an extensive variety of programming to keep members engaged on and off the golf course. Now, it appears those investments are paying off.

Although Hewlin and Yeh first experienced the desert in earnest during the winter rainstorms of 2019, a return visit a year later gave them a different impression. “We found it incredible,” Yeh says. “So, we went back to Los Gatos and signed a contract to put our house on the market a week later. Then, the pandemic hit.”

When the Bay Area shelter-in-place order lifted in the summer, she and Hewlin hunted for their ideal concept in indoor-outdoor living. Another visit led them to a spec home still in construction.


Lo-Ping Yeh and Todd Hewlin

“When we saw the view, it was, ‘Oh my God,’” says Yeh, who was also thinking about how the residence might accommodate their home office. “A lot of people are feeling this way now — that they can live in a place like this and still work in an effective and efficient manner.”

As they moved into The Reserve in fall 2020, their new neighbors changed the couple’s idea of who exactly lives in the desert. “When we first came here, to be honest, Todd said he thought the area might be too old for us,” she says, smiling toward her husband. (Hewlin and Yeh are 55 and 57, respectively, and active in couples golf.)


The Vintage Club in Indian Wells

“I was completely wrong,” Hewlin replies. “Maybe I had that perception from movies or how the area has been written about by people who don’t live here. But after getting to know people at The Reserve, I started feeling like this is the valley of Benjamin Button: People get all that Vitamin D, are active, physically fit, they eat better. People come here and get younger.”

THE PANDEMIC HAS seen golf’s natural social distancing turn days of lemon into lemonade. As city dwellers look for elbow room in the Coachella Valley, the spike in the number of golf rounds being played reflects the surge in new club memberships. Americans played approximately 60 million more rounds in 2020 than they did in 2019, a 14 percent increase, according to the National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech. Meanwhile, the nation’s private clubs reported a 19.9 percent rise in play compared to 2019.


Andalusia Country Club in La Quinta

Desert residents only need to swivel their collared shirts to see new golf members flocking largely from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, and the Pacific Northwest.

As Palm Springs Life reported last fall, the first seven months of the pandemic saw single-family home sales in the Coachella Valley rise 56 percent over the same period a year earlier. Subsequently, end-of-year statistics from the California Desert Association of Realtors showed all of the valley’s nine cities with year-over-year increases in home sales.

“The Coachella Valley has become a haven to those who want to escape the cities and have a place where they can enjoy an outdoor lifestyle,” says Julie Bloom, senior vice president of operations for the Sunrise Company, which operates Toscana and Andalusia country clubs. “In addition, since travel is not as easy, people want to have a place to go that feels like a resort and where they can gather their families together.” With the spike in sales and memberships comes a rush of new residents and golfers. A Palm Springs Life survey of 13 luxury country clubs conducted early this year revealed uniform growth when comparing March 2019–January 2020 with the period a year later.


Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert

In La Quinta, the 36 holes at The Hideaway Golf Club experienced a 103 percent rise in new members, with a spike from June to December 2020, fueling a record-breaking year in terms of home and membership sales. At the Tradition Golf Club, a 150 percent rise in club tours resulted in a record number of new members, and golf membership sales doubled. “Approximately 80 percent of our new member spouses are beginner golfers,” says Tesha Vann, membership director at Tradition. “Our short course is getting more use than ever, as it’s the perfect venue to learn the game.”

At nearby Rancho La Quinta, the two-course spread saw a 30 percent increase in golf memberships, with home sales jumping 60 percent, and Andalusia Country Club had an 87 percent increase in golf memberships with a jaw-dropping 300 percent increase in home sales.

In Indian Wells, The Vintage Club experienced a 145 percent increase in home sales and a 100 percent gain in new golf memberships. Toscana Country Club gained 34 percent in home sales and its 36 holes drew a 77 percent rise in golf memberships. At The Reserve, Todd Hewlin and Lo-Ping Yeh were among 24 new golf members representing a 120 percent increase in home sales.


Mike Kirby and Sandi Marino

“The trend is more couples,” says Denise Adams, membership director at The Reserve Club. “Both the member and spouse, or significant other, play golf, as do their high school- and college-age children.”

Likewise, at Bighorn Golf Club, “We’re seeing quite a few of our current golf members’ spouses taking up the game through lessons, afternoon play as a couple, and our 9-holer group,” says Kirstin Fossey of Bighorn Properties.

In Palm Desert, the two-course Bighorn Golf Club had a 44 percent increase in new golf memberships and a 28 percent increase in home sales, while Stone Eagle Golf Club reported a 62 percent increase in memberships.


Tradition Golf Club in La Quinta

In Rancho Mirage, the three-course spread of Mission Hills Country Club has seen an 8 percent uptick in new golf memberships and a 60 percent increase in home sales. And at Tamarisk Country Club, a 9 percent boost in golf members has contributed to a 12 percent rise in overall memberships.

“In many ways, our club has become more important in our members’ lives,” Brett Draper says of Thunderbird Country Club, where he’s general manager. During the pandemic, “activity around the club, namely golf, is up to levels we have not seen in the past 15 years.”

FOR MIKE KIRBY, the desert has always been a home away from home. Long familiar with the valley’s east end by virtue of visiting his parents at La Quinta Country Club and his siblings now in the area, Kirby always figured that, someday, he too would have a desert home.

Someday came a bit sooner than Kirby and his fiancé Sandi Marino expected.

“In the last three or four years, we’ve been thinking we should land someplace out here,” he says. “Now, working from home during COVID [has] been a catalyst for us to make the move.”

Last September, the prime-of-life couple purchased a spec house at Tradition Golf Club, the longtime West Coast base for Arnold Palmer. Kirby is an avid player, and Marino is a beginner who’s refining her game on the club’s nine-hole short course. Their home overlooks the top-handicapped hole 3 on the Palmer-designed course, carved in the bosom of the Santa Rosas. The view also includes the scene-setting stone wall and iron gate, Tradition’s original entrance, marking the end of what is now Washington Street.

Splitting time between La Quinta and Newport Beach, Kirby seamlessly runs his real estate research and analysis firm. “I can work just as well here as I can from Newport,” Kirby says. “I’m not so sure we would’ve pulled the trigger on the purchase this early, but once we had this epiphany that I could still be very effective in my job in the home office I have in our new home, we went for it.”

Marino, who mixes charity and interior design work, believes the club’s on-site marketplace for groceries and take-out and home delivery services offer comfort during the pandemic. “Tradition is low-key and genuine,” she says. “And the amenities are amazing; the club makes it easy to stay.”

Therein lies the prevailing appeal of the Coachella Valley. The weather and lifestyle sell the location, and the ability to work from anywhere seals the deal.


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