Palms GC offers fastest play in U.S.

The par-5 14th hole at the Palms Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif.

The par-5 14th hole at the Palms Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif.

LA QUINTA, Calif. - The fastest-play golf course on a day-to-day basis in the United States?

I say it’s The Palms Golf Club in La Quinta, where the ride/walk ratio is about 75/25 and where all these golfers play as if propelled by rocket boosters. In the wide world of golf, fast play is often talked about or dreamed about, but seldom achieved. Here it is a reality.

The Palms is a regulation-sized course (7,039 yards from the back tees) where the four-hour round is unheard of. Play in 3 1/2 hours and you might get scolded. Play in three hours, it’s pretty normal.

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J.D. Ebersberger

Architect Brian Curley, who received design help from Fred Couples, did a fabulous job supporting the fast-play theme. The Palms is a private layout that opened 12 years ago and has about 400 members.

The secret behind this intriguing facility is golf professional J.D. Ebersberger, who founded the course with speedy play in mind. The Palms is a golf-only club: no swimming, no tennis, no cell phones allowed.

“Everywhere I went,” said Ebersberger, who was director of golf at Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii before coming back to California, “people would talk about fast play. These were serious conversations. I really believed we could do something about it. Sure, we’ve lost a few members because they felt they had to play too fast. But I think the members here really appreciate what they’ve got. If you start at 8 in the morning, you can be done by 11, eat lunch and still have the whole afternoon in front of you.”

Club professionals have long occupied a revered spot in my mind. I always loved the smell of old golf shops. I was fascinated by all the golf conversation and golf knowledge.

I still maintain a deep admiration for club professionals. Because of the complexity of modern PGA club-professional jobs, a new title is starting to emerge. Head pros, later known as directors of golf, are now being labeled chief operating officers.

This makes golf sound like a business, which, of course, it is.

Ebersberger has used the title COO, and so has Jamie Mulligan at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. I mention these two because both were inducted into the Southern California PGA Hall of Fame on Dec. 2. This is a huge honor, particularly because many of our country's top club professionals can be found in this golf-obsessed region of the United States.

These are two gifted club professionals.

Ebersberger, given the chance to build his own golf club, said it would be a fast-play golf course. It is. He said he would build a desert course that could be walked, if desired. He did. He said the course would be known for superb bentgrass greens in the desert. Thanks to hearty A4 bentgrass and the heroic efforts of superintendent Rigo Rigaldo, it is. He said the club would not assume any debt. It hasn't.

My final piece of fast-play evidence: After the conclusion of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament at PGA West early in December, I accompanied fellow Golfweek writer Sean Martin to The Palms. We played as a twosome, we walked, we played a leisurely round without rushing, and we finished in two hours and 55 minutes.

Given his Hall of Fame status, I celebrate J.D. Ebersberger, the pro who built what probably is the United States’ fastest-play golf course.

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