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The Vintage Club

Boasting an ideal location, a unique clubhouse, an enviable membership and 36 holes designed by one of golf’s masters, this club in the California desert truly embodies its name

By: Tom Cunneff

Appeared in 2010 LINKS Premier Clubs

Tucked against the Santa Rosa Mountains, The Vintage Club occupies one of the most beautiful locations in the Coachella Valley. More than 25 years ago, the founders and developers of this exclusive private club community knew they were on the verge of something exquisitely special when they envisioned a 712-acre oasis that would be home to one of the most sophisticated, most discerning memberships of any club in the country.

Through the bougainvillea-covered entrance framed by towering waterfalls, past the palm-lined drive, members experience an unsurpassed lifestyle that truly lives up to the club’s timeless name. The heart and soul of The Vintage Club’s effortlessly inviting atmosphere is the stunning, award-winning clubhouse topped with pyramid shapes and surrounded by reflective surfaces and open spaces that mirror the dramatic landscape of the surrounding California desert.

Emanating from this marvel of a clubhouse are two golf courses of equal architectural wonder. Because The Vintage Club does not have any tee times, members and their guests can tee it up at their leisure on either of the club’s two championship layouts, the Desert and Mountain courses. Both were designed by Tom Fazio, one of the most sought-after golf architects in the world, and each course provides a unique playing experience.  

Before stepping onto the 1st tee, members can stop by the full-service pro shop to peruse the latest fashions, pick up a sleeve of balls and solicit a swing tip or two from one of the golf professionals. They can then warm up on the driving range, which is maintained as immaculately as the courses are.

Somehow, the greens seem greener, the bunkers seem brighter, the sky seems bluer and the mountains seem more golden when members are playing the courses at the club. The genius in these courses is the way Fazio designed the holes to add to the surrounding beauty.

The club’s original course, the Mountain, sits in the shadow of majestic Mount Eisenhower. While every hole is distinctive, with emerald fairways accented by perfectly proportioned mounding and artfully placed bunkers, the 409-yard 16th and 149-yard 17th holes alone may be worth the membership. These two holes sit in a finger of the desert that is enveloped on three sides by the mountain, forming a natural amphitheater for two of the most dramatic, challenging holes in the desert. 

The Desert course sits farther away from Mount Eisenhower, but this landmark remains a focal point throughout the course. The beautiful landscaping, placid lakes and streams, and panoramic desert views engage all the senses during a round on this 6,322-yard gem. Both the Desert and Mountain courses have recently been rated among the top courses in the country according to Golf Digest.

As protective of their 36-hole sanctuary as Vintage Club members are, they also have been more than happy to share their Eden with some of the biggest names in golf. Just as the club was a trailblazer in promoting a unique lifestyle that other clubs have attempted to emulate, The Vintage Club was a pioneer in recognizing that pros over the age of 50 could still provide plenty of competition and entertainment. 

Even before there was a Senior PGA Tour, legends like Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer hit iron shots off The Vintage Club’s immaculate fairways and putted on perfectly manicured greens. The Vintage Club’s inaugural golf tournament, called The Vintage Invitational, began in 1981, and this unofficial competition ran through 1983. This was truly an international event, with players from all over the world participating. Like the Masters, competitors could play by invitation only. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “The Vintage Invitational is an elegant event in which you have to be golf royalty to tee it up. If some of the royals are also ancient, they constitute an all-star cast of the greatest and most colorful players this game has ever seen. It’s almost like seeing a movie with Bogart, Tracy, Gable, Garbo, Bette Davis, Laughton and the Barrymores.”

In 1984 the PGA Tour saw the value of this tournament and picked it up as an official stop on the Senior PGA Tour. The Vintage Club hosted that tour-sanctioned event from 1984 to 1992.

Whether golf champion or movie star, the most successful professionals in their chosen fields share a kind of easy demeanor and quiet self-confidence. So it is with The Vintage Club’s membership, whose roster is filled with principals in the country’s business, entrepreneurial and civic arenas. These members, who have accomplished so much in their professional lives, fully appreciate this club that does so much to exceed their expectations. 

Because the members have common backgrounds, interests and worldviews, they have formed instant bonds with each other through playing a round of golf, a game of tennis, sharing a meal and participating in the club’s well-attended social events like the men’s renowned member-guest, known as the Rendezvous. 

“We are always amazed by how quickly members make reservations for our golf tournaments and social events. The Vintage Club has extraordinary amenities and events, but the true heart and life of this club is our members,” says General Manager Thomas M. Murphy. 

This camaraderie gives The Vintage Club a unique atmosphere that compels members to return to the desert year after year, whether they stay for two weeks or five months.  

“It’s a very relaxed, fun-loving atmosphere,” says Vintage Club President Dick Darmody. “When I come through that front entrance my shoulders just relax. I know I’m safe; I know I’m home; I know I’m with my friends.”

Of course, it is difficult to sustain this level of fellowship on a blank canvas, and the club provides an impressive array of facilities and amenities from which laughs and memories flow easily. Inside the award-winning clubhouse and on the lushly maintained grounds, members can choose from several dining venues, from on-the-go selections at the two snack bars to casual dining at the Grille Room and Palm Court to the five-star experience offered in the Main Dining Room.

Whether members are eating lunch overlooking the pool or being serenaded during a five-course gourmet dinner served by the attentive staff in the Main Dining Room, the culinary experience equals that of the finest restaurants, thanks to the chef’s expertise. 

The casual Palm Court restaurant overlooks the Swim Complex, which offers a luxurious zero-base entry into the 25-yard pool, providing an area for waders as well as a safe place for small children to enjoy the pool. Surrounded by cascading waterfalls and tempered glass walls, the sprawling pool deck offers a private sun-bathing area, an open social deck and an area for relaxing under a bougainvillea-draped pergola.

The Tennis Center includes a sunken stadium court that is used for special exhibitions and 10 other courts, which are separated by terraces and pavilions that are extensions of the contemporary motif created by the clubhouse architecture. A full-service pro shop offers tennis and fitness wear, a full range of racquet-repair services, as well as home decor and gift items.

Nearby, children of all ages can enjoy their own havens of Vintage activity. At the Children’s Park, kids age six and under can play all day, while more grown-up activities like soccer, volleyball and basketball draw pre-teens and adolescents to the multifunctional Sports Court. Regularly scheduled Kids’ Kamps bring members’ children and grandchildren together for events such as fishing derbies, radio-controlled boat races in the lake adjacent to the clubhouse, junior golf and tennis clinics, and evening camp-outs. The Vintage Club strives to develop programs that offer the same caliber of exciting events for children as it does for adults. 

Because remaining active is important regardless of age, one of the most popular facilities at the club is the new 18,000-square-foot Fitness & Wellness Center, where members receive one-on-one interaction with personal trainers on the cutting-edge HumanSports machines, which place emphasis on functional training. They also engage in Pilates, yoga, spinning and gyrokinesis classes. So in addition to becoming healthier and more fit, members can hit longer drives or develop a better backhand.

Those more serious about their golf can visit the Golf Performance Studio, which uses the same technology and resources that have helped pros like Camilo Villegas and Zach Johnson rise to the top of the PGA Tour. Biomechanics, fitness and a high-tech motion-capture system are combined in the state-of-the-art Golf Performance Studio to help members elevate their games to levels they never thought possible.

Given these benefits of membership and more, it’s little wonder that the Club Leaders Forum continually names The Vintage Club one of the top residential communities in America. This award is presented every three years to honor “Five-Star Clubs in the Top 100 in America.” The Vintage Club received this award in 2003, 2006 and 2009.  

For the members, The Vintage Club is more than a club; it is home. Members enjoy great golf, superb food, unmatched clubhouse facilities, comfortable elegance and most importantly, lifelong friendships—the foundation of one of the most distinctive clubs in the country. This is what The Vintage Club lifestyle is all about.

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