Tribe will operate historic golf course

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – A southern California tribe is taking the reins of Palm Springs’ first golf course after the operator folded.

The Palm Springs National Golf Club, formerly the Canyon Country Club, has experienced a significant drop in membership and plans to surrender the 18-hole course to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which owns all of the land where the course is located.

“Basically [the operators] called up and said ‘Hey, guess what? We are not going to be able to pay the rent anymore,’” said Fred Razzar, executive director of the Agua Caliente Development Authority.

The lease payment has not gone up in 30 years, said Agua Caliente spokeswoman Nancy Conrad.

The tribe doesn’t expect to recoup a profit anytime soon, she said. “It’s not an ideal situation, but certainly the tribe will make the best of it. The tribe was not looking for another golf course. It will be operating at a loss, at least in the short term.”

Plans on how or whether to revive the private course have not been solidified. Agua Caliente owns a public 18-hole course across from the road as well.

The course, where Hollywood’s A-list and presidents have teed off and relaxed, has seen much of its membership die while failing to sign up new members, Razzar said. That has been exacerbated by competing courses sprouting up in Palm Springs and the surrounding area and a dip in the number of golfing baby boomers, who have moved to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley at high rates recently.

“There are just not enough baby boomers playing golf,” Conrad said.

The Canyon Country Club opened before the advent of tribal casinos in 1961, after a Palm Springs attorney struck the then-largest Indian land lease in American history: 550 acres, according to the club’s Web site.

The site boasts a list of Hollywood Golden Age stars playing the course: Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Zeppo Marx, Sammy Davis, Doris Day and Johnny Carson. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford teed off there as well, according to the site. Today the course is idle, its putting greens empty. “It’s lost its edge,” Conrad said.

The club will remain semi-private in consideration of existing members. Razzar said he expects 80 percent of them to retain their memberships.