- Desert Classic
The Desert Classic tournament – the title of which was changed to The American Express for sponsorship reasons in 2020 – is a 72-hole professional golf championship on the PGA Tour which is played in the Coachella Valley, California as part of the PGA Tour’s “West Coast Swing” and it’s organized by the non-profit organization called the Desert Classic Charities.
It started out as a four-course, 90-hole competition called “The Palm Springs Desert Golf Classic” back in 1960 but it soon became known as “The Bob Hope Desert Classic” when the popular comedian took on the role of event host and his name then became synonymous with the tournament for almost half a century.
Hope – like Bing Crosby at the Pebble Beach Pro-am – could always rely on the support of Hollywood celebrities like Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Frank Sinatra to take part in this pro-am event and his involvement with the tournament would in turn be emulated by other entertainers in California, such as Andy Williams in San Diego and Glen Campbell in Los Angeles.
The first edition in 1960 occurred twelve months after the demise of the Thunderbird Invitational, which had been held in Rancho Mirage during the previous six years. Arnold Palmer won the last Thunderbird title then he picked up the winner’s cheque for the inaugural Desert Classic with a 3-shot win from nearest challenger Fred Hawkins.
Four clubs shared hosting that first year: Indian Wells Country Club, Bermuda Dunes Country Club, Tamarisk Country Club and Thunderbird Country Club. Thunderbird quickly fell off the roster, replaced by Eldorado in 1963, and this course, along with the other three, staged the Desert Classic for many years.
Eldorado dropped out after 17 editions in 1989 then Tamarisk did likewise after staging 19 events in 2004. Both Indian Wells and Bermuda Dunes hosted 46 consecutive tournaments through to 2005 before Indian Wells left the schedule. Bermuda Dunes followed suit after another three contests took place, in 2009.
Arnold Palmer went on to win the tournament a record five times, with his last victory in 1973 also turning out to be his 62nd and last-ever PGA Tour title. There were also multiple wins before the start of the new millennium for Billy Casper (1965 & 1969), Johnny Miller (1976 & 1976), John Mahaffey (1979 & 1984), Corey Pavin (1987 & 1991) and John Cook (1992 & 1997).
A wind of change began to blow toward the latter half of the 1980s with the introduction of new courses from The Club at PGA West. The TPC Stadium course was first to arrive in 1987, followed by the Palmer Private a year later, and this layout would make a total of 25 appearances between 1988 and 2015.
Another big change occurred with the Desert Classic in 2012 when a new sponsor took over. Apart from a change of title, the competition format was also altered. Previous editions had been played over five 18-hole stroke play rounds, but now the event conforms to the standard format of four 18-hole rounds.
Two Arnold Palmer-designed tracks, at The Classic Club and SilverRock Resort, were used between 2006 and 2011 before disappearing in favour of another couple of PGA West layouts: the Nicklaus Private and the Nicklaus Tournament. The Private hosted for a short seven-year spell up until 2015 but the Tournament course, along with the TPC Stadium course and La Quinta Country Club, continues to stage the competition into the 2020s.
Only five non-American players have won the tournament: Australian Bruce Devlin in 1970; Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik in 2000; Mike Weir from Canada in 2003; Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas in 2010; and Spain’s John Rahm, after a playoff against Andrew Landry in 2018.
You’ll not find any of the following courses below as they’re currently not listed in our Californian Best in State rankings: Bermuda Dunes, Classic Club, Indian Ridge, Indian Wells Country Club and Tamarisk.
Desert Classic Top 100 Leaderboard