Country Club Lushness

The Hyatt Grand Champions will appeal to families and the discerning golfer

By: Lisa Jennings

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. You could say Indian Wells is figuratively living in the shadow of Palm Springs as a desert resort destination.

For hard-core golf and tennis buffs, this tiny town in the heart of the Coachella Valley is probably their idea of heaven. It is known across the country for hosting both the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament, and the Pacific Life Open, part of the Tennis Masters Series.

And despite it’s reputation as a retirement community, Indian Wells is a wonderful weekend getaway spot for families even those who have no intention of picking up a club or racquet.

Blending almost imperceptibly with neighboring Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and La Quinta, the whole place has the feel of being one big country club, with carefully landscaped grounds, gated communities, and lots of well-kept retired folks in golf shoes or tennis skirts.

The desert city’s great weather is certainly a draw. Oh sure, it gets hot in the summer, but it’s a dry heat and there are enough pools, trickling fountains, misting machines and duck ponds to bring temperatures down.

Indian Wells is actually little more than four resorts and a golf course: the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa, Miramonte Resort, and Indian Wells Resort.

All four share a “resort campus” anchored by the The Golf Resort at Indian Wells, which includes two Ted Robinson-designed courses.

Among the four resorts, one has recently been born again as an upscale hotel that is perfect for families.

The 479-room Hyatt Grand Champions in January completed a $65-million expansion, adding more guest rooms, meeting space, a wedding gazebo, and a luxurious spa.

The rooms and bathrooms are spacious that’s what attracted new owner Richard Monfort, who, incidentally, is also part owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team.

There are 26 penthouse suites on the top floor, and 20 garden villas surrounding the pool area, each with master bedroom, living room with fireplace, and private garden with an outdoor whirlpool.

The Aqua Serena spa, adjacent to the hotel, offers the full spectrum of services to relax, rejuvenate, and generally make you feel and look terrific. Down the road, the spa will offer cosmetic services, such as Botox and laser treatments, in addition to the less invasive facials and body scrubs currently on the menu.

When the sun gets high, though, families will want to hit the pools. There are six at this hotel, including a shallow baby pool, and another with a water slide safe enough for the 4-year-olds and up. The pools are staffed by lifeguards, so the adults can take advantage of the cabanas with color TVs, internet connections, fans and misting machines.

A small playground is planned for the pool area.

Best of all, is Camp Hyatt, a staffed activity center where kids (ages 3-12) can play, go on field trips, swim, do arts and crafts, watch videos or order kid-friendly room service, giving Mom and Dad some kid-free time.

Camp rates range from $26 to $50 per child, but on weekend evenings the camp is $10 per hour, per child, which includes meals and activities.

There are other family-friendly touches, such as baby changing facilities in the lobby restrooms, crayons and games given at the restaurant, and the option of ordering half-portions from room service.

Outside the hotel, there’s plenty to do.

The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in nearby Rancho Mirage is particularly adult-friendly with hands-on exhibits that promote cooperative play the perfect antidote to the wild, screaming hours on the water slide.

During cooler morning or evening hours, there is also the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens where the kids can commune with mountain lions and see an elaborate model train set.

And a short drive away is the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, two 80-person revolving passenger cars that climb up a mountain in Mt. St. Jacinto State Park. In addition to a spectacular view, in winter months there’s often enough snow at the top of the mountain for tubing, snowshoe hiking and cross-country skiing so bring warm clothes.

Knott’s Soak City U.S.A. is open March through October with 13 water slides.

Visiting Indian Wells has probably given my children a very misleading impression of “the desert.” My son never saw the Sahara-style sand dunes he had imagined.

But none of us were disappointed.

Hotel Review

Dining: The Santa Rosa Grille at the hotel features pricey California cuisine with a good kids menu. For a meal without young children, try Sirocco at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort, which offers authentic Northern Italian fare (and grown-up prices).

Hits: Outdoor dining on the terrace in the cool of the morning or evening.

Misses: There is little shade over the parking lot, so getting into your car could require oven mitts.

Rates: Rooms start at $250. Agent rate of $83 is available June 1-Sept.15.

Agents earn 10 percent commission.

800-233-1234, 760-341-1000.;