The California course that is no longer shrouded in mystery

The one-time invitation-only Porcupine Creek Golf Course is now part of a world-class resort

Aerial; Credit_ Chris Simpson (1).jpg
While Porcupine Creek opened in 2004, the ultra-exclusive course did not become accessible to the public until the creation of Sensei Porcupine Creek resort opened in fall 2022.

RANCHO MIRAGE, California — Presidents Gerald Ford and Barack Obama enjoyed a round or two at Porcupine Creek Golf Course. And Annika Sorenstam, Tom Weiskopf and Dave Stockton had a hand in helping shape holes at what was once an invitation-only, ultra-exclusive experience for the few lucky enough to have played the desert course outside of Palm Springs, California.

For two decades, Porcupine Creek was shrouded in mystery, or ever since former billionaire Tim Blixseth decided to build his own private golf course at the base of the picturesque Santa Rosa Mountains that opened in 2004. The only way folks could catch a glimpse of one of the world’s most exclusive tracks was to hike the Bump and Grind Trail, a mountainous adventure that overhangs the golf course.

Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle software company, purchased the property for $42.9 million in 2011 and turned it into one of his estate retreats.

Then in fall 2022, the curtain — so to speak — was pulled back on the desert’s enduring golf secret as Ellison turned his private home into wellness retreat Sensei Porcupine Creek, combining “Move, Nourish, Rest” as brand touchstones during a guest’s stay at the 261-acre paradise.

Porcupine Creek qualifies on all fronts when it comes to getaway opulence, right down to the food executed by superstar chef Nobu Matsuhisa, including Japanese A5 Wagyu beef at $38 per ounce.

“All of the preparation is the very best, of course, but our chefs also take the time to hand dry all of our spices,” says resort general manager Julie Oliff. "They're never putting anything on the food that comes out of a pre-prepared bottle. And that just puts so much more attention and flavor and, I have to say magic, but I'm supposed to say science into the food."

And with just 34 bedrooms the new resort more than delivers on its promise of an intimate stay in a lush landscape environment.

“It’s the closest you can get to basically owning your own golf course,” Porcupine Creek director of golf Richard Ruddy says. “That's a lot of where the experience lies, to have basically a practice tee to yourself, with you or your friends or just by yourself, and then heading out to No. 1 knowing that there's no one up ahead or no one behind. It really does give you this whole mindset of just freedom and having space around you. And it really is relaxing in that regard.”

Porcupine Creek
At Porcupine Creek, there is no shortage of stunning views of the surrounding Santa Rosa Mountain ranges.

The golf course isn’t long at 6,665 yards from the tips, but extremely memorable and challenging with an array of waterfalls, flowers and palm trees framing most fairways. The front nine weaves its way through the Coachella Valley while the back nine climbs into the mountain range with some of the best elevated tees shots imaginable.

Ruddy claims the course’s maintenance crew spreads more rye grass per acre each October than Augusta National.

“This course, in season, is really up there condition-wise with any course in the world,” Ruddy says.

The signature hole is the 217-yard 15th hole, which drops 200 feet from tee-to-green and is carved out of the side of the mountain range in sharp contrast to the other lush offerings. Few holes will offer such an experience.

“You're really tucked away in this little cove by the mountains where each hole feels like you're in your own world and you're surrounded by all this landscaping,” Ruddy says. “It all adds into the experience. So I guess it's not just being alone, it's ‘just a feel’ that you get while you're here. If I were to pick a course and say ‘I'm stuck playing there the rest of my life,’ I think I could play here every day for a long time and I would have a good time each round.”

Ruddy laughed when asked about the number of palm trees that adorn the property.

“The story is they lost track of the palm trees around 10,000 and then they just started counting the truckloads, and I'm not even sure if they accurately counted the truckloads because there were so many truckloads,’’ he says. "Porcupine Creek is just an oasis that was built out of the barren desert."

Sensei Porcupine Creek — Hole 7
The seventh green at Porcupine Creek Golf Course.

A round of golf is not cheap at $950 in-season (November-April) and $650 off-season, but few would argue that it won’t be in your top 10 all-time golf memories with the course’s overall scenery and series of unique holes.

"It’s not like the landscaping is trying to impress you and the golf course is second," Ruddy says. "We’ve all played courses like that, where the landscape is almost a little daunting and it feels like golf was an afterthought. Even though a lot was done here, the golf course still is the golf course."

"It’s spectacular,” adds Stockton, the former PGA Tour player who lives 45 minutes north of the course. "There is nothing Mickey Mouse about it. It’s a great layout and because it doesn’t get much play it’s always in phenomenal condition."

The resort’s luxury extends all the way to a loaner car — a Tesla Model X Plaid SUV.

“It’s that concept of like being at home and being able to just jump into a car and go,” Oliff says. “It is incredibly fun to drive, but it also mirrors something that's really core and key to our values, which is environmental responsibility. There's not a single bit of plastic in the rooms. Even all of the amenities are made from recyclable, biodegradable materials. The Tesla is the same way. We don’t do it in an obvious, advertising way. We don't greenwash everything and say 'We're saving the Earth,’ but we make deliberate and conscious decisions in everything that we do and buy to make sure that even our food menu is as waste-free as possible."

Oliff, who has been in the hospitality industry for 25 years, studied back in the way at St. Andrews University overseas so she knows a little about special golf locations.

"Coming from the birthplace of golf and going somewhere that feels equally special meant that it felt a little bit like coming home," she says. "Some courses hold something completely and utterly magical and unique unto themselves, and this course happens to be one of them."