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After a couple of weeks of temperatures in the high 70s, scorecards in the low 60s and Tiny Bubbles wafting in the tropical breeze, the PGA Tour comes to the mainland this week, home to one of its most endearing haunts.

To explain, what does La Quinta Country Club have in common with, oh, Augusta National and Pebble Beach? The answer is almost nothing, and almost everything.

To explain, when the American Express Championship kicks off this week under the desert sun, in Coachella Valley between Indian Wells and Indio, La Quinta will be back in the rotation of courses to be played.

The veritable club grounds, introduced in 1959, were off the grid during the pandemic last year, when Soo Wi Kim captured the title. But La Quinta is back for this edition, which represents its 50th appearance in this traditional PGA Tour test. And 50 puts the Lawrence Hughes design in rare company.

That is, only distinct playing fields like the aforementioned have been part of the Tour scene more often. If Bob Hope were around, he might break into a little Thanks for the Memory. And that would be most appropriate. Because, while American Express came on as title sponsor in 2020, Hope’s name was attached to this rodeo for more than 45 years.

Those were the days, when the proceedings lasted five days and included a 54-hole cut, when the festivities included “Classic Girls” and a “Classic Queen,” like Debbie Reynolds, Jill St. John or Barbara Eden, when the celebrity pro-am featured giants like Bing Crosby, Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas, when presidents like Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford played along.

The days when Charlie Sifford set a course record (1964) and when Arnold Palmer (1960, ’62, ’68, ’71, ’73) was always the returning champion, or so it seemed. La Quinta isn’t just another stop on the PGA Tour trail, it’s a shiny bauble in the treasure chest, a glitzy sports jacket in the closet. It’s the luminous launch of the PGA Tour’s mainland season, the western swing with the Hollywood ballyhoo … the glaring omission from last year’s rotation.

“I always enjoy playing La Quinta Country Club because it’s a great and fun course to play on this rotation,” Phil Mickelson said of last year, when the course was not part of the 2021 event.

Now, La Quinta is back, and so is Mickelson, who is the host of this year’s American Express. This 50th appearance of La Quinta in this 63-year old championship snaps a tie with Bermuda Dunes Country Club for the most years of inclusion. To be clear, with its skinny fairways and tiny greens, La Quinta hasn’t been a solo act.

The championship has included other facilities and is now played across three platforms, which include the host PGA West’s Stadium Course and Nicklaus Tournament Course. The La Quinta course proper is more like a celebrated sidekick, like Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis … and by the way, “Dino” was a Hope regular in those glory days. 

This season’s American Express will have its share of heavyweights. The field will include OWGR No. 1 Jon Rahm and No. 4 Patrick Cantlay. Eight of the top 30 will tee it up, and 13 major champions will be involved, including last year’s PGA Championship surprise, Mickelson.

Kim is the reigning champ but Cantlay produced last year’s fireworks. He had four wins on the PGA Tour in ’21, and came within a desert grain of sand of five. The Long Beach, Calif. native and UCLA product spun a PGA West Stadium Course record 11-under-par 61 in the final round, finishing one stroke behind Kim. Cantlay’s 22-under total featured 20 birdies over the closing 36 holes.

This time, Cantlay and the others will have La Quinta to deal with. The par 5s will be easy and the par 3s challenging. Palm trees and lavish homes will be left and right, mountains will stand in the distance and history alongside every step.

The PGA Tour comes home this week to La Quinta, literally and figuratively.