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Golf is out, surf is in at a resort planned for the Coachella Valley

Kelly Slater
Kelly Slater at his Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif., in 2018.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A luxury resort proposed for the Coachella Valley is set to serve surfers instead of golfers with a wave-making machine that could stir up water for professional surfing competitions or kids playing on foam boards.

The big waves are to roll at Coral Mountain, a proposed development that would combine a hotel and housing on 400 acres in La Quinta that have already been approved for a golf-centered community.

But with more than 100 golf courses already serving the region, the builders hope to instead stand out with a $200-million complex built around a surfing basin created by Kelly Slater Wave Co. The Solana Beach engineering firm founded by surfing legend Kelly Slater says it will provide the largest, rideable open-barrel, human-made waves in the world.

By substituting surfing and other adventure sports such as rock climbing for golf, developers Meriwether Cos. and Big Sky Wave Developments intend to create a new kind of neighborhood for the Palm Springs area, which has seen a demographic shift in recent years toward younger visitors and residents.

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The site of the proposed Coral Mountain resort at the base of Coral Mountain in La Quinta.
(Andy Potts Photography)

As evidence of the change, consider the thousands drawn by the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the proliferation of hip hotels meant to appeal to millennials.

Coral Mountain would be a master-planned “wave-based community,” the first of its kind, developer Garrett Simon of Meriwether Cos. said, with a 150-room hotel and as many as 600 homes, mostly single-family residences priced between $1 million and $5 million. There would be a private club and multiple dining venues.

In addition to the 18-million-gallon surf basin, the features might include a network of ponds that hotel guests and residents could navigate on stand-up slow-moving paddle boards or decidedly faster electric hydrofoil boards that lift riders out of the water.

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For enthusiasts of land-based adventure sports, there would be snaking skateboarding runs, bike pump tracks and trails for mountain bikes and perhaps electric motorcycles.

Despite its aquatic focus, Coral Mountain would use a fraction of the amount of water required by a golf course, Simon said. Golf courses use as much as 1 million gallons a day to stay green, he said, while Coral Mountain would give up about 18 million gallons a year in evaporation.

The developers’ pivot from golf to more active sports also reflects the declining fortunes of the golf industry.

Hundreds of U.S. golf courses have closed in recent years as the numbers of golfers and rounds played have fallen, according to industry reports. An oversupply of courses, which were often built to sell nearby homes, has contributed to the golf industry’s challenges.

The Coral Mountain site was to be the second phase of the adjacent Andalusia Country Club, which opened in 2006, Simon said.

But, as the Desert Sun reported, the golf venue struggled with home sales and country club membership after the recession that started in 2008. Meriwether Cos. acquired the property last May.

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A rendering of the planned surfing basin at Coral Mountain resort in La Quinta.
(CCY Architects)

Because the site has already been approved for development, Simon hopes his company can secure city approval to start construction on Coral Mountain by early next year and open for business in mid-2022.

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It would be one of a handful of surf parks planned for the Coachella Valley including the addition of a surfing basin to the former Wet ‘n Wild water park in Palm Springs as part of a major renovation. The shuttered attraction is expected to reopen this year as Palm Springs Surf Club.

Another proposed surf resort and residential complex, the Thermal Beach Club, has drawn opposition from local activists in the unincorporated eastern part of Coachella Valley, concerned its luxury would be a jarring contrast with the impoverished community. They say Thermal needs affordable housing more than it needs glamour.

La Quinta, in contrast, is a resort city that thrives on tourism. “We haven’t received any feedback or concerns regarding affordable housing” from city leaders, Simon said. “Employment is important to us and we are aware of the need for affordable housing in certain areas.”

Coral Mountain would be the first of a group of inland surfing venues in the West employing wave technology developed by Kelly Slater Wave Co., said Michael B. Schwab of Big Sky Wave Developments, an investor who was impressed by Slater’s existing prototype in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.

Slater’s Surf Ranch has turned tiny Lemoore into a “surf mecca,” Schwab said, in part because machine-made waves can speed the learning process of a difficult sport. It did for him.

“I knew that if I had a repeatable, perfect wave I could get better,” he said. And what he learned “transferred into real-world surfing.”

Schwab hopes that Coral Mountain can entice expert surfers but also introduce novices daunted by the prospect of trying to catch waves they can ride in the ocean.

About 25 people could surf at a time, with five or so riding the main wave and 10 surfers on each of the two end bays of the basin, where the waves would be smaller.

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With surfing and other active sports, Coral Mountain “will be for people who want to get out of their comfort zone,” Schwab said.

Colorado-based Meriwether owns the Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs and has worked on residential developments in Rancho Mirage.


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