Palm Springs Historical Society’s guest writer and volunteer Docent, Denise Ortuno Neil takes a look back at successful Palm Springs real estate businessman Ernie Dunlevie’s and oilman, developer and well-known gambler Ray Ryan’s gamble on taking a vast, desolate, desert plain and turning it into Bermuda Dunes Country Club. 

The author writes that Dunlevie and Ryan started development on Bermuda Dunes Country in early 1958, after recognizing that the golf facilities in Palm Springs were less than adequate to meet the demands of residents and vacationers. The development was an ambitious one, with a proposed 200-room hotel, to be named the “Star of the Desert,” slated to be built inside the country club by an interested syndicate. The luxury hotel had a price tag of $4,500,000, but never came to fruition. However, the Bermuda Dunes Country Club, as well as the Bermuda Dunes Airport and adjacent Racquet Club (now Murph’s Gaslight) were completed and greeted with rave reviews. 

Built on 1,000 acres of land, Bermuda Dunes Country Club started with 11 miles of streets, 14  miles of water mains and a fresh water lake nourished by a 75-foot high waterfall. The 160-acre, 18-hole golf course was designed by William F. Bell, and was well received by golfers and praised for its rolling sand dune contours and palm-lined course, unlike the flat courses that were the norm in California and Arizona deserts. With its high undulating dips, the course had players reminiscing about courses on the Monterey Peninsula and the British Isles. The course would go on to serve in 50 Bob Hope Classic Tournaments. The “Top O’ the Dunes” clubhouse, designed by architect Chris Choate and built by builders Jerry Apelby and Virgil Garland, was located at the top of 60-foot high sand dune overlooking the lake and was built at a cost of $300,000. 

Home sites within the club were initially clustered around the golf course to take advantage of the stunning views. The luxury home sites ranged in size from 10,000 square feet up to half-acre lots. Fairway sites started at $9,000 and view sites at $3,150. In the first year, the club had almost $4,000,000 in home site sales. It was the new and fashionable place to live in the desert with celebrity residents that included Clark Cable and his wife Kay Williams, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Cary Grant and William Holden, Patti Page and many more. 

To read Denise Ortuno Neil’s original article and view the accompanying pictures, courtesy of The Desert Sun please visit: