Thomas Arthur O'Donnell was a successful oilman who started visiting Palm Springs in the 1920's. He spent time at Nellie Coffman's Desert Inn, and lacking a golf course in the desert, played pitch and putt around the property. In 1925 O'Donnell purchased two parcels of land and gained title to what had been a campground adjacent to the Desert Inn. In 1926 he started to build his golf course with the aid of a friend from the petroleum industry, Capt. J. F. Lucey. They laid out the golf course according to how far the men could hit the ball. John Kline, who had been working for the O'Donnells as a chauffeur, became the first superintendent and manager of the nascent course which O'Donnell had built for himself and his friends.


By the mid-thirties, O'Donnell was suffering from recurring heart ailments and was unable to continue to play golf. Initially, he felt that he couldn't bear to watch as others played the game he so loved, and he planned to close the course. He decided to keep the course open for three last days to give all his friends an opportunity to play one more time. As he watched them play while he drove around the course in an old Ford equipped with balloon tires, or sat on a bench at a tee box, he realized he could enjoy the course as an observer. The course remained open. He liked to sit at the 7th tee and bet the players a dime that they couldn't hit the green with their tee shots. He also organized putting contests in which he could participate.

The Desert Golf Course, as it was originally known, was costing O'Donnell a lot of money to maintain. In 1941 he suffered a severe heart attack and in 1944 Tom realized that his failing health required him to make some kind of arrangement to preserve his golf course. He proposed a 99-year lease arrangement to his golfing friends for a specified fee if they would continue to maintain the course. His friends agreed, and in July 1944 the O'Donnell Golf Course was incorporated. O'Donnell selected 25 leaseholders who became the trustees of the lease. They elected a Board of Directors which was responsible for the club's governance. The lease specified that the property was to be used solely as a golf course, and rent of $3000 per year was to be paid to the lessor beginning July 1, 1945.

In late 1944 O'Donnell met with the mayor and city council of Palm Springs to inquire if they had an interest in accepting a gift deed for the golf course. Acceptance required compliance with the existing lease between O'Donnell and the club. In December 1944 the city approved O'Donnell's proposal.

O'Donnell Golf Club exists today much as Tom O'Donnell laid it out. Enhancements have been made over the years: elevated greens, bunkers, and paved cart paths. Recently the old bent grass greens, difficult to maintain in the desert environment, have been replaced with hybrid Bermuda. O'Donnell Golf Club thrives today as the Jewel of the Desert, an oasis of beauty in the center of downtown Palm Springs.

O'Donnell Golf Club is governed by a 25-member Board of Trustees and a seven-member Board of Directors. The original group of twenty-five members established a system of perpetuating the twenty-five leaseholders by choosing replacements from among the to-be-expanded membership, which today numbers approximately 250. The Board meets monthly, the Trustees annually or semi-annually.

Many confuse the Committee of Twenty-five with the original twenty-five friends of Tom O'Donnell who formed the nucleus of O'Donnell Golf Club. The Committee of Twenty-five is a mens' club formed in 1948 by James Kemper of Kemper Insurance. They needed a meeting place and approached the young golf club about renting John Kline's home on the property. A satisfactory lease was arranged, and the lease has been renewed to the present time.

Land Acquired 1925

The Beginning: After O'Donnell acquired a 33.16-acre parcel, as well as another parcel for a maintenance yard.

The Works and Gate Lodge 1926-27

The Work Begins: Land graded and golf course laid out; Gate Lodge built; course landscaped

Private Reservoir 1927

More Land: O'Donnell acquires parcel at Stevens and Palm Canyon for private reservoir.

Constructions 1927-29

Constructions Continued: The golf course takes about two years to complete.

First in the Coachella Valley early 1929

Let's Play Golf: Property Prepared for Play: Course opens as a private golf course for O'Donnell and his friends.

February 1932

Enjoyment for Public: Course opened to the Public

Golf Shop 1932-33

The Convenience: Golf Shop and restroom structure built

Greens and Tees 1936

The Enhancements: Golf Shop enlarged, and modifications to several greens and tees.

Golf House 1936

O'Donnell's Second Residence: Golf House, O'Donnell's second residence, built adjacent to the golf course.

Putting Green 1937

Practice: Putting green added

Palm Springs Golf Club 1937

Let's make it Official! Palm Springs Golf Club incorporated.

Ojo del Desierto Ca. 1943

The Eye of The Desert Sold: O'Donnell sells Ojo del Desierto, the Carriage House and The Gate Lodge to Nate and Virginia Milnor.

The Promise 1944

The 99 year lease: O'Donnell promises the golf course as a gift to the city with a 99-year lease.

The Gift and The Death 1945

The Generous Thomas O'Donnell: City Council votes to accept the gift, and the course becomes a private golf club; Thomas O'Donnell dies.

The Sale 1945

Change of Ownership: O'Donnell "Golf House" residence sold by Mrs. O'Donnell to the Milnors, who then sold the house to Pat Dougherty. Deed changed for Lot 47 (Carriage House Parcel) so ownership is shared by the Milnors and Dougherty, who will use the same driveway.

The Permit 1945

New Additions: Permit pulled for Golf Shop garage, $4,100 and an addition to the Golf Shop, $1,000.

The Improvements 1946

More shrubs and trees: New traps added, and old ones enlarged and re-shaped; trees and shrubs added.

Lot 47 1947

City acquires strip of land: City buys 50 foot by 1127 foot strip of land adjacent to the course at its northern boundary (Lot 47) along Alejo Road.

Electric Golf Carts
Electric Golf Carts 1954

Fancy Ride: Electric golf carts introduced.

Golf Shop Expansion 1955

Storage for Electric Carts: Storage building for electric golf carts added to the Golf Shop, which was remodeled, expanding the pro shop.

Lot 702, 688, 689 and 690 1969

City acquires more properties: City of Palm Springs acquires Lots 702 (former Carriage House) and Lots 688, 689, and 690 (O'Donnell's Golf House Residence, which was turned into O'Donnell Golf Club Clubhouse)

Steven Keylon Makes History with Nomination Application For City of Palm Springs Class 1 Historic Site 2019

The Nomination: Thomas A. O'Donnell's "Desert Golf Course," known today as the O'Donnell Golf Club, at 301 North Belardo Road in Palm Springs, was the creation of oil tycoon Thomas O'Donnell, who began construction in 1926, finishing the first iteration of his private 9-hole course the following year. The oldest existing golf course in the Coachella Valley

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The Award 2020

Susan Secoy-Jensen authored the National Register of Historic Places nomination, which was awarded in 2020.