Life After Chase: Tony Lord in Bend

California Desert: A Golfer's Paradise

Tony Lord, a founder of the CAA, moved to California’s Coachella Valley in 2002. Since Hans van den Houten has been crowing about the Bend, Oregon area as a retirement destination, Tony wanted to share his enthusiasm for the California desert.

Like many CAA members, my wife and I have lived in a significant number of places and countries, and have spent meaningful amounts of time in many, many others. In my opinion, nowhere in the world compares to the California desert for a retirement filled with an active sports and social life.

Let me try to justify that rather bold statement.

The Coachella Valley – or the “valley,” as this area is known – is an approximately two-hour drive east of Los Angeles and just over three hours west from Phoenix. The area comprises nine cities, including Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirage. The current population is estimated at approximately 450,000. State projections estimate that the valley’s population will pass 600,000 by the year 2020; I believe it will be more like 700,000. It could be well over one million by the middle of the century. Why so popular?

First, weather. Second, weather.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges flank the valley’s southwestern side, the San Bernadino Mountains its northeast. The mountains peak at around 11,000 feet, and tend to average 3,000 to 4,000 feet. In addition to creating a dramatic, beautiful setting, the mountains shelter us from any type of inclement weather, practically guaranteeing clear blue skies for months on end. Indeed, I believe that weather has disrupted our golf, tennis, or social plans only twice during the more than four years we’ve lived here.

From October through May, the temperature ranges from 50 degrees (19° C) at night to 80 degrees (26.6° C) in the daytime, making the valley a very popular winter resort destination.

People thinking about moving to the valley often ask about the summer heat. To be sure it’s hot here from June through September, when the temperature very rarely falls below 100 degrees (37.8° C) and often exceeds 110 degrees (43.3° C).

Hot, yes, but in contrast with New York, Chicago, Miami, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and many other cities where Chase maintains offices, our summers are not nearly as uncomfortable. The humidity – or lack of it – makes all the difference. If the valley experienced the same humidity levels as New York in the summer, it would be one of the most unpleasant places on the face of the earth. Our summers are dry, however, and we simply adjust to the heat by playing tennis, golf, and any other sport involving physical exertion early in the day. After 11 am, we tend to remain indoors in air-conditioned comfort. (Many of the homes over 2,500 square feet have dual air conditioning systems.)

In the summer, many people leave the valley for a second home in a more temperate climate, or, as we do, travel extensively. Though it’s easy to stay put in such a wonderful place, we try to leave the valley for approximately 10 days every month, giving us a very pleasant change of climate.

As regards other natural phenomena: Earthquakes do occur from time to time, as they do throughout California. The San Andreas fault runs through the valley, and at some point in time, I'm sure there will be a significant quake in this area. Whether that will happen in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my grandchildren I have no idea, but construction in the valley is recent and thus our homes etc., are as earthquake proof as it's reasonable to expect in today's world.

Where People Live

There are basically three different types of housing situations: country clubs (which offer many communal activities), gated communities, and housing areas.

The area has dozens of private or semi-private country clubs, developments grouping from 600 to 2,000 homes around one or, more usually, two golf courses. Many of the golf courses have been designed by such golf icons as Arnold Palmer, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, and Greg Norman. Most of the country clubs also offer complete tennis programs, with as many as 24 courts. Some clubs offer grass, clay, and hard courts to their members. The spa/workout facilities available to members rival most workout clubs nationwide.

A full range of social activities complements the outstanding sports facilities the country clubs offer. Most clubs have at least one or, in most cases, two restaurants that are reasonably priced, enjoy outstanding views, and offer excellent food. In addition, there are regular social gatherings, in some cases on a weekly basis. These events encourage members to get together and are the basis of much of our social life.

To give you an idea of country club economics, a full “Platinum” membership in Palm Valley Country Club, one of the better country clubs located in Palm Desert, costs an initiation fee of $6,000 if one does not live in Palm Valley. (There is no initiation if you own a home in the club.) This includes seven-day access to both the Championship, and Challenge (Executive) golf courses, plus full tennis, workout, and social memberships. The monthly dues are approximately $550, and if one does not play golf, or tennis, the monthly cost is nominal.

In addition, because American Golf Corporation runs the club, members have the option of using any of the approximately 250 American Golf facilities worldwide up to twice a month for cart fees and an annual cost of $250. We recently were on vacation at the St. Regis at Monarch Beach and played Marbella Country Club ($13.50 each), and Dove Run Country Club ($20 each) – both really lovely courses.

Gated communities are just that: collections of homes protected by walls around the community with access through a guarded gate. Gated communities do not offer normally any sports or social facilities. Housing areas are simply homes built on regular streets.

The vast majority of people live in country clubs or gated communities. The homes in all three types of developments are normally 3-bedroom, 3.5 bath homes on a single level, and include relatively luxurious appointments such as granite countertops, marble floors, dual zone air conditioning, and often pool and/or hot tubs.

The valley is beautifully planned, with wide roads, beautiful landscaping both within each community, and on the roadsides. As the vast majority of the building has taken place over the past 10-15 years, the various townships have been able to impose very strict building and landscaping standards on the community. The results really are quite spectacular.

Living in the desert, one needs a car, or cars. Within the country clubs, many people, including Pam and me, use our golf carts as a mode of transportation. For example, when one goes to the club for dinner, one tends to drive a golf cart rather than a car, because then, one can drink without being too concerned about being pulled over.

A major part of the valley, including Palm Desert, La Quinta, and Indio, is of recent construction. The roads here are unbelievably wide and well planned. The vast majority of the roads are four lanes, and enjoy beautiful landscaping. Thus, as the valley grows, you really don't experience the congestion that you tend to find when towns elsewhere expand. We often comment that those responsible for planning the infrastructure here have done a truly incredible job; perhaps that's due to the number of formerly senior corporate officers who get involved in running the cities and the school districts.

Outside Your Door

Every facility any retiree might require is available within the valley. Eisenhower Medical Center is probably one of the most outstanding – as well as luxurious -- medical facilities worldwide. When one checks in at Eisenhower, it is like checking in at a first-class hotel. It should be remembered that from an economic standpoint, the valley is one of the most prosperous communities anywhere in the world. The people who have homes here, including such notables as former President Ford, Bill Gates, Pete Sampras, Michelle Wie, Steve Winn, and Willie Mays, demand the very best in terms of medical care.

The range of stores, restaurants, theaters, and movie theaters is such that, to be honest, there is little reason to ever leave the valley. We have several Home Depots, Lowes, Sam’s Clubs, Costco’s, Wal Marts, Macy’s and other leading department stores, and high-end furniture and accessory stores, as well as a myriad of art galleries. Restaurants range from Mortons, to the Cheesecake Factory, the Yardhouse, Roy’s, and Flemings. There are also many Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, British, French, and other ethnic restaurants, all of which offer excellent menus at reasonable prices. All in all, it is difficult to identify any “need” that is not currently met.

Each of the three university campuses in the valley offers continuing education classes. The most active programs are run by College of the Desert, located in Palm Desert. Each of the cities (Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage et al) has very extensive libraries, which I believe are significantly bigger and more modern in terms of technology than their counterparts in other parts of the United States.

Social Life

The social life here is quite extraordinary. The majority of people here are affluent and retired, and few, if any, arrive with family in tow or with a built-in network of friends. Thus, most people are looking to establish an active social life -- in our experience one of the most important aspects of a happy retirement.

We originally retired to Moraga Country Club in Moraga, in the East Bay of San Francisco. There was golf and tennis available within the club, but most of the residents had lived in the East Bay their entire lives or had graduated from University of California/ Berkeley, and in either case had a built-in family/social structure. That made it very difficult for us to establish a meaningful social structure. That is not the case in the valley. We’ve been able to establish a broad and very active social life through tennis, golf, and the country club we live in (Indian Ridge Country Club), and the country club where we play (Palm Valley Country Club).

The valley is a destination for people from all over the United States. Our own social circle includes people from Nevada, New York, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, Connecticut, Kansas, Utah, France, Colombia and the UK, in addition, of course, to northern and southern California. The international community is more limited, with the exception of people who are originally from overseas, and who like myself have become U.S. citizens and have lived the majority of their lives here.

The dominant age range is 50-70. The average age is dropping steadily, however, as people retiring earlier and move here, and as younger people make this their full-time home. The latter group includes many of the people who provide services to the area, including, of course, those active in the medical community, hospitality (hotels/restaurants), housing development/renovation, finance, retail, etc. In addition, with Los Angeles "only” two hours’ drive away, and San Diego just over a 90 minutes’ drive, we are seeing younger people moving here as real estate prices in those two major cities rise out of sight -- two or three times higher than here in the valley. This also impacts real estate taxes, which in California are approximately 1.24% of the purchase price of a home.

Speaking of Property Costs

There is real estate for every economic level in the valley. One can purchase a very nice 1,400-square-foot condominium in a country club for about $300,000. A 2,750-square- foot stand- alone home in an upscale country club would run $1.2 million -- and from there, the sky is the limit. I recently toured a newly built 15,000-square-foot home with a private theater and personal spa, which had been purchased for $15 million by a young Denver doctor who is collecting royalties on an ongoing basis from a process he developed.

All in all, this is a delightful place to live. The Chase Alumni Association, however, is represented by only two former officers. To my knowledge, besides me, the only other former Chase officer resident in the valley is Michael Shield, who, as many of you may recall, was one of the four senior human resources officer at Chase Manhattan Bank.

It would be a great pleasure to establish an arm of the CAA in the valley. Should any ex-Chase officer have interest in exploring this wonderful place as his or her retirement home, I encourage you to write to me.