It’s not typical to check into a wellness retreat expecting to explore a range of mindfulness/rejuvenation techniques to also find yourself standing at a golf tee preparing for a shot that would require Tiger Woods in his prime to achieve. But that shot on the 15th hole, a 283 yard drive to a green 200 feet below, is in the very private golf course at Sensei Porcupine Creek which opened in November on the Oracle Chairman’s Rancho Mirage. California estate. And golf isn’t just a fun diversion/obsession, it’s actually a meaningful part of the retreat’s three-pronged approach.
The flagship Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort opened on that Hawaiian island, another of Ellison’s possessions, in 2019, offering a wellness discipline mixing science with luxury and co-founded by Ellison and oncologist Dr. David Agus around the three main tenets of movement, rest and nourishment-the last part provided by superstar chef Nobu Matsuhisa in dishes devised with Dr. Agus. Those same elements are in residence here. But unlike the property in Lāna’i, still operated in conjunction with Four Seasons, this one is standalone. Located on 230 acres surrounded by date palm dotted desert in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains, it would also be a solid choice for a restful vacation even if they weren’t trying to return you to the world in optimum shape.
To that end, there are no forced activities, no required 6 A.M. hikes. (But there are definitely hikes if you want them, from easy to steep including a 1.4 mile circuit ascending to 500 feet.) Basically, you can do as little or as much as you want, opting for a Discover Sensei Experience in which you pick whichever spa experiences and wellness consultations are of interest. Otherwise, the programs are coordinated by a team of specialists with advanced degrees and clinical experience—nutritionists, exercise physiologists, massage therapists, performance and mindfulness coaches- who share information with each other to help guests achieve desired progress. For the time pressed, there’s a three night program; another lasting five nights includes the use of a wearable device to monitor health biomarkers; for a complete reset, guests can follow a sabbatical program lasting at least thirty days. The five night program can also be combined with a focus on tennis or golf: apart from being challenging, the golf course is completely private with tee times arranged so that players never see anyone else on the course. (Golf carts are also equipped with GPS so that if you order lunch at the clubhouse, it can be delivered to the hole you’re playing at that moment.) The tennis courts match those at another Ellison property, the nearby Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home of the BNP Paribas Open.
The three-night Guided Wellness Experience begins, as do the longer programs, with forms to fill out detailing habits, health issues and goals, a picture fleshed out with a pre-arrival call. Guests choose one-on-one consultations on nutrition, yoga, nutrition, or fitness and on arrival, do a baseline meeting with their Sensei Guide to discuss how best to achieve the three tenets of the program and to be tested to ascertain health information such as resting energy expenditure, body mass index and blood pressure. Since my choice was fitness, I had sessions with Nick, also a physical therapist, to outline what movements that I could also do at home for added strength and flexibility and with Caroline Vis, a former world top 10 ranked doubles player for tennis lessons. Apparently, Vis transformed one guest from neophyte to game ready in four days. After working with her, I believe it.
Spa treatments are also included in the programs, ranging from a Calming Body Cocoon with breathwork, dry brushing, a melted candle wax massage and body wrap to a Nourish Desert Herb Poultice and Oil Massage incorporating meditation and breathwork. Particularly unique to Sensei is the Thermal Body Mapping and Massage featuring thermographic technology that generates an image of muscle tightness and pain, giving the therapist a roadmap of the areas that need the most attention. If you’ve spent hours on the road, including bumper to bumper traffic on the maze of Los Angeles area freeways, the image can be really alarming. But the therapist tasked with resolving it, Resaleen, was masterful.
On the Nourish side of the program, the food, as one would expect, is sublime. The dishes may have been designed for maximum nutritional value but any Nobu regular will recognize the superb quality of the fish, flown in from Japan, in the sushi and sashimi, served in the main dining room Sensei by Nobu and the adjacent sushi bar. Trademark dishes such as Black Cod Miso, Yellowtail Jalapeno, Tuna Takaki with the vinegar/mirin/soy sauce/dash sauce Tosazu and Rock Shrimp Tempura make an appearance along with Sensei specific dishes such as Nobu Ceviche, Crab with Cold Inaniwa Noodles and Broccolini with Roasted Ginger. All are delectable. At breakfast, even something as omnipresent as avocado toast is enlivened by za’atar spice, thyme and lemon zest and there are surprise dishes such as Jidori Chicken and Waffles with wasabi infused maple syrup. The menus are spread around the resort as well allowing guests to order that chicken and waffles, among other items, at the Tennis Courts or Golf Course for breakfast and dishes such as the filet/ribeye Takumi Burgers or Black Cod Lettuce Cups at the Golf Course and pool for lunch.
The Rest side of the equation is taken care of by the 22 rooms, split into Estate Rooms, Casitas with patios and heated spas and two and four bedroom Villas with full kitchens. The unifying design elements for all are light woods, contemporary design, deep soaking, teak Ofuro tubs and an abundance of light but with blackout shades operated with one button to create a dark environment for sound sleep. The sense of serenity is also perpetuated by waterfalls created throughout the property, lending the sound of gently rippling water, and ponds with either lily pads or swimming koi. Sculptures from Ellison’s personal collection are also scattered around the property, not only impressive works to admire but also useful landmarks when you’re trying to find your way around. In my case, to find my villa, all I had to do was follow the numbers in Robert Indiana’s Numbers 1-0 and turn right at the Keith Haring sculpture Self Portrait. And no other wellness retreat can claim something like that.