Hand-Freezing Hijinks in the High Desert

Here’s a quick lesson for you. Going out to the low desert in the winter for golf is a good idea. I was out in Palm Desert last week and it couldn’t have been nicer in terms of weather and course conditions. Going to the high desert in the winter for golf… well, that’s not quite as ideal. But it didn’t stop me from doing so!

Yesterday, I ventured up the I-15 and played two rounds of golf in the high desert of Victor Valley. With rainy conditions toward the end of the week, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the weather on Saturday morning, but I took my chances…

Hesperia Golf & Country Club • Hesperia, CA • 12/15/12

A friend and I decided to meet up here and play a round as it is one of the few courses out in the Inland Empire that neither of us had played yet, and it was a cheap option to help us both save a little money during the holiday season. For only $33 on a Saturday morning, it seemed like a can’t-lose choice.

With several other courses in the area I haven’t played, I was still hoping to squeeze in 36 holes while up in that region. We set an early tee time at 7:44. We were worried about rain heading in, but as it got closer to Saturday the bigger fear became frost delay on the course. It rained on me a little on the drive up, but as I got further up the pass there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which is actually a bad thing when it comes to frosty conditions. I got out to the course a little early and it was a ghost town. There was a sign up that said “Closed: Frost” and my phone said 35 degrees. It was chilling to the bone and I quickly realized how bad an idea this probably was.

I checked in with the guys in the pro shop and they said “Maybe 8:30” before the frost would let up enough to start play. My friend showed up and we decided to brave it out and have fun with it. We got a small bucket of range balls to try and loosen up. The mats on the range were pretty much frozen solid, but in a good way it makes you focus a little extra on making solid contact. Any mis-hits simply hurt like hell!

It wasn’t too long before they finally started calling groups out to the first tee (right around 8:00). We would be second off as a twosome behind another twosome. We could barely feel our fingers and toes for the first few holes, but eventually we warmed up enough and it was fine the rest of the round. We didn’t really push the twosome ahead too much on the front nine, but they added a player on the 10th tee and it was slower going after that playing behind them. Still, the total pace was nice at under 3.5 hours.

For the price, I wasn’t expecting too much out of this course. The conditions were pretty much dormant out there, with everything mostly brown. Most of the trees along the fairways were bare, though there were a number of joshua trees (which can survive anything) in all sorts of funky sizes and shapes. Though the fairways and rough were dormant, they played just fine and we benefitted from a little extra roll-out on drives.

The greens were also a little brown in color, but they also played fine. Pretty soft on high-entry approaches, but anything running low would bolt across the firm surfaces on and around the greens. The greens here look pretty benign, but are actually quite tricky and hard to read. They have lots of hidden breaks. The bunkers had pretty crunchy sand, but were not bad at all to play from. They were well raked and maintained as well as they could be.

The winter conditions took a little away from the aesthetic appeal of this course. I can imagine it if it were lush and green, it would be a very pretty course with the mountains surrounding in the background. There are a number of houses around the course. Some kind of nice and some kind of trashy—with no grass in anyone’s yard, just dirt and desert.

I enjoyed the layout at Hesperia, which is course that hosted a PGA event way back in the day. It’s far from those days past, but the course and the clubhouse definitely have a very old school country club vibe. The layout is challenging with some tight fairways and awkward angles. There are a number of tricky doglegs. There is no water on the course, but there is a ravine that runs along the right side of the entire back nine. It pretty much just plays as a desert waste area right now. That same ravine runs through the front, but on that side it pretty much plays as fairway, just creating multiple levels to play from and adding some visual intimidation.

We played the white tees (6214 yards) because of the chilly conditions, but there are blue and black tees here that play fairly long (6740 yards from the blues, 7006 from the blacks) and I can imagine how tough this course would be from the tips. Add a lot of length to those tight fairways and tricky doglegs and you’ll get plenty of challenge.

Overall, for the price, Hesperia Golf & Country Club is a fun course that probably never gets too crowded. It is definitely out of the way and you tend to get extreme temperatures here (very hot in the summers, very cold in the winters). I don’t think it’s ever in tip-top shape anymore, which is a shame, but it’s affordable and accessible.

Some pictures from Hesperia Golf & Country Club (12/15/12):

There’s an unusual joshua tree:

From Hesperia, I head up the road a few miles toward Victorville. I had a couple of courses I was considering for my second round: Green Tree and Apple Valley. I decided on Green Tree and it ended up working out well…

Green Tree Golf Course • Victorville, CA • 12/15/12

I had always heard pretty good things about Green Tree and it seemed to be the top choice of the handful of courses in the area. However, reviews on Greenskeeper.org this year haven’t necessarily been the most promising. A lot of them said something to the effect of “Normally I love this course, but it seems to be going downhill in terms of maintenance.” I still felt it was the right time to finally give it a shot.

With the chilly weather, I was able to walk right on as a single right around noon. They gave me an afternoon e-club rate of only $25, so that was a nice price. I played the front nine by myself, passing through one slow group on the 3rd hole and then cruising around after that. Then, I ran into a logjam on the 10th hole. A couple more singles caught up by the time I teed off, so we all joined up to form a threesome. The back nine was much slower going, but the total pace was still under 4 hours, so I can’t complain too much. The parking lot and clubhouse/restaurant/bar were crowded because of some memorial services for a Green Tree regular who recently passed, but the course was pretty wide open.

I’m glad the round didn’t take much longer than it did, because by 3:30 the temperature had dropped significantly back down and I ended the day the same way I started—with frozen hands!

I definitely enjoyed the layout at Green Tree. It does have more houses around the course than I prefer. It pretty much winds its way through a residential community with a lot of driving in between holes (crossing streets and going in between houses). Errant tee shots will bring houses into play, which is always a bit unnerving. Fortunately for me, I don’t hit the ball far enough to get into that much trouble.

There is no water in play on the entire course, but there are plenty of trees. The layout is pretty hilly and the mountains are in view in the distance for a pretty nice backdrop on a few holes. Though there aren’t any major elevation changes at Green Tree, there aren’t too many flat lies either. The greens are average size with average undulation, but like any course built on a naturally hilly terrain, there are many hidden breaks and hard-to-read slopes. There’s a very good mix of holes here with doglegs going both ways and a variety of hole distances and designs.

My only minor complaint with the layout at Green Tree is that the par-3s are kind of blah. The 14th is kind of fun with a downhill tee shot, but the others are rather flat, boring and uninspiring, in my opinion. Seems like they could have done more with these particular holes given the terrain.

Regarding conditions, my expectations were a little low after all the GK reviews I had read this year, but I was pleasantly surprised. The tee boxes were excellent, very lush and level. The fairways and rough were a little spotty, but more green and lush than I would have expected this time of year out there. They were a bit shaggy, so there’s not much rollout on drives. There were still many patchy/thin/brown areas, too, but everything was plenty playable and very nice to hit from fairly fluffy lies.

One negative was that there were a lot of divots out there and my cart had no sand/divot mix bottle or holder. I did notice one of my playing partners’ carts had a bottle attached, but the other guy’s didn’t. So it seemed only a select few carts actually had holders and bottles, which is unfortunate. With shaggy fairways and soft turf, divots were plentiful. The greens played very nicely—soft on approaches and pretty smooth on putts, running at medium speeds. It did seem there were a couple different grasses growing on the greens together and they may have been top-dressed with some kind of herbicide or fertilizer, but it didn’t affect playability at all. The couple of bunkers I was in were solid—similar coarse, but deep enough sand as found at Hesperia.

Another negative of Green Tree is the cart paths. They are a mess and need to be completely replaced around the tees and greens. Either that, or they need some serious off-road tires and shocks installed on the carts (which would be fitting in the high desert)!

Overall, I enjoyed the Green Tree layout a lot and the price was very nice, especially since the conditions were better than anticipated for the middle of December in the high desert.

Some pictures from Green Tree Golf Course (12/15/12):

Even with the chilly temperatures and off-season course conditions, my day in the high desert turned out to be fun and memorable. I experienced two enjoyable courses at rock-bottom prices. I got to play three world-class courses last week in Palm Desert, but I also paid almost $300 for that privilege. Yesterday, I paid $58 total for both rounds, so that’s very appealing in its own way.

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