Course Review: Mountain Vista Golf Club (San Gorgonio)

Even though I was just out in the desert last weekend, I couldn’t resist coming back for another visit while there are still a few good deals to be found. Many courses out in the Coachella Valley are closed right now for overseeding, but the few that are open offer some appealing prices if you don’t mind sub-standard conditions.

Today, I ventured to Palm Desert for my first visit to Mountain Vista Golf Club. There are two courses in this Del Webb retirement community (Sun City Palm Desert). The Santa Rosa course is closed right now, but the San Gorgonio course is still open just a couple weeks before it closes for its own fall maintenance.

It was a bit of a tease driving in through the community as I passed several holes on the Santa Rosa course. The grass was green and lush, looking nearly “immaculate” from what I could see. I knew San Gorgonio wouldn’t be quite as nice at this time, but still held my hopes up that it would be in fairly good shape. It certainly wasn’t as “pretty” to the eye, but it played quite well.

It was very similar to both Indian Palms in Indio and Sun City West (Pebblebrook) in Arizona where I played last weekend. There’s still some green color left in the fairways and tee boxes, and I encountered perfect lies everywhere. The rough was more or less dormant and brown, but it was great to hit from and not penal at all. The ball sits up like it’s on a tee. The greens were dry, firm and fairly quick, but they rolled smooth and were receptive enough on approach shots. No complaints there. I wasn’t in any bunkers myself, but I did hear my playing partners gripe about them having no sand in the few they found. 

My tee time was at 11:32 as a GolfNow “hot deal” for only $27. It helped that I also had a $20-off reward bonus earned through booking so many tee times through that site this year. That made the price today a very nice $7! After today I will have actually earned a free hot deal time that I will certainly look to take advantage of later this year. 

It’s no secret that when I book these pre-paid tee times as a single, I’ll often show up a bit early in the hopes of getting out sooner. That gamble paid off once again as I showed up a little after 10:00 and they were able to pair me with a threesome that was just heading out to the first tee. We teed off around 10:20 and finished a little over four hours later, even though there were plenty of folks out on the course. They definitely seem to encourage a quick pace here and much of the play comes from residents, so things tend to move along at a good clip.

Though not totally blown away by the course, I enjoyed San Gorgonio more than expected. It felt like a tamer version of nearby Shadow Hills South, which I played earlier this year. From tee to green, this course is pretty forgiving and there’s not a ton of trouble to get into. But as you get closer to the greens, that’s where this course puts up its defenses. The greens are quite large and feature some tricky undulation. Most of them are fairly well protected by bunkers and mounds to force good approach shots. And when you consider some of the very nasty pin placements they had today (often just a few paces from the edges), it wasn’t always easy to get the ball in the hole. I had a dubious personal “record” with eight putts that lipped out during the round!

Both Mountain Vista courses were designed by former tour player, Billy Casper. It’s clear they were designed for the senior community where they reside, with just the right balance of forgiveness and challenge to keep regulars coming back. But they still have some appeal to players of all levels, with five sets of tees to choose from. 

One thing I found really interesting was the structure of the front nine on San Gorgonio. It plays to a par of 35 and only 2700 yards from the gold tees we played. There are four par-3s, three par-5s and just two relatively short par-4s, which is an unusual combination for a regulation course. The back nine more than makes up for it, though. It plays to a par of 37 and is 3517 yards from the golds (over 800 yards more than the front). The back nine has only one par-3 and two par-5s to go with six par-4s.

The back nine brings more water hazards into play, as well, so don’t let the easier front nine lull you into a false sense of confidence. The final nine will make you work.

For the excellent price and good playable conditions, it was a very positive visit to Mountain Vista’s San Gorgonio course. I definitely look forward to coming back soon and playing the Santa Rosa course once it re-opens. From what I could see, it looks to be a slightly more interesting layout and the conditions look like they’ll be amazing heading into peak season.

Some pictures from Mountain Vista Golf Club (San Gorgonio) (10/12/13):

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Now, normally I wouldn’t drive all the way out to Coachella Valley just for one round unless I was staying the night or on my way further east. My morning gamble paid off, but unfortunately my afternoon one did not.

The main reason I tried getting on earlier at Mountain Vista was because I was hoping to play a late afternoon round at Tahquitz Creek. Right now, the Legend course is still open while the Resort course is overseeding. GolfNow had some available tee times, so I booked a 3:30 one for $25 and made my way across town.

When I got there, I could see the course was much busier than I hoped. Much of that is because so many other local courses are closed, but I still thought it wouldn’t be too crowded and I’d have a reasonable chance at finishing before dark. I checked in and they were able to get me out with another group right away, but when I spoke to the starter he informed me there was no way I’d finish. In fact, he told me the course was going at a 5.5-hour pace and that I probably wouldn’t get in much more than nine holes. That was not what I wanted to hear, but fortunately they offered me a refund, which I accepted, and I decided just to call it a day.

Oh well, you can’t win them all, but I was grateful to the starter for giving me that warning and to the pro shop for offering me a refund. I’ll be out there again eventually to check out both courses, but at least wanted to note the service experience here.

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