Hidden Gems in Borrego Springs

After visiting Imperial County on Thursday, I planned to make my way back through the Borrego Springs area. It’s just far enough out of the way for me normally, so this was the perfect opportunity to check it out. And unlike Imperial County, Borrego Springs is actually known for some good golf.

Borrego Springs is in northeast San Diego County, with the mountains separating it and the Coachella Valley to the north. This was my first time there and it’s kind of a mini Palm Springs with similar scenery, climate and terrain. It’s not nearly as loaded with golf and several courses in that area have suffered with the poor economy, but there are still a couple of hidden gems worth checking out.

Borrego Springs Resort & Spa • Borrego Springs, CA • 11/29/13

I had a 7:00 tee time at the resort and played by myself as the first off. The weather was a little gloomy the whole day, so all morning long the sun was fighting its way around the clouds. At times it would peek through and reveal a beautiful desert landscape, but most of the time the clouds hampered the scenery a bit and kept things a tad chilly (as you’ll see in my photos).

I played around quickly and was slowed down briefly when my cart died on the back nine. The staff was responsive, though, and got me a new cart fast enough. The cost was only $40 with cart. Unlike many courses, they were not considering Black Friday a holiday, so it was a standard early bird weekday rate and was a heck of a deal for a great course.

The whole Borrego Springs community is set down in the valley, so the desert terrain there is pretty flat. The Borrego Springs Resort course offers a nice desert style layout with rocks, sand and trees framing the edges of the holes. Most of the fairways are pretty forgiving and the greens aren’t too crazy with undulation, so it’s not the most difficult course you’ll ever play. Still, the layout offers enough variety and contouring to keep you interested. Bad shots will still be punished and good shots will be rewarded.

There are some gnarly bunkers, especially around the greens. They have a lot of funky shapes and are definitely penal if you find one. The escape angles aren’t always easy and some bunkers are set off a few extra yards from the edges of the greens, so you are left with some awkward mid-length bunker shots.

There are a number of shorter risk/reward par-4s on the course, usually with water or some other sort of trouble in play off the tee. I found these all to be very fun holes and a little tough for a first-time player not knowing the best lay-up angles/distances.

Borrego Springs used to be a 27-hole course with three nines (Palm, Mesquite and Desert Willow). With the economic struggles, they opted to close the Palm nine, so there’s little resembling a course where it once was. The guy in the pro shop said they may still reopen it someday if it makes financial sense. As it is now, you play the Mesquite nine as the front and the Desert Willow as the back for a more traditional 18-hole routing.

The economy is a big part of the story when it comes to this area’s golf courses. Rams Hill Country Club (later renamed The Montesoro) was a very well-regarded course here, but is currently closed. Warner Springs Ranch is a little bit of a drive away, but still regionally relevant and is also currently closed. However, I have heard that both may be on the road to resurrection. Having never had the chance to play either course, I hope that’s the case because it will give me another excuse to come back here. Either way, I’m sure this won’t be my last visit.

Note: Both Rams Hill and Warner Springs Ranch were renovated and reopened after I wrote this article. Each name above is an active link to read my reviews.

As far as conditions went, I was very impressed with Borrego Springs Resort. The course was in excellent shape. They just reopened a couple weeks ago after summer/fall overseeding and maintenance and it’s looking and playing great. It’s still a little shaggy in some fairways, but that’s to be expected. In another couple weeks, this place will be just about perfect I think. The rough was thick, lush and deep enough to make it tough to hit from. The greens were a bit firm, but rolling smooth at medium speeds. The bunkers didn’t look that great at first glance (small pebbles, crusty top layer and even small tufts of grass growing through in a few), but the sand was much softer than it looked. It was very heavy and damp in the morning, though.

I would highly recommend Borrego Springs Resort. It’s a good course with great conditions, and the setting is wonderful. It doesn’t quite measure up to the top courses in the Palm Springs area, but would fall somewhere in the middle of the pack if it were up there. However, for San Diego residents, it’s a closer, less expensive/crowded destination and it’s easily worth checking out.

Some pictures from Borrego Springs Resort & Spa (11/29/13):

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I finished way early at Borrego Springs, so I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast at The Arches restaurant there next to the clubhouse. The service was questionable, but the food was great and the restaurant/bar overlook the 18th green, creating a nice environment to enjoy your after-round meal/drinks.

Then I headed up the street toward de Anza Country Club, where I was set to play my afternoon round. However, I was sidetracked for a moment by some big animal sculptures along the side of Borrego Springs Road. I didn’t know anything about Galleta Meadows, so it took me by surprise. I saw some big metal camels and elephants before I saw the one that made me hit the breaks and pull over.

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This giant dragon-headed sea serpent with a rattlesnake tail (best I can describe it) spanned all the way across the street with a few humps coming out of the sand. I pulled over to check out the detail on the head piece and it was pretty amazing. It was very cool. As I was driving out of town, I noticed even more sculptures that I didn’t see in the early morning because it was still dark during my drive into town. Very cool stuff.

I didn’t stare at the sculptures too long, though, because I was ready for more golf…

de Anza Country Club • Borrego Springs, CA • 11/29/13

I really didn’t know much about this course, but since I was already planning to come out to Borrego Springs I was researching what other regulation-length courses were still open in the area. I could see this course was a private club, but when I went on their website I saw a “member for a day” offer there for $65, so it was definitely worth looking into further.

I called earlier in the week and had no hassle at all setting up a tee time at noon. I got there quite early, though, and luckily the place wasn’t super busy and I was able to tee off around 10:45 by myself. Though the course would be a great walking course (many of the members I saw out there that their little push carts), I was beat after three rounds Thursday and one round already in the books Friday morning, so I paid my $14 extra for a cart.

I learned after the fact that there was actually a deal on Underpar.com that was better than what I had. The price was $65 and included both the cart and lunch. It was a little bit of a bummer to learn about that afterward, but I still enjoyed my experience quite a lot and it’s not worth crying over a few extra bucks spent.

The facilities at de Anza are nice. The clubhouse is modest and somewhat old fashioned, but there’s a nice grass range, a big putting green and a couple of well-maintained short game areas for practice. The staff and other folks out there were welcoming and courteous to non-member guests, so I definitely did feel like a member for a day. I’m sure it’s a tough thing to offer public play at a private club. It certainly helps the economy of the club, but it can also be a nuisance to regular members at times.

I played the front nine quickly by myself and then ultimately caught up to everyone early on the back nine. I tried not to press anyone because I didn’t want to be the obnoxious “guest” that bothered any members. Luckily, the threesome ahead of me—all longtime members here—invited me to join them on the 12th tee and they told me a lot about the course/club. It was clear they took a lot of pride in de Anza. They were all also former members at Rams Hill and were the ones who let me know it might be reopening as soon as next year if everything goes as planned.

The course itself at de Anza is nothing too amazing, but it’s a very solid layout. The terrain is flat and there’s not too much trouble to get into in the form of hazards, but there are many trees lining the fairways and will cause trouble if you spray your drives.  They are definitely the course’s biggest defense. The greens slope mostly from back to front, so it’s not too difficult to read breaks and judge speeds on putts.

The setting is nice. It’s kind of La Quinta vibe with the mountains so close, but with a lot more trees on a more traditional parkland style course. Much of the course sits right up near the edge of a rugged/steep hillside, so that’s a pretty cool backdrop for many holes. The weather stayed gloomy all day and it even sprinkled a couple times on me at de Anza.

Where de Anza really shined was the conditioning. The course was really in excellent shape heading into peak winter season. Everything was green, lush and well-manicured. The greens were nice and rolling at medium speeds. I have nothing at all to complain about in terms of conditions. The course was very well presented on all fronts.

de Anza Country Club is definitely worth checking out while they are offering some of these public play opportunities. I can say now from personal experience that a double-dip at Borrego Springs Resort and de Anza is a great way to spend a day of golf on two quality courses in a wonderful setting.

Some pictures from de Anza Country Club (11/29/13):

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