It’s hard to believe I’ve never reviewed these courses on this site. It’s even harder for me to believe that I’ve only played here once. It was many years ago, back when it was first opened as the SCPGA Golf Club. Since then, it’s been through several ownership and name changes, coinciding with the roller coaster of an economy. Needless to say, it’s experienced many ups and downs since I first played it.
Ultimately, the Morongo tribe purchased the property to pair these quality golf courses with their casino in nearby(?) Cabazon. It’s been Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon for a little while now, so that seems to be the name that is sticking.
Whatever you want to call it, this facility offers two excellent championship golf courses, good practice areas and a nice, big clubhouse. When I first played here, the residential development around the course was very minimal, so that is probably the biggest change with more houses around the courses. That said, the homes don’t impose too much on the layout like a lot of other residential golf communities.
I remember liking the courses a lot when I first played there. For whatever reason, I never had the chance to come back and play them again until now. However, Morongo was near the top of my list of courses to revisit after I finished my SoCal list earlier this year. The ultimate spark of inspiration was a GroupGolfer deal that was too good to turn down. It was $39 and included unlimited play (anytime weekdays or after 10:00 on weekends). That’s pretty darn hard to beat anywhere, let alone for courses like these. They do offer similar deals throughout the year through various discount golf providers, so if you see one, I recommend snatching it up.
Myself and a couple buddies all bought the offer and finally made plans to use our vouchers last Sunday. We were able to book a 10:00 tee time on the Legends Course. When we booked, we made sure there’d be no issues getting out for our afternoon replay round on the Champions Course.
When we checked in, we gave the pro shop guy our vouchers and he told us just to come back in after the first round was complete and they’d get us right back out. The first round went great. We were paired with another single (who was also using the same deal) and finished in under four hours. We might have even finished quicker if not for a dreadfully slow twosome in front of us most of the day.
We were all happy and excited to head back out for the second round, but when we checked back in at the pro shop, the guy (the same guy who checked us in for the morning round, I might add) told us they wouldn’t be able to get us out on either course for a replay. They were not allowing any more groups to tee off on the Champions Course after 2:30 and had already shut down the Legends Course at 12:00. Apparently, they were preparing for a big charity tournament and didn’t bother to let any of us know until that point in time.
Compounding the frustration was that two other groups had come in at the same time trying to utilize the same replay deal. They had just played Champions and were expecting to get back out on Legends, under the same false pretenses we were. After a lot of grumbling, a manager-type guy finally came in. Unfortunately, he had a bit of an attitude about it like it was our fault.
There was a little stand-off for a few minutes with no resolution offered by them. I finally had to recommend we at least get a “rain check” round to come back and play the course we missed. We just wanted to play on, but this seemed better than nothing. The manager agreed to it and they started taking down everyone’s information. After a few more minutes, he changed his mind again and decided they’d try to rush everyone off on the Champions Course after all.
It was a mad dash to the first tee and several groups were all bunched together for the whole round, but at least it was resolved and we got what we paid for. It may be one of those “you had to be there” moments to fully understand the frustration from our perspective. It ended up working out better for my group because we got to play both courses, whereas the other two groups had to play Champions twice. I wouldn’t have been as satisfied with that outcome.
One last dagger came as we were playing the 9th hole and noticed groups playing the 1st and 2nd holes. By that time, it was well after 4:00, so I don’t know what they were making all the fuss about “closing” at 2:30!
Sorry to be even more long-winded that usual, but it is a story worth telling. In the end, it turned out to be a small blemish on an otherwise excellent day at Morongo Golf Club. It could have and should have been avoided if they had told us that when we booked the time or even when we checked in Sunday morning. To tell us after it was too late and then try to put the blame on us was just a poor service approach. Since they offer so many of these unlimited/replay deals, you’d think they’d have their act together by now. Hopefully this experience will be a learning one for their staff, too.
Okay, enough with the ranting and raving about the service. As I said, that was a speedbump amidst a joyride of great golf on two wonderful courses. Both were in really nice shape, looking lush and green throughout. The fairways were a little soggy in places and had a few shaggy spots, so there was not much roll-out on drives. Otherwise, the surfaces were ideal to hit from. The rough was thick, with the deeper cut making you work a little harder for a good shot. The greens were also in good shape.
The one area of improvement condition-wise would be the bunkers. They were very inconsistent and some were just downright terrible. If they can fix those up to be on the same level as everything else, it would be very impressive. As it is, to play two rounds here for just $39 is maybe the best golf deal I’ve ever experienced.
Both courses at Morongo offer similar design elements from the Schmitt-Curley team, but I tend to like Legends just a little bit better. I couldn’t actually remember which one was which from before, but Legends is the one I preferred on my initial visit so many years ago. It’s a little more secluded and each hole is completely separate. It kind of goes in a big loop around a hillside canyon with one hole leading directly to the next rather than going back and forth in a more condensed fashion. In a true old school “out and in” fashion, the course doesn’t return to the clubhouse until you finish the 18th hole.
The front nine is more dramatic than the back nine with some elevation changes and trickier hole layouts like the very short par-3 4th directly over a little canyon and the tough par-4 5th that is kind of a long, double dogleg winding down the hill. The prettiest part of the course might be the par-3 8th set in the woods in a little marshy area.
The layout is relatively forgiving off the tee, but the greens are tougher to get at. They are generally pretty well protected by big bunkers and feature some crazy undulation. None of the slopes on the greens are super severe, though, so they are not as punishing as they look. In fact, the contours really help you visually on putts and chips because you can often see the spots you need to hit in order to make a good run at the hole. They are not easy by any stretch, but I found myself chipping really well because I could pick spots to aim at and focus on landing there.
Outside of a few tricky holes, I would categorize both Morongo layouts as very “fair.” They will punish you if you hit bad shots and reward you if you hit good ones. That’s the way golf courses should be.
Some pictures from Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon (Legends Course) (6/8/14):
Whereas the front nine shines on the Legends Course, the back nine is the star of Champions. The first couple holes here are fun and then the rest of the front nine is good. The back nine, though, is really entertaining.
The hole that’s hard to forget (good or bad) is the wacky par-4 13th. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this hole, but it’s a real risk/reward special. From the blue tees, it’s only about 250 yards directly to the green if you hit over a ravine. There is some landing room on the other side rough on a severe uphill slope along with some big, nasty bunkers. So if you do go for the green, there’s enough room for error. You just might be left with a tough lie.
The “safe” alternative is to lay-up to the fairway that stretches off to your left. Then you’ll be left with a short uphill shot to the green from a good, flat fairway lie. However, the catch is that the trees and brush in the ravine are so overgrown that it looks like it would be a mostly blind shot into the green. You’ll have no problem getting over the trees with a wedge, but it might be awkward if you can’t see where you’re hitting. To me, this somewhat defeats the purpose of playing it safe and laying up.
Even though I don’t have enough distance to reach the green, I knew I could clear the ravine and was willing to risk getting a tougher lie/stance from 20-30 yards out than having a blind approach from 100+. There is something rather fun about the hole that begs you to “go for it” but I do think the lay-up alternative should be more appealing. If they cut down some of those trees, then that would make a difference.
Otherwise, the entire back nine is very good and finishes strong with the par-4 18th heading back toward the clubhouse with water on the left. On the other side of that water is the 18th of Legends, so both courses finish on similar notes.
Some pictures from Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon (Champions Course (6/8/14):