Being the Nomad isn’t Always Easy Work

I gave myself the name of “Golf Nomad,” but I’d like to think I’ve earned that monicker over the years. In case anyone was in doubt, Saturday’s drive through some remote parts of the desert should help further my case.

I got started with a little military-themed golf…

Desert Winds Golf Course • MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA • 10/18/14

From where I live in Orange County, it was about a two-hour drive out to Twentynine Palms. The towns along Highway 62 (Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms) showed a little more civilization than I realized, but it still fells like you are out in the middle of nowhere. And here’s a fun geographic fact for you: though this stretch is not really that far from the Coachella Valley in Riverside County, these towns are actually part of San Bernardino County. Exciting stuff, right?

Anyway, I contacted the course recently to see about civilian play. In case you are wondering, the MCAGCC stands for Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, so the Desert Winds course is located on the base itself. The folks at the golf course made it sound pretty easy to get out. Just call ahead and make a reservation. Then, when you check in at the main gate, they’ll call the course to confirm and off you go.

Well, when I arrived it didn’t seem that simple. I first went over to the visitor center next to the entry gate, thinking I might need to go in and get a pass. It was closed, however, so I proceeded to the main gate. The guy there seemed a bit confused and unsure about letting a civilian on to go to the course and didn’t call over to the golf shop for any verification. Reluctantly, he kind of said “just this one time I’ll let it slip” and let me proceed. The course didn’t bat an eye when I checked in for my 8:30 tee time and rang me up easily at the civilian guest rate of $42, which includes a cart.

It was smooth sailing after that as the place was not very busy at all. I played through one threesome on the front and then caught up to a twosome halfway through the back nine and stayed behind them the rest of the way. The total pace of under three hours was great.

Having played a number of old military courses in the past, I had my own expectations about Desert Winds. You can almost always expect the layout to be relatively long, but you can usually expect it to be fairly straightforward. This is true of just about every military track I’ve played, with the exception of Marshallia Ranch at Vandenberg AFB, which is still fairly long, but quite narrow off the tee.

From the back blue tees, Desert Winds lives up to the expectations by playing 6,930 yards. From the whites, where I chose to play, it is a reasonable 6,351. However, the layout is very wide open and forgiving, so you can fire away (pun intended) with your driver on most holes.

The best description of the course is that it’s a very mild links style design. The potential is actually there for a major renovation if they reworked the bunkers and added some more contour throughout the fairways and rough. However, this is just meant to be a pretty basic recreational course for the Marines on base, so that will never happen. It is what it is and it serves its purpose well enough I suppose.

I chose to play Saturday as the course was fresh out of its fall overseed and that day was supposed to be the first one with all the regular greens back open. Unfortunately, holes 1 and 2 were still playing to temporaries. The regular greens were very spongy and brutally slow, but the fresh grass has come in pretty well. Once it matures and they are able to cut it back down, the surfaces should be pretty good for the fall and winter seasons. The fairways were pretty dry and crusty but mostly okay for playability, though there were some pretty shaggy spots and plenty of thin sections throughout, too. The rough was anything from bare dirt/sand to patches of really deep/dry Bermuda. Around the greens, though it was very nice, green and lush. That was easily the best part of the course condition-wise.

The bunkers here are horrendous and thankfully I never found myself one. It looks like they haven’t been filled with any new sand in a long, long time and may never again. It really looks like they are just letting them go and grass/weeds will ultimately just fill them in. That would be a shame for the layout because a few do offer a little character like the mountain lion paw print set of bunkers guarding one of the greens on the front nine. I can imagine it’s tough to keep good sand with how windy it gets out here.

The Desert Winds name is appropriate because it can clearly get pretty windy here. It was blowing fairly hard most of my round and I can only imagine it gets howling at times.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this course is being on the Marine combat training base itself. If you like heavy artillery and armored vehicles, this is kind of a cool place. As you drive into the course, different old tanks are on display along the side of the main road and there are a couple sitting on the course itself for added atmosphere.

I wouldn’t recommend Desert Winds to anyone not on a similar quest as myself (to play everything possible in Southern California). It is there for the base and beggars can’t be choosers with very few golf options nearby.

Some pictures from Desert Winds Golf Course (10/18/14):

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While in the area, you can be sure I was going to play the only other course in town…

Roadrunner Dunes Golf Course • Twentynine Palms, CA • 10/18/14

Roadrunner Dunes is just a short drive away from Desert Winds, but it is not located on the base and is readily open for any public play. It is a 9-hole course, but par-36 regulation length playing 3,184 yards from the blue tees and 3,063 from the whites. It’s a traditional routing with two par-3s and two par-5s.

Like its cross-town counterpart, Roadrunner Dunes is also a pretty straightforward design. There are a couple of holes that have some character like the par-3 second over water and the 8th, a big dogleg left par-5, but overall it’s fairly basic.

I had a 2:00 tee time, which was a pre-paid $10 hot deal from GolfNow, but I finished so early at Desert Winds I took my chances out getting out here early. It ultimately worked out well. There were some folks out here, so I joined up with a really nice elderly fellow (88 years young) and that added to my experience on an otherwise uninteresting course. I hope I am still swinging a golf club (or anything for that matter) when I’m 88.

The course was in pretty mediocre shape, as well. It is very dried out, but playable. There are plenty of thin/bare dirt patches throughout the fairways and rough and you can expect a lot of roll-out on your tee shots. The greens were very firm and fairly quick. I wasn’t in a bunker, but they looked reasonable, especially compared to the completely neglected ones over at Desert Winds.

Again, not really worth going out of your way to play, but it’s one of only two games in town and more easily accessed for a regular civilian, so locals can enjoy what they have here.

Some pictures from Roadrunner Dunes Golf Course (10/18/14):

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Since I was already out in the remote reaches of the California desert, I decided to knock another obscure one off my list…

Lake Tamarisk Golf Course • Desert Center, CA • 10/18/14

I’ve driven by this course on the way to and from Arizona in the past, but never stopped to check it out. It’s about 45 minutes east of Indio along the I-10, so it is very remote. It was definitely a detour for me to go further east from where I was in Twentynine Palms, but I embraced the adventure and enjoyed a fairly scenic desert drive along Highway 62.

I tried calling ahead just to make sure the course was open this time of year, but got some weird Riverside County pre-recorded message that had nothing to do with golf. I was very apprehensive to drive so far out of the way in case it was closed (temporarily or permanently), but I went for it anyway.

When I arrived, the place was a ghost town and I got worried. I could see a small starter shack over by the course and then another building that had plenty of cars in the lot. I went in there first but it was some kind of community center with some event going on inside. Sprinklers were running on the course and nobody was playing, so I began to worry it might be closed for seasonal maintenance. I snooped around by the little starter shack and finally saw that play this time of year is just on the honor’s system. Throw your $8 (reduced summer rate from the normal $15) into an envelope and put it in the door slot, then go ahead and play. I was glad I had exact change on me because I wouldn’t have wanted to pay a penny more for this place. Even $8 is steep because this course should be $2 max (or free, to be honest) considering the shape it is in currently. Oh well, as long as they had scorecards and pencils out, I was going to go ahead with it while all the way out here.

The first hole is a par-5 and I really wasn’t sure where the main fairway was. It was just a big sprawling patch of browned-out grass in front of me. Also, it didn’t take me long to realize the whole course was playing on temporary tees way in front of the normal ones and temporary greens way in front of the normal ones. So, the 9-hole course was playing much shorter than the 2,965 yardage listed on the card as a par-35.

Ultimately, I figured out where each hole went and made the best of it walking in the stagnant 90-degree heat with very little breeze. The dry, brown turf really seemed to reflect the heat more than if it were green, so that didn’t help either.

The yardage markers (red, white and blue posts in the fairways) were out, but not altered to reflect distances to the temporary greens, which were anywhere from 10-50 yards short of the regular greens. I just kind of had to guess (usually wrong). The temporaries were tiny and worthless when it came to actually putting, so it was barely a “real” golf experience here.

The tee boxes and fairways were shaggy, dormant Bermuda, so the ball always sat down and it was quite silly attempting to play here. In actuality, though, I can tell this is probably a decent little course when it’s running as normal and the grass is greener. The layout isn’t anything too exciting, but it’s not terrible.

It was a pretty pathetic experience at Lake Tamarisk for me yesterday, but I’ll check it off the list and go on my way. If I’m driving through the area during a better time of year, I might go give it another look for a more fair assessment. In the summer and early fall, though, this place should be avoided at all costs!

Some pictures from Lake Tamarisk Golf Course (10/18/14):
(Anyone who is squeamish might want to avert their eyes and remove any small children from the room before scrolling down.)

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