On Sunday, it was time to make a return out to Rams Hill Golf Club in Borrego Springs. I had the opportunity to play there twice last year, not long after it reopened. It had gone through a major resurrection and quickly reestablished itself as one of the best courses in Southern California.
I first played it last January and then Greenskeeper.org had an outing there last March. It was so popular that we did it again this year. 36 players were enticed to make the long trek and it was a blast of an event. As expected, the course did not disappoint and it was fun to play it with such a great group of avid golfers.
The remote location does work against it, but at the same time is part of the appeal. In other words, if this were one of a 100-plus courses in the Coachella Valley, it wouldn’t stand out as much as it does being one of the handful of courses in Borrego Springs.
My friend and I came in Sunday morning from Yuma after a quick nine holes there at Ironwood. It is a very easy drive to Borrego Springs coming from the El Centro area to the southeast. Getting back to Orange County afterward was more of a journey, but smoother than I remembered from previous visits.
Rams Hill officially reopened in November of 2014 to rave reviews (heck, it was the #1 new course I played last year if you saw my “year in review” rankings a couple posts back). It’s a Tom Fazio designed course that had gone through so many alterations over the years, from the original 27-hole Rams Hill Country Club to The Montesoro and back to the new and improved Rams Hill. Last year, it was immaculately conditioned, beautiful, fun and challenging. It is everything you could want in a world-class golf course other than being geographically inconvenient. But hey, Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits and St. Andrews aren’t exactly conveniently located either!
The course shut down again over the summer of 2015 to complete the renovation. They finished up some of the landscaping around the course, which included letting more of the golden fescue to grow out around the edges of many holes. They completed the clubhouse, restaurant and bar. They retooled the parking lot and entryway. All in all, they upgraded what was already something truly special. The staff was out in full force to welcome us, and you can tell just how proud they are of what they’ve created here.
It was a treat to play the course again, especially having some prior knowledge of the layout. This is most helpful on and around the greens. True to Fazio’s style, the fairways are mostly quite forgiving (as long as you avoid the massive bunkers), but the greens are very large and very difficult with all sorts of slopes, false edges and undulations in play. The real trick here is to look for the high point in or around the green and aim toward that. On many greens, you can play off these mounds, hills and backboards to let the ball feed around to the hole. Aiming directly at the hole is not necessarily the right strategy, so you have to adapt.
There are so many great holes at Rams Hill, including all the par-3s. However, the final two holes really stand out. The 17th is a great risk/reward short par-4 with so many different ways you can play it and one of the toughest greens on the course. It might have the prettiest presentation, as well, now that all those native grasses have grown in fully along either side of the fairway. Then, the 18th is the signature hole that’s a demanding and beautiful par-5 heading back up to the clubhouse.
The conditions again were immaculate all the way around. A few of the collars around the greens were a bit thin, but that’s just nitpicking. Another big improvement this year was the fact that the greens had more time to mature and the recent rains also helped. They were still firm and fast, but much softer and more receptive than before. This presents more playability for the average golfers like me who had a really tough time with the super firm, brand new surfaces they had here last year.
Indeed, it was a triumphant return to Rams Hill and it continues to hold up after several times playing it. In fact, I think my appreciation grows with each new visit. I do wish it was closer and a little less expensive, but I also like that it is something so out of the way and truly special as a “destination” course. If you haven’t made your way out there, it’s worth a little extra drive and you won’t regret it.
And, don’t forget that Borrego Springs has five other courses and a couple nice resorts to stay at, so it’s a good place for a weekend golf trip. Borrego Springs Resort and de Anza Country Club are both pretty nice 18-hole courses. The Springs at Borrego is a good 9-hole regulation course. Roadrunner Club is an okay 18-hole par-3 track. Then, Club Circle, well… nevermind. You also have the resurrected Warner Springs Ranch Resort to consider on the way out. It has a lot of potential, but a much, much longer way to go to be anywhere near the class the Rams Hill is in.
Some new pictures from Rams Hill Golf Club (1/10/16):