Yesterday, I was able to visit another private club in Southern California. I made my way out to Palm Desert for a round at Monterey Country Club.
I was signed up for an SCGA one-day tournament there next week, so a friend and I were able to arrange for a practice round this week. The options were very limited as the course was expected to be packed with members all week. Thursday was the only potential day they might allow guests out for practice rounds, but we wouldn’t know until the day of. My friend called first thing in the morning and was able to secure us a 12:15 tee time, and then we were on our way.
The practice round idea ended up working out very well for us. For starters, I was likely going to have to pull out of the tournament anyway because of some last-minute scheduling conflicts. Secondly, it would give us a better chance of getting to play all 27 holes at this facility on a regular play day. The tournament was set for 18 holes and they made it pretty clear when we called that there was little-to-no chance we’d be able to play the third nine after the morning tournament on Monday.
We played as a twosome behind some member groups. We’re very fast players, so it seemed like the groups ahead were playing really slow at times, but we finished the East nine in about two hours. At the turn, we had a few moments to chat with the starter, who was extremely nice and said we were welcome to keep playing on the third nine later. A single joined up with us for the South nine and another single caught up with us for the last few holes. The second nine also took about two hours playing behind those same member groups.
By the time we made our last turn onto the West nine, the course had completely opened up. It’s funny how much things cleared out after such a busy day, especially considering late afternoon is great time to play in the desert (rivaled only by playing first thing in the morning). The weather was cooler and it was absolutely gorgeous out there as we zipped around the last nine in about an hour. In the end, five hours for all 27 holes was a pretty nice pace.
Monterey Country Club is yet another traditional Ted Robinson desert course. There are so many of his designs out there, and like most of the rest, they all tend to blend together. In that, they are nice courses with decent layouts, beautiful scenery and pretty landscaping, but you’d be hard-pressed to pick any of them out in a line-up. In the end, I’d probably say that Monterey is a nicer version of Rancho Las Palmas, which happens to be right across the street.
It’s rare that I play the tips, but we had to here because it’s not a very long course. In fact, you can tell that a number of holes were probably “stretched” out at some point to get as much yardage as they could out of it. This leaves a number of awkwardly tight tee angles from the black tees. The nines we played got slightly longer in the order we played them. The East tops out at 2,964, but is a par-35 with only one par-5 in the mix. The South is 6,005 yards from the black tees, but is a traditional par-36. Lastly, the West is the longest at 3,144 yards and is also a par-36.
As is common on most Robinson designs, there is a lot of water in play at Monterey and a ton of palm trees, too. The layout is definitely target-oriented, where positioning off the tee is generally more important than length. Keep the ball safe and you can score really well here because the greens are pretty easy to get at. Hit a few poor shots and the numbers can add up quicker than you realize. I felt like all day I was either tapping in for a routine par or scrambling like crazy just to prevent a massive blow up.
As I mentioned, there are some narrow angles from many of the tees and there are some tricky doglegs in play throughout each course. On the South and West courses, a few holes play down and up through the wash. Some of these holes had some nice design character and most of the water holes were fun designs. Still, it all felt like stuff I had seen before on other courses throughout the valley.
As expected, the course was in exceptional shape. At this time of year, courses in the Coachella Valley are generally in amazing condition, and that’s especially true at most private clubs. Monterey was looking and playing great almost all around. The tee boxes and fairways were lush and excellent. The rough was thick and definitely enough to make us work for recoveries. The greens were firm on approaches, but very smooth and rolling medium speed on putts.
The only issue I had here was the bunkers. I was in one trap on the East nine and it was just hard-packed dirt. Every other bunker I looked at all day was full of fluffy, beautiful sand, so I am not sure why this one was so barren. Other bunkers had fantastic sand, but the ones I was in had the sand distributed oddly. It was peaked in the middle of the bunker (which would typically be the low point). It resulted in slight gullies along the outer edges. The ball tended to settle near the front lips, which were generally very low and not much trouble. Though the lips were easy to deal with, there was sometimes a subtle mound of sand behind the ball and it made for some awkward bunker shots.
Overall, though, it was a great day at Monterey Country Club. The course was looking amazing and the short target layout was fun for us. I think this is a great retirement course because it’s not long, but the layout offers just enough challenge and diversity to keep things interesting. It won’t blow you a way and you may get a feeling of déjà vu if you’ve already played a lot of golf in the desert.
Some pictures from Monterey Country Club (2/25/16):