Last week, I played golf for the first time in 2020. It’s crazy to say that, but I’ve actually been enjoying this break and I will probably go right back into hibernation. The only things that would tempt me to briefly come out of semi-retirement with all that’s going on in 2020 would be the opportunity to play a new local course or one of my favorite courses finally being reopened after being closed for many years.
Well, the second thing happened. Moreno Valley Ranch Golf Club shut down at least five years ago. I don’t know exactly when it closed, but it’s been awhile. My only other review of the course on this site was back in 2012. It was already on a downhill trend back then and things only got worse there before they finally pulled the plug.
Still, there were talks of renovating and reopening pretty much the entire time they were closed. There were different plans and rumors we heard. I even drove by there a few times when in the area and it was hard to tell what kind of progress was being made over the years, if any. It seemed they’d hit one delay or challenge after another.
The latest plan that seemed pretty solid had the course reopening earlier this year. Once coronavirus happened, I worried that we’d never see this project finished and it might be years before we heard anything new. Fortunately, they were only slightly delayed this time and the course officially reopened in August with a new name of Rancho Del Sol Golf Club!
I was able to join a GK Plays with some Greenskeeper.org buddies for Thursday afternoon. Other than some terrible putting and chipping, my game didn’t feel too rusty after a 9-month break. I was still the same mediocre golfer I was last year!
Over the years of renovation and reopening rumors, there were different plans to resurrect this formerly 27-hole course. We heard that they would only reopen 18 holes, but which two nines were being kept would change with each update. Then, it seemed last year they’d be reopening all 27 while also adding a championship-level disc golf course to the Lake Nine. In the end, only 18 holes are back open as of now. The current front nine is what was formerly known as the Valley Nine and the back nine is what was the Mountain Nine.
If they could only keep 18 holes, I’m glad they kept these two nines as this combo is what I played most of the times I ever played at MVR. I rarely played the Lake Nine, even though I enjoyed it and always thought is was a little underrated. As a disc golfer, though, I was sad hearing the Lake Nine wasn’t reopening. However, I talked to the pro shop when I checked in and they let me know that the plan will ultimately be to reopen what was formerly the Lake Nine. It would not have regular golf like before, though. It would only have disc golf, foot golf and a hiking trail. I do not know when this second phase of reopening will come to fruition, but it is somewhat good news. I’m sad to hear that the third golf nine will be no more, but I am excited for the new disc golf course and the fact that part of the property will not overlap with the main course. Discers and foot golfers can go enjoy their own courses while the golfers can play the main course.
While the course is back open, there is a lot of construction going on around here. What used to be the driving range and parts of the old Lake Nine are currently being graded for residential development. It’s definitely a distraction with lots of dust and construction equipment around, but selling parts of the property for housing was part of almost any renovation plan we heard during those closed years. The old clubhouse is still there, but it is set to be demolished. The pro shop and cantina are operating out of trailers for the time being. I’m not sure if and when a new clubhouse will be constructed.
As for the course, I am glad that they made the Mountain Nine the permanent back nine. They did have to change the 18th hole to make way for some housing development. It used to be a fairly quirky short par-4. It was not the best finishing hole after a spectacular eight holes on this side. Now, it has been shortened into a decent par-3. A lot of people don’t like finishing with a par-3 and it’s still not the most exciting finishing hole for such an amazing nine, but it is what it is. The fact that I got a birdie helped me enjoy it a little more.
Beyond that, the layout really didn’t change much on either of the original nines. It’s been so long since I played there, so I’m sure there were some minor modifications. Perhaps the most notable change was the bunkers. Their shapes didn’t change, but they added some collars of thick deep rough around them. It looks really cool, but definitely adds some challenge (and some lost ball opportunities). I forgot just how challenging this course is. Both nines are very tough.
This is a Pete Dye designed course, so it has some pedigree as a championship-level course even if it fell into serious disrepair over the years before it closed. The front nine has a lot of Dye signatures. It’s built down in the valley along a wash area, so it’s a great example of his ability to make something out of virtually nothing. There are water hazards lined with railroad ties. There is a lot of mounding and shelving to create contour along the fairways and around the green complexes. The greens have plenty of tricky undulation, as well.
My favorite hole on the front has always been the 2nd. It’s a fun par-3 over water, and it has Dye design written all over it.
What’s cool about Rancho Del Sol is that the front and back nine are so completely different in style. The front nine is really good, but the back nine is one you won’t forget. It was originally called “Mountain” for a reason. It starts you with a hole that plays straight uphill. When you look back from this green, you are treated with an amazing view of Moreno Valley.
That’s just the start, though, as the layout works up the mountain even further with the natural terrain providing the distinctive layout features. There are giant boulders and rock outcroppings. There are canyons and native desert areas. As if the opposite of Dye’s “creating something from nothing” approach on the front, the back nine shows off his abilities to use the landscape when he had something special to work with. This course feels like it was just naturally carved into the hillside.
The back nine builds and builds with one beautiful and challenging hole after another until you get to the two signature holes 15 and 16. These are two of my favorite holes anywhere and it made me happy to finally play them again.
The 15th is a stunning par-5 that doesn’t seem like anything too exciting off the tee. After you hit your drive, the hole doglegs sharply left up the hill and then doglegs right at the end before you reach the green. The view up this fairway is so great, and then the view from behind the green is truly breathtaking. We couldn’t have planned a better time to play. The late afternoon shadows had us taking so many photos of this incredibly beautiful hole.
From the 15th green, you climb to the highest point of the course and then play the equally spectacular par-3 16th. This is basically an island green set atop a rocky point in the hillside. Again, the views are fantastic from the tee boxes (be sure and walk all the way up to the tips) and it’s a really fun do-or-die type hole.
It was also nice to see the course in good condition again. Things weren’t great the last few times I played here and it was disappointing to see such a great track being neglected. Though it is still rough around the edges here and they didn’t clean everything up that they could have during the renovation, the tee boxes, fairways and greens are all quite good throughout the course. Everything is looking green and in better shape than I expected. The rough is still a bit iffy in places (especially the further you stray from any fairways). The bunkers had plenty of soft sand, but unfortunately there are no rakes right now because of Covid restrictions and it was pretty chewed up with footprints late in the day.
The staff was friendly and it seemed that everyone here is happy to see this course back alive again. There were plenty of players out there on a random Thursday afternoon, so that is a good sign that it may be here to stay. If you never played Moreno Valley Ranch before or only played it as it was making its death spiral, now is the time to go and check out the revived Rancho Del Sol. If you loved this layout like I did, then of course you should make it a priority to see what they’ve done with this place.
Some pictures from Rancho Del Sol Golf Club (9/24/20):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)