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Head to the retirees' Mountain Vista Golf Club for solid budget Palm Springs-area golf

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

PALM DESERT, Calif. - Want to feel like you're getting away with something you shouldn't?

Mountain Vista Golf Club - San Gorgonio Course - Water
Mountain Vista's San Gorgonio golf course puts interesting water scenes in your way.
Mountain Vista Golf Club - San Gorgonio Course - WaterMountain Vista Golf Club - San Gorgonio Course - No. 5Mountain Vista Golf Club - San Gorgonio Course - BunkersMountain Vista Golf Club - San Gorgonio Course - Fairways

Play Mountain Vista Golf Club in the Sun City Palm Desert community, and it seems like you're sneaking onto the private playpen of silver-coifed retirees. If Seinfeld's Del Boca Vista had a golf course, this would be the place. Everything about it screams insider haven for the over-65 set.

Not pretentious. Just private.

Just finding the San Gorgonio 18, even after getting waved through the gates, is no easy task. You're taking turns here and there, dodging speeding seniors in golf carts, pulling into one parking lot after another. It's like you're recreating Steve Martin's famous role in Planes, Trains &Automobiles only at ... well, Del Boca Vista.

Turns out that San Gorgonio only has a small, glorified starter's shack, tucked away in the shadow of a hulking rec center. It's the kind of place you have to know to find.

"We don't get many outsiders here," the steely-eyed retiree behind the counter says slowly.

Then he grins and tosses you the keys to a golf cart. Mountain Vista's two 18s are as open to Palm Springs tourists as any of the super-advertised resort tracks. Only almost no one knows about it. That's because Mountain Vista does no advertising.

Its main focus is the residents, and while it welcomes outside play, it's not going to go out of its way to find it.

You know that unmarked underground dance club in every major city that someone in the know has to tell you about for you to ever discover? Mountain Vista is the golf version of that. Which is why one of the better deals in Coachella Valley golf is as undiscovered as an aspiring model in a Kansas trailer park.

It turns out you are getting away with something by playing Mountain Vista: Good Palm Springs golf at anything but the usual Palm Spring prices. Outsiders can play either the San Gorgonio or Santa Rosa 18s for $71 in the height of the winter high season, and it drops to $41 after 12 p.m. (it gets late early in a retirement community). In the 100-degree heat of the summer, it's only $26.

Just don't knock over anybody in a walker to get here. That's just not cool.

"Don't the old guys who golf there all the time get mad at you for being out on their course?" frequent Palm Springs vacationer Julian Castro asked when he'd heard I'd played Mountain Vista.

No, they don't. At least not to any degree that you're going to notice. Play after 1 p.m. on most days and you'll think the course has been evacuated anyways. The tees are more wide open than a stripper's shirt. It took less than three hours to play a full 18 the afternoon of this visit.

That's another benefit of playing your golf in a retirement community. Most of the members prefer farmer's hours tee times.

They also expect the golf courses to be in good shape - and they are.

The San Gorgonio Course is the more interesting of the two Billy Casper and Greg Nash designed 18s that are named after the dueling mountain ranges looming over in the distance. There is a little more emphasis on shotmaking with some serious quirkiness thrown in.

Three of San Gorgonio's first five holes are par 3s. It makes for an interesting start and a sharp change from the same old, same old. Water's going to be on your mind, with it behind the green in one easy-to-airmail hole and wrapped around it on a peninsula on another shortie.

Then, just when you think you've locked in your short game, San Gorgonio spits you out onto one of the longest back nines you'll play anywhere. It's 3,770 yards from the tips (on a course that only stretches to 6,669 yards total), and there are two par 4s over 450 yards and a 578-yard finishing hole.

The fairways are wider, though, and you still have plenty of chances to go for birdie. Avoid splashdowns and Casper and Nash's large, deep bunkers and the best scoring day of your Palm Springs trip could be in sight.

Just don't brag about it too much to the Sun City residents.

The Verdict on Mountain Vista Golf Club

If someone suggests you should play Mountain Vista, you'll think they're crazy. If you actually do it, you'll be almost crazy thankful.

The San Gorgonio Course especially makes for a fun day of golf. It's not one of the best courses in the Coachella Valley. It's certainly not one of the most visually wowing. It is one of the coolest secrets, a little insider's play that will add some spice to your trip stories.

Go ahead and tell everyone you snuck on. They'll believe it. Not many outsiders have played these courses with fairly wide open fairways, houses all around, tall palm trees on the edges and those twin mountains in the far background.

San Gorgonio throws enough twists at you to keep it interesting, too. Like when you finally get to the first par 5 on the course (No. 4) and find so many palm trees in the middle of the fairway that you have no idea what to aim at.

Hey, every secret needs its secrets.

Fast Fact

San Gorgonio Course has a 129 slope rating from the back tees.

Palm Springs area hotels

Rancho Las Palmas is an underrated resort in Rancho Mirage that gives you that retreat setting while being in the heart of it all. In this case that means right across the street from The River, the outdoor mall with an actual flowing water body that people in the desert swoon over. Even better, it's close to the high-end shops of downtown, including Tiffany.

Best of all is a pool scene with shooting water streams for the kids and plenty of nanny babes lounging around in hardly anything.

Coachella Valley restaurants

La Quinta Resort offers high-end, high-priced gourmet seafood at AZUR, a direct offspring of New York's legendary restaurant Le Bernardin.

You can find pretty much all the usual suspect fast food and chain restaurants nearby as well. But the place to go for a taste of your home in the region is The River. This cookie cutter outdoor mall on Bob Hope Drive boasts a unique setup of being centered around a man-made stream.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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