From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
In the winter of 1984, I toured The Club at Morningside in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and came away unimpressed with its Jack Nicklaus design, which at the time had been open less than two years. In retrospect, I think my opinion was influenced by the fact that I toured it with young Tom Doak, who had two years before spent 11 months studying courses in Scotland and Ireland and came home cynical about everything built in America by any American architect not named Pete Dye.
Here's a bit of what I wrote in a subsequent report to Golf Digest: "Despite the beautiful Brian Morgan photographs of the course, The Club at Morningside is not particularly memorable. It is a good, basic residential development course, but its front nine is really bland. It has the usual flower beds and accents of pampas grass, but nothing that really sets the course apart from every other 10 million dollar project in the valley."
Here's part of what Doak wrote in the first edition of his fine book, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: "Undoubtedly one of the worst Nicklaus layouts I've seen, despite its polished look . . . the back nine is much prettier thanks to distant mountain backdrops, but the golf holes still lack inspiration . . . two double greens and cookie-cutter pot bunkers ensure that the course will never be called 'original.' "
I made another trek around Morningside just a few years ago and found my opinion had changed considerably. Of course, in the intervening 30-plus years, I had met with Jack Nicklaus several times and learned more about his architecture. I had become friends with Bob Cupp, Jack's associate who'd handled most of Morningside's initial routing and design, as well as Jay Morrish, Jack's other associate at the time who worked out the engineering and construction.
Being well into my 60s on my second look, I finally understood what Jack and company had intended at Morningside. Sure, it was a real-estate sales tool. But the course was designed to accommodate typical Palm Springs golfers, retired golfers, male and female. Its design gives that particular clientele what they want, a beautiful place to play golf without losing a dozen balls or feeling totally incompetent by the time they finish a round.
What I saw the second time around were aspects that seemed hokey in the 1980s but today I consider great elements of design. For instance, Morningside has several joint fairways—the first and ninth, second and eighth, fifth and sixth, 10th and 11th all have fairways connected at some point to its adjacent hole. It's the sort of stuff I'd just seen Gil Hanse do at his remodel of Waverley in Portland. Yet back in 1984, I thought it was gimmicky. Now I realize it kept the developer from lining both sides of any hole with houses.
Morningside still has that pair of double greens, one S-shaped serving the fourth and sixth holes, the other a giant apostrophe serving the 12th and 18th. Both are graceful and eye-catching, a lot more appealing to me than the double-green blob that Coore and Crenshaw recently did at Trinity Forest in Dallas.
One aspect that had impressed me back then is still ingenious. Like many courses in greater Palm Springs, Morningside contains a wide drainage channel that carries storm water rushing off the nearby Santa Rosa Mountains. The 13th and 14th holes are routed to play over (or through) the 100-yard-wide waterway, which is grassed on its slanted sides and flat bottom. But rather than simply close the course when the channel is wet or flooded, the designers created two alternate holes to keep play moving on those occasions.
Thirteen is usually a dogleg left par 4 playing over the channel and then along its high rim. The alternate 13th is a good par 3 played from the same set of tees but to a different green on the inward side of the channel. The normal 14th is a dogleg-right Cape-type hole over the channel and around a string of deep bunkers. The alternate 14th plays to the same fairway and green, but from a different set of tees positioned right behind the alternate 13th green, which eliminates the channel carry and plays as a tight, straightaway par 4.
As far as I know, this is still the only course in greater Palm Springs that had made any provision to remain open for play on days when drainage channels are wet with storm water. It was imaginative in 1984 and remains so today.