Golf and gambling go together like peanut butter and jelly. While most gamblers don’t necessarily play golf, most golfers do gamble — on and off the course.
That’s why so many casino resorts own or are otherwise affiliated with golf clubs that welcome their guests to transition for a few hours from casino player to golfer, typically with some snazzy treatment along the way. I play a good amount of high-limit blackjack, and that penchant has landed me on some great courses in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and in Mississippi. I’ve had opportunities to travel other places to parlay casino and golf time but haven’t been able to enjoy them because of scheduling.
That I had never been to the Mohegan reservation and the Mohegan Sun resort before late July is a big oversight on my part. I’m so glad I remedied that.
I traveled to Connecticut, just about an hour away from Hartford, with my family to spend a relaxing weekend on the shores of the Thames River, which we could see from our 22nd floor room. From the moment we checked in, the Native American-inspired aesthetic was mind-blowing. Over-the-top is an adjective that can be used at a lot of high-end casino resorts, and sometimes that’s a bad thing. It wasn’t at Mohegan Sun, beautifully mixing materials and colors for a luxurious presentation that also felt earthy in the common areas, including the resort’s three casino areas and the connecting shopping and dining areas.
When we got to our room, we were presented with a slightly different look, still utilizing Native American influences, but more subtly in combination with the kind of experience a gambler would expect at other casinos. The room was large, with a comfortable King-size bed and all the usual trappings. Twin, French-style sliding doors opened to the spacious bathroom, complete with a shower that had amazing water pressure, an absolute must. There was plenty of room to get ready for a good time exploring the resort, playing the golf course, heading out around New England or hitting the tables and slots.
If you can imagine it, you can eat or drink it at Mohegan Sun, with options ranging from steakhouses to sports bars to Frank Pepe’s legendary pizza. You can dance the night away in one of the bars that turns into a club at night. I’m not doing that with a couple of young kids, but, it’s good to know it’s an option.
For you parents of young children, there are plenty of good options to keep the kids occupied on property and a reasonable drive off the reservation. The resort pool is wonderful for people of all ages, particularly with a 3-and-a-half-foot depth all around. That’s perfect for kids who want to jump, swim and play all afternoon. The hot tub was a nice size, and the adjoining bar — all under a gorgeous glass roof — completes the look. Being able to sunbathe, drink and socialize on the patio just out the enormous glass doors that open to the outside was great as well. There’s also an arcade and a kids program that you can pay to basically babysit your kids by the hour, which is a fantastic concept.
If you’re willing to drive a couple of hours, you can go to Edaville, Mass., and check out their theme park, including a Thomas the Tank Engine-themed section. If you’ve got kids under 5 or 6, you’ll appreciate it, and they will, too. The animatronic dinosaur portion of the park was also a winner.
But, I came to Mohegan Sun to play golf and some 21. On Saturday morning, I was picked up by a friendly limo driver and taken the 20 or so minutes off tribal land to the Mohegan Sun Golf Club in Baltic, Conn.
The resort bought the course, formerly known as Pautipaug Golf Course, in 2007 for $4.4 million and renamed the George Cornish design, which was recently renovated. It’s a par-72 track that plays to a scorecard max of 6,790 yards with a Black tee rating of 73.0 and a slope of 133.
This is a classic-style golf course with some relatively tight corridors and landing areas. Mohegan Sun Golf Club is not your typical blast-away resort course where you pretty much can’t get into trouble if you tried and have to be horrible not to hit at least half of the greens in regulation. All of the holes have character, and they make you think.
After a straightforward first hole, the second and third holes introduce more trees into play to give the feeling of some tightness off the tee. That’s mostly perception, however, opening up nicely in the landing area to give the player plenty of room to get to the greens, none of which lack in character or undulation. They’re fair, however — just try not to miss in the wrong spots, which you can pretty plainly see on most holes.
The par 5s at Mohegan Sun Golf Club are really the holes with the most intrigue, and that’s rare for a golf course. The par-5 fifth is just 505 yards from the tips, so it needs a defense, which is a native area and stream that cuts diagonally across the fairway. A fairway wood or long iron is the play to an otherwise pretty easy hole. The back-to-front sloping green makes for a challenge if an aggressive player goes long.
The next hole, the sixth, is also a par 5, and it’s funkier. It’s a 465-yard downhill hole with a severe, tall tree-blocking dogleg right shape. The play, again, is about a 260-yard shot straight out toward the edge of the fairway that runs into a big pond. From there, the player needs to draw in the shot off of a beautiful bubbling waterfall feature toward the green that runs hard back to front and from right to left. There’s water and high grass guarding on the left to make the par 5 rating worth it.
The 13th comes after the nearly driveable 370-yard 12th, which comes complete with a blind tee shot to pay off a player’s length. The first par 5 on the back is straight, but it narrows at the 300-yard area, making a straight drive the only way a player can get over the guarding water hazard in two shots. Again, missing long is a bad idea with a speedy putt or pitch left.
And then there’s the closing hole, playing 535 uphill. The landing area is clear, but the second shot play isn’t really obvious unless you’ve drilled your tee shot. There are two ponds, one on either side of the fairway, that a player has to negotiate like uprights for a lay up. Scoping out the yardage to carry either pond is key; otherwise, you’ll find yourself dropping for 4.
The greens roll well, and the resort is still planning to redo a few of them.
The entire course was enjoyable, and the GPS units in the carts certainly helped speed things along. There are birdies to be made and good scores to be had. The beverage cart comes around plenty, and you’ll hit the halfway house multiple times in the round as the eighth green, ninth tee, 11th tee, 13th green, 16th green and 17th tee all converge on the area. The beer selection at the golf club is the best I’ve ever seen for a golf course, including lots of excellent craft brews in tall-boy cans. Beautiful.
The practice facility is small, and it’s not really equipped for better players to rip driver. However, for a casino guest who’s likely showing up a little late (and maybe a little tired and a little buzzed), it’s adequate enough to get ready for a round.
The clubhouse is nice, with a quaint bar area to eat, drink and settle bets after the round. Really, though, you’re heading back to a massive resort after the round, so just reconvene there.
The rack rates at the golf club are $140 before 2 p.m. and $85 after 2 p.m. However, players and guests can book online and likely pay less with dynamic pricing. You can also become a seasonal member if you’re local.
The casino experience at Mohegan Sun was an excellent one. Since there’s so much space, nothing feels cramped. There are no smoking zones, which is great, and the smell of smoke in other parts of the casino is not as pervasive as others I’ve visited. Every game, every slot you can think of is somewhere on the floor, and the minimums are reasonable, more like a local’s casino than a Vegas resort that will turn up the heat in the evenings.
The high-limit area isn’t a room, however. It’s a, for lack of a better term, caged-off section of an open floor with a good selection of games. There are plenty of TVs, an attentive wait staff and roaming hors d’oeuvres at night, which is a nice touch I haven’t seen elsewhere. It’s positioned near a night club, so you’re going to hear plenty of the hits while you play. If you prefer quiet while you gamble (I don’t care), then you may not like that ambient music.
My family and I — or maybe just my wife and I — will be back to Mohegan Sun. We had a wonderful time, with plenty to do to keep ourselves and our children happy. There’s lots to do (and we didn’t even take in an event at the resort’s 13,000-seat arena), and the staff was wonderful.