BARONA CREEK GOLF CLUB
7,393 Yards / Par-72
75.8 CR / 144 SL
Architect: Gary Roger Baird and Todd Eckenrode (2001)
So much of what calls itself “golf” in the Southern California area is loaded with an endless assortment of vapid golf designs. Many quickly created for housing development purposes during the go-go days of the 1990’s and the architecture usually is filled with non-descript holes that would not raise the pulse level of a corpse even when blessed with beautiful California terrain that should have yielded so much more.
However, there are a few notable courses in which the architecture is exceptional — clearly providing a rich mixture of holes and for shotmaking to be thoroughly analyzed before pulling the trigger.
Located under an hour from the downtown San Diego area is Barona Creek. The facility is owned and operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians and is one of the best Native-American owned courses I have played that’s connected to an on-site casino / hotel.
The main attribute of the course is the land. The course is not hemmed in by inane housing clusters or other diversions. The land simply include the golf course and the actual terrain is very good. There’s enough pitch but never to excess.
The tough assignment when doing resort type golf is providing for enough elasticity so golfers of varying handicap levels can have an enjoyable experience. You can’t have a course that’s overly demanding because pace of play concerns would suffer. On the flip side — you can’t have a layout that fails to provide thought-provoking shots and holes otherwise the experience simply becomes a one and done visit.
Barona is modeled with wide fairways — there’s more than enough room — but there’s always a preferred side to play one’s approach shots throughout the round.
The golf course starts with a par-5 — long enough to stretch the muscles and get the day started. Don’t be misled in thinking the hole is easy simply because of the fairway width. The green is angled very well with a supporting bunker complex to the right. Getting into position for a birdie will require blending the physical and mental sides together as a solitary tree is placed to make sure any second attempt to get to the green has to be thoroughly thought out. Best of all, the more left you go to avoid the tree and bunkers — the more the green falls-away from you on that side.
Barona is a layout that adroitly incorporates the ground game option so well. You see this with the 260-yard par-3rd hole. On the surface the yardage would seem to be excessive. But the design allows for golfers to run the ball. The key is making sure the execution is carried out well so one’s golf ball can be funneled to the green.
At the par-4 4th you face a critical decision at the tee. How much do you attempt to cut the corner on this superb dog-leg left hole? The bunker complex that guards the inside corner is both massive and impressive for its presentation and strategic qualities. The more left you go the better the angle into the green for the approach. There’s bailout to the right for the weak-kneed player but the downside is that the approach angles becomes infinitely more demanding.
This is the pattern at Barona — a constant chess game where different angles need to be attained throughout the round. The key? Knowing what to decide which one works best for your game. The routing is also exceptional — constantly moving in different directions — with a wind pattern always shifting.
Barona Creek Golf Club
At the long par-4 8th you encounter another top tier hole. Bending left in the drive zone requires a carefully calculated tee shot. The putting surface is quite devilish — moving hard from left-to-right and fortified by a frontal bunker on the right which must be avoided. There are bailout areas but none permits an easier next shot in the overall process.
The inward side is no less compelling. The par-3 11th is a gem — the green banked around a colossal front right bunker. There’s more room than it appears from the tee but complicating matters is that the prevailing wind is usually in the player’s face so ample club selection is a must. The par-4 12th is an exquisite hole. The tee shot is blind and those favoring the right side receive the better approach angle. At the short par-4 14th you climb uphill to a green bracketed by bunkers and with a contour that requires careful calculation on the approach.
The ending quarter brings the round to a quality conclusion. Two long par-4’s — at the 15th and 18th — are balanced by a terrific par-3 at the 16th requiring a deft touch to hold the green when generally played downwind. The par-5 17th is no less vintage stuff. Golfers need to think carefully about the split fairway encountered after the tee shot. Those taking on the more demanding right side will receive a much simpler approach. Interestingly, with the exception of the 16th — all of the others generally play into the prevailing wind. The 18th ends the day in grand fashion. The green is set near enough to a pond that awaits the pulled shot. However, missing right only guarantees a treacherous chip shot to a green that falls away.
Barona Creek works in so many ways.
Playability is always emphasized but to score well the player has to calculate carefully their abilities and then execute smartly. Fun golf is a concept that’s bandied about like a tired slogan but so often fails to connect the gaps between varying handicap levels. It’s never an easy task but the design at Barona Creek accomplishes that in a big time way.
There are plenty of risky wagers to make when staying at the casino at Barona Creek — the golf element is one sure bet.