As you approach the long road leading to Barona Valley Ranch, near San Diego, keep your eyes peeled for the twists and turns that lead to the Sovereign Nation of Barona (no passport required).
In the late 19th century, the Barona tribe inhabited the Captain Grande Reservation in San Diego. The tribe was displaced in 1932, when the city purchased the reservation to make room for a municipal reservoir. Cash in hand, the Barona tribe moved 30 miles north, where it purchased what is now the Barona Indian Reservation. In 2001, the tribe secured $200 million in funding to build a casino and hotel to complement an existing golf course. The economic impact of the venture has benefited the tribe in dozens of ways, including improved infrastructure and educational opportunities.
The Barona Creek Golf Club’s accolades include being named to Golf magazine’s “Top 10 New Golf Courses in the Nation” and placing third on its “Best Resort Courses in California.”
Todd Eckenrode, of Gary Roger Baird Design International, created a course that blends with its natural setting. More than 100 bunkers and a series of lakes fed by natural streams come into play. Water is an issue, as the original aquifer has been unable to meet the demands of the course. To date, greens keepers have had to truck in water to quench the thirsty turf. Happily, a deal to pipe water from a nearby town is in the works.
The hotel and casino are massive, and everyone from the security guard at the front entrance to the clerk at the registration desk was friendly and eager to please. I was assigned a mission suite, which had a large living room with a wet bar and refrigerator and an adjoining bedroom. The spacious bath had a huge tub and an equally large walk-in shower.
Make sure you reserve a table for dinner at the Barona Oaks Steakhouse for a great meal after your game.
Hole 3 (260 yards, par 3)
“Simple,” you might think, but think again. No. 3 is a long par 3 with a large “native” area in front of the tee box. Shots left or right will be caught by bunkers, and a prevailing wind blowing toward the hole makes club selection difficult. The green is gigantic — 50 yards from back to front so knowing the pin placement is a must.
Hole 4 (449 yards, par 4)
This is the No. 1 handicap-rated hole on the course. Even from the white tees it measures nearly 400 yards and has a severe dogleg to the left. The safe play is to drive your ball right of the huge bunkers and then take a long iron to the green. Risk takers will send a bomb, trying to clear the bunkers and cutting as much distance as possible. The problem is that balls landing left tend to roll into the native grasses.
Hole 8 (406 yards, par 4)
Driving is not an issue, as the bunkers that lie on the left side can easily be cleared. Again, the approach shot is key, as this is another deep green, measuring 44 yards. Landing in the wrong place on the green will almost certainly guarantee a three putt. Taking an additional club or two is a smart idea, as the prevailing headwind will knock down your ball.
Hole 9 (408 yards, par 4)
As you end the first nine, you come to a par 4 that offers a choice of hitting an iron or a wood off the tee. Aim for the pot bunker on the right of the green and be careful to note that the fairway grows more narrow the farther down you drive the ball, so the water can easily come into play. Your approach shot to the green should be aimed to the left, which rolls back to the green. This hole is very picturesque, with the hotel in the background and the Augusta white bunkers surrounding the green.
Hole 11 (189 yards, par 3)
The key to this hole is accuracy in hitting the green. The green is entirely surrounded “by native landscape” and there is absolutely no room for error. Shots in the native grasses are playable and, if they are dry, a clean hit is possible.
Hole 14 (316 yards, par 4)
Long hitters will enjoy this hole because they can cut off considerable distance by driving the ball over the bunker on the right, toward the middle of the fairway. Beware the huge outcropping of boulders and rocks to the right, where many a high handicapper’s ball has fallen. Your second shot is to an elevated green with a severe slope. If you come up short, your ball could roll some 20 yards back and off the green.
Hole 15 (417 yards, par 4)
This hole would easy if not for the native grasses in front of the tee boxes and guarding the entire left and right side of the fairway. (It’s worth noting the black tee box, which is the highest point on the course and offers a decent photo opportunity.) Aim your shot to the right of the fairway, as the slope will kick your ball to center. The green is crowned and is 46 yards deep, so club selection and pin placement are key to scoring. Balls landing on the left side will roll to a collection area, making it impossible to save par.
Hole 17 (566 yards, par 5)
Aim toward the windmill — yes, windmill — and your ball will land in the center of the fairway. A lateral hazard dissects the fairway and demands a decision: continue with a shot on the left fairway or turn right over the hazard, depending on pin placement and where you feel you will be best positioned to attack the green. Beware the bunkers that protect the right side of the green.
BARONA VALLEY RANCH RESORT & CASINO
1932 Wildcat Canyon Road
Lakeside, CA 92040
tel 619 443 2300
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