Barona Creek Golf Club in Lakeside sticks out from the San Diego crowd: A rare underpriced delight
LAKESIDE, Calif. - A Sesame Street-raised toddler could pick Barona Creek Golf Club out of a lineup of San Diego-area courses in a which one doesn't belong game. For clearly, this is one that's not like the others.
It's not overpriced for one thing. It's not surrounded by so many houses that you half expect to see a wayward newspaper lying on the fifth green, the carrier having missed his front-porch target by about.oh, 10 yards. It's not doubling as a construction site for yet another. And lastly, Barona Creek's not filled with holes designed to wow your eyes rather than your clubs.
This is clearly a course that sticks out in the SoCal scene like Tom Arnold would stick out at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
"I didn't expect this," golfer Chung Hang said, spreading his arms wide. "There's so much...open space. I didn't know there was this much space anywhere in this part of California. Everything else is so developed...
"Excuse me. I just didn't expect it."
Visiting from Korea for a trip heavy on golf, Hang discovered Barona Creek Golf Club when another course that was booked solid recommended it as alternative. But you do not have to stumble upon Barona from a foreign land to feel like you've found an unexpected nirvana.
The quiet openness is no advertising jingle. Set on the reservation of the Barona tribe, Barona Creek stretches out over a rolling terrain with not a single home around. The towering tribe-supported casino does take away from the sense of remoteness, but it does not come close to any of the holes themselves. This is the rare round without any patio furniture sightings.
It is a little sad to think that one of the only ways to find a course without rapidly encroaching subdivisions these days is to go to an Indian reservation where the land's protected. But as long as you don't dwell on that fact too long, the day is sure to go your way.
Just the chance to swing in peace, to think about shots is a pleasure. There is something relaxing about a round at Barona. You get a sense of history with a few proud members of the Barona tribe sprinkled among the groups on this Thursday, a reverence for the land that comes through even if this is land where they were forced to settle. It sounds corny, but this isn't something mystical, it's real.
"It definitely has a different feel to it," said Don King, Barona Creek Golf Club's director of golf and longtime Southern California pro. "This is the one course where I can honestly tell people that there won't be any houses going up around it."
Barona Creek is such a welcome relief, it is easy to wonder if its striking difference in atmosphere makes the course itself stand out more than it should. Any such concerns are quickly quelled once a golfer reaches the 13th and 14th holes, however. No. 13 weaves down through a valley, around brush areas and slopes to the right in a move that's more X-Games turn than traditional dogleg. This is the kind of hole you wish you had two chances at, one to learn how to play it, one to take your best shot at. There is an uncertainty about the best way to go for the green here, a real thinker's delight.
Of course, if you spend too much time mulling over 13, No. 14 is liable to send you into brain-lock.
This is a mere 316-yard, par-4, but it's anything but small in scope. You're shooting straight uphill, usually into a brisk wind, with a gully that looks more like a crater running along the left side and a Stonehenge-worthy rock pile to the right. The fairway's squeezed on this "little" hole and you're suddenly sweating bullets over the par 4 that looked so benign on the scorecard.
No. 13 and 14 stand out, but in other ways they're typical of this understated Roger Baird Design team project. This downhill and uphill back-to-back does not scream to be noticed or featured in an architecture magazine. The slopes aren't that visually severe. It isn't until golfers are on the tee at 14, that they're likely to realize just how uphill the fairway runs.
This is a course that torments without feeling the need to shout boo. Take the greens.
Before long you'll learn to take them very slowly. These greens are fast, Britney Spears-marriage fast. There's a good chance they'll be the fastest greens you'll ever play. Notah Begay, the only Native American on the PGA Tour, has said that Barona Creek Golf Club's greens are faster than many of the putting surfaces the tour plays in event condition.
All you'll know is the lightest tap, and your ball's rolling 20, 30 yards past the hole.
"I think we have the best greens around," King said. "Golfers usually end up talking about our greens."
Talking, cursing...it's one and the same, right?
"The greens are tough, but that's the way they should be,'' said San Diego golfer J.T. Terrell, a semi-regular Barona player. "They make your putting matter."
Barona Creek Golf Club is traditional like that. Despite being only 4-years-old, this is the rare casino course that values foundation over flash. The bunkers are not showy, they're just placed in the perfect location to snag the most common wayward shots. And even the first hole and its oak tree in the fairway somehow fit in. The tree is only about 80 yards from the tee box and is more intimidating greeter than real obstacle.
"It's kind of not that hard and kind of not that easy," Hang said. "It's just normal. But it's so wide open."
There is that again. Not so easy to get over that.
Barona Creek Golf Club: The verdict
Barona Creek Golf Club is out of the way, about 35 minutes from San Diego with nothing else much around it. But it's worth the special trip. This might be the best value for your golf dollar in all of SoCal, surely in the San Diego area.
Barona Creek may not be the best course you'll ever play, but it will be one of the most peacefully memorable. This is a place where all the little touches add up to a big plus. The GPS system on the carts doesn't just show you yardages, it displays where every golf cart out on the course is, allowing you to anticipate tee traffic jams and adjust accordingly. Plus, a button allows you to order a specialized complete meal from the clubhouse. Want that hamburger well done with extra pickles? Just tap away and it will be headed your way, personal delivery.
Yet the care that went into multiple tees trumps all. Barona Creek Golf Club isn't one of those courses that only obsesses over the low handicapper. On No. 6 for example, all six tee boxes are elevated. You're not getting gyped on the experience if you're a high handicapper. It's equal opportunity for any woman, senior or middle-aged man lacking distance.
February 24, 2005