Landmark Golf Club at Oak Quarry
RIVERSIDE, CA - In the British Isles, particularly Scotland and Ireland, some of the most spectacular seaside golf courses in the world were created on the marshy lowland that was considered unsuitable for any other use.
In recent years in the United States, golf course designers have developed another phenomenon, sculpting remarkable courses on abandoned rock quarried land that was deemed to be otherwise useless.
Among the most notable are the Quarry Course at Black Diamond Resort in Lecanto, FL; Quarry Golf Club in San Antonio, TX; Turkey Creek Golf Club in Lincoln, CA; Crystal Springs Quarry Golf Club in St. Louis, MO Scotland Run Golf Course in Williamstown, NJ, and the Quarry at La Quinta in California's Coachella Valley.
Landmark Golf Club at Oak Quarry, created on the border of Riverside and Fontana, approximately 40 miles east of Los Angeles by Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt of Schmidt-Curley Design of Scottsdale, AZ, with input from Senior PGA Tour star Gil Morgan, has to rank with the best of them.
"When Ernie Vossler (president of Landmark Golf Co.) said they had a chance to purchase this property, he wanted us to take a look at it but he wasn't sure if a golf course would fit," said Curley, who along with Schmidt designed the Champions and Legends courses at the PGA of Southern California Golf Club in Beaumont, a short drive from Oak Quarry.
"When we were walking the property for the first time, we thought there was no way you could build a golf course there. It was pretty vicious land. There were a few pockets where you could envision golf holes but seemingly not too much to work with.”
"But it turned out that a lot of what we saw was excavated top soil just piled up all over the property. It was good material, so we took it and used it all over the course. When we moved it, that created some open spaces on which to build the rest of the golf holes we needed. And it saved us a lot of money. It probably cost us $300,000 to spread that material around the course. If we had to have it trucked in, it probably would have cost about $2 million."
Landmark Golf Club at Oak Quarry is built on the site of the historic Jensen Quarry, which was opened by the Riverside Cement Co. during World War I and was a major contributor to the construction of buildings, freeways, bridges and river-bed linings throughout Southern California until the quarry was closed in 1979.
Vossler believes the course is built on "the most dramatic inland golf course site in Southern California."
All of the holes on the course, which sits in the Jurupa Mountains in an area that is known as the Inland Empire, are named after minerals found in the quarry. Some of the names of the holes are Microlite Ledge, Biotite Bluff, Gypsum Gully, Limestone Dome, Graphite Tower, Pyrite Perch, Zircon Tumble, Opal Outcrop and Marble Ridge.
But the hole everyone comes to play and talks about on the way home is Spinel Slide, the breathtaking 214-yard, par-three 14th hole which already has developed a reputation as possibly the most dramatic hole in Southern California.
Jerry Crowell, assistant pro at Oak Quarry, says it is "the best inland par three I've ever seen. You have to take into account No. 17 at Cypress Point, but this is just an unbelievably spectacular hole."
No. 14 plays into the lowest gully of the quarry from tee boxes set on a ledge looking down on two natural ponds to the left and is the smallest green on the course, 25 yards from back to front, which is guarded by four traps. There is a large bailout area to the right.
Behind the green is a stunning white limestone rock wall that towers nearly 400 feet above the hole. It shimmers in the afternoon sun and provides the signature of the course.
"When we first stood on the area where the tees are on the 14th hole, we felt if we could build one golf hole there, we could link it up with 17 other holes and create something people would really be talking about," Curley said. "Some people go to Couer d' Alene (in Idaho) just to play the hole with the floating green, and we knew it would be the same here.”
"This is such a spectacular hole because it has everything from the elevation change to the water element to the rock wall. All we had to do was build the tee boxes and shape the ground because everything we needed was there. The biggest problem was routing the cart path up the hill to the next tee, but that worked out too because right there is a natural chute through the rocks for the next tee shot.”
"But once we saw the spot where the 14th hole is, we pretty much knew we were going to find a way to build a golf course there."
The first three holes at Oak Quarry are vaguely reminiscent of some on several other outstanding courses built in rural and hilly areas of Southern California in recent years, such as Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, Robinson Ranch Golf Club in Canyon Country and Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark.
But when you get to the fourth hole, Magnesium Terrace, you know this is a different and special place.
The 352-yard par four plays along a ledge of the mountain, with a huge rock wall running the length of the hole on the right side and behind the green. The fairway narrows considerably in the driving area and if a shot heading wildly left isn't caught by a large bunker, it's probably off the side of the cliff.
Long hitters can go for the green or try to run the ball onto the putting surface by turning the ball from right to left and running it up because there is a large open area to the right of the green, but the prudent play is to lay up with an iron to the middle of the fairway for a short-iron approach shot.
"This is another beautiful natural setting that was already there," Curley said. "We could visualize this hole the way it is now the first time we looked at it. We just had to work in the tees and we made it so it's almost driveable, about 320 yards if you go directly from tee to green from the championship tee.”
"The little flat area at the green also was there. We had to put the waste area behind the green because if we put the green all the way back there it wouldn't get any sun at times during the winter because of the rock walls and the grass wouldn't grow.”
"The path was already cut through the rocks to the next tee because it was a haul road for the quarry. That's one thing about working on this type of land. It's easy to get around because the existing roads are large because they had to use heavy equipment on them."
Another interesting quirk about Oak Quarry is that there is no water on the front nine, but ponds and lakes come into play on eight holes on the back side, the exception being the 346-yard 15th.
That provides for an exciting finish, with two large lakes coming into play on the last three holes in front of the traditional but spectacular clubhouse, which sits on a bluff overlooking the 16th and 18th greens, and the 17th tee.
No. 16 is an uphill, 572-yard par five that wraps around the first lake, which comes into play on the left of the second and third shots. There is a bailout area to the right of the green but a large bunker awaits behind the putting surface.
"With all the rock, we didn't know where to put our irrigation lakes, but then we learned that spot was farming-type area which made it easy to dig," Curley said. "The second shot on 16 is uphill, almost blind, so you have to know there is water on the left.”
"You want to play up the right side to set up the approach. The green is set at a right-to-left angle to play off the rock wall behind. If you have to go directly over the water, you want to hit the ball to the middle of the green and play it off the mound there, especially to the back left pin position."
The finishing hole is a 382-yard par four that bends around the second lake on the right and plays considerably shorter than the distance because of the elevated tee.
There are two large traps down the right side, one in the driving area and another near the green, with the hole running along an old mine road and shaft on the left.
"We wanted to keep the mine building and the rest of it to be part of the golfing experience down the stretch, so we just worked around it," Curley said. "You can hit driver there but it's a tight landing area. It's a large green but there's a lot of contour to it.”
"It makes for a great finishing hole, sitting below the clubhouse and the rocks."
The final green isn't the only one that can be tricky.
It's not all that difficult to hit the putting surfaces at Oak Quarry but there are slopes and tiers on every green that put a premium on being on the correct side of the hole. And the lay of the land on the hilly course sometimes makes it hard to tell if you are putting uphill or downhill.
"There is definitely a lot of movement and undulation on the greens," said Hank Schiller, general manager at Oak Quarry. "Several holes are carved into the side of the mountains, which definitely have an effect on which way putts break. But the design team did a good job of tilting the greens to offset the breaks so putts don't completely run away.”
"The reaction we've gotten from probably 95% of the people who have played the course is that it's an unbelievable experience. As soon as they finish, they come into the clubhouse to make another tee time. They want to play it again as soon as possible.”
"It's such a serene setting and a unique golf experience."
By any definition, Landmark Golf Club at Oak Quarry rocks.
January 1, 2003