Inland Empire a growing economic and golf force
While Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego are the media darlings of Southern California, it's the Inland Empire that does the grunt work.
Proudly proclaiming itself as "California's job creation leader for more than a decade," the Inland Empire boasts the nation's 13th-largest metropolitan market and has a diverse economy that is one of the largest and fastest growing in the nation in the United States.
Built around two substantial counties - San Bernardino and Riverside - the Inland Empire is massive in its geography, measuring out at two-thirds the size of the entire state of Connecticut and ranging from the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and to Lake Elsinore, Murrieta, and Temecula in the southwest. The entire population of the IE is rapidly closing in on the four million mark.
The diversity of Inland Empire's landscape is a boon to the adventurous, as well as business. When you hear Southern Californians speak of being "two hours from the mountains and two hours from the beach," they are often being optimistic. In the Inland Empire, however, it's being pessimistic - from the middle of the IE, a trip snow skiing at Big Bear Mountain will take about an hour in a car, the same amount of time it should take to have you dipping your toes in the Pacific Ocean.
For golfers, the Inland Empire is Southern California golf at its finest. The consistent weather allows for year-round golf, and the more than 100 golf courses within its borders allows for a wide variety of play. An added plus of golf in the Inland Empire is the green fees, which are consistently well below golf courses in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
Long looked at with aversion by Southern Californians, the 909 (the Inland Empire's telephone area code, which is used as a nickname by locals) has grown steadily and assuredly in the shadows of Los Angeles and Orange County, and has emerged as an outstanding business, residential - and golfing - option for people looking for the best Southern California has to offer.
Inland Empire must-play golf courses
Redhawk Golf Course: They advertise Redhawk with the tagline "Where only the strong survive." While this may depend solely on your definition of survival, let it be known that this Temecula golf course is not joking around about the quality of golf. At 7,217 yards with a 149-slope rating from the tips, Redhawk is as tough a challenge as any course you'll find on the West Coast.
Ranked as a "Must Play" in 2004 by Golf Digest, Redhawk presents golfers a variety of obstacles on its Ron Freame- and Mark O'Meara-designed course. Lakes, boulders, trees and bunkers will consistently get in the way of golf balls at a course that lives up to its ominous motto.
Empire Lakes Golf Club: Opening in 1996, this Rancho Cucamonga golf course has made the most of its less-than one full decade of existence. Designed by Arnold Palmer, Empire Lakes plays to nearly 7,000 yards from the back tees, with a slope rating of 133, and is a stop on the Nationwide Tour.
Built around three lakes, Empire Lakes gives golfers a baptism by water, as the first three holes of the course will require some type of forced carry. A somewhat flat course, Palmer made excellent use of the local landscape, as well as approximately three-dozen bunkers, which are placed strategically along the course. Green fees at Empire Lakes will run from $60-90.
Oak Quarry Golf Club: The Riverside Press-Enterprise ranked Oak Quarry as the "Best Course in Inland Southern California" while OC Golf Magazine named its 14th hole as "The best par 3 in Southern California." Such praise is typical of Oak Quarry, which just a scant few years from its opening in 2000 has become one of the Inland Empire's most popular tracks.
The course is built around an abandoned rock quarry located in the Jurupa Mountains of Riverside, and designers Dr. Gil Morgan and Schmidt-Curley Design worked the quarry element throughout the course, creating a layout that is both unique, and even somewhat educational for those with interests in mineralogy. Oak Quarry plays to a hint more than 7,000 yards from the tips, with a slope rating of 137, and is open to the public, with green fees ranging from $65-$95.
Temecula Creek Inn: Three diverse nine-hole runs make up the championship golf course at the Temecula Creek Inn resort, with each offering its own challenge. Designed by Dick Rossen and Ted Robinson, the three courses can be mismatched to create a different round. In keeping with the resort-golf feel, however, none of courses play much longer than 6,600 from the tips, with slope rating petering out at around 130.
Given a four-star rating by Golf Digest, Temecula Creek is exquisitely maintained and scenic throughout, while the varied nine-hole runs will take golfers through elevation changes and rock outcroppings, to more wide-open, let-the-driver-rip fairways. While deals are available, Temecula Creek is one of the few courses in the Inland Empire where green fees will surpass $100.
Inland Empire golf: Solid seconds
Oak Valley Golf Club: When the Southern California PGA Section was looking for its home course, they traveled a ways down the I-215 to the city of Beaumont. With 72 holes designed by former Pete Dye associates Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley, driving the extra distance to play where the pros play becomes that much easier when you notice the green fees, which run from $50-$75.
Sierra Lakes Golf Club: Designed by Ted Robinson, Sierra Lakes is a scenic course where big hitters tend to congregate in Fontana. Wide-open fairways will defy even the most scattershot of players from the tees to pull out their drivers, though Robinson does have some fun with putting water in areas that golfers would rather it not be. Laid out to take full advantage of spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains, Sierra Lakes is a can't-miss public course, with green fees in the $50-$80 region.
Trilogy Golf Club in Glen Ivy is one of the Inland Empire's and designer Robinson's most recent courses and has quickly become an IE favorite. Opening in 2002, the Glen Ivy course might not share the fame of its sister course in La Quinta, but with green fees starting at less than $50 and in immaculate condition, it's quickly gaining ground.
Cresta Verde Golf Club, Corona: As one of the nation's 500 oldest courses, Cresta Verde is a course that golf historians can't miss. Designed by the actor Randolph Scott and opened in 1927, Cresta Verde sunk more than a $1 million into a 2002, Jay Miller redesign. The course is short by today's standards at just 6,150 yards from the tips, but Miller worked to create several interesting and challenging holes on the revered old course. If that's not enough to get you to go, try out the triple-decker practice range.
Inland Empire golf: Also worth playing
Eagle Glen Golf Club, Corona: Designed by Gary Roger Baird, this Troon Golf-managed course is well-maintained and features some dazzling elevation changes.
El Rancho Verde Royal Vista Golf Course, Rialto: El Rancho Verde is an older course that is popular with locals in one of Inland Empires most charming cities. Green fees are as low as anywhere, as you can get on from $20-$45 most days.
Shandin Hills Golf Course, San Bernardino: Sure, several of the holes play right next to a busy freeway. But $35 or less will normally get you on this course, which features wide fairways, but punishing rough.
Stay and play
Located in the middle of downtown Riverside, the Mission Inn brings nearly 130 years of experience to the Inland Empire. While its status has fluctuated through the eons of its existence, it is now a historic and revered section of Riverside, taking up an entire block.
Keep in mind that it will run you, as most rooms will be near to or well more than $200. Nevertheless, for pure history and a feel of old-time class, The Mission Inn is tough to beat.
The Temecula Creek Inn is located in the heart of Southern California's wine country, and its 130 rooms have a Native-American themed feel. Plus, you have the 27 holes of golf at your disposal.
As with any area that includes cities both large and small, there are many, many other options for lodging and dining throughout the Inland Empire, with hotel chains such as Sheraton, Marriott and Hilton all having representation, as well as lodgings for travelers on a budget.
December 19, 2005