Spilling the Beans on Oak Valley Golf Club

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Beaumont, CA - Look close, or you'll miss it--and that would be a shame.

Palm Springs and its neighboring desert communities have long been known as great places to play golf. Making a jaunt to the sunny desert paradise introduces you to the lavish entertainment history of the area--where you'll be privileged to make turns onto Bob Hope Drive or Frank Sinatra Boulevard to get where you're going. Hollywood stars of the past made the two-hour journey regularly and turned the barren desert into a golf oasis for the rich and famous.

But there's a course in Beaumont that should make you think twice about going stopless on your way from the L.A. Basin to the sand and palm trees of Palm Springs.

Oak Valley isn't a secret to the folks who live around there--but it is to many who simply drive past it on their way to play the more famous names about 45 minutes east off of I-10. Maybe its not really a secret--we'll call it blissful ignorance.

The golfers who miss the opportunity to play Oak Valley are passing up quite a treat. To those who know, Oak Valley features a Landmark signature design (Lee Schmidt/Brian Curley, course architects--who formerly worked with Pete Dye Associates) that will challenge you with glassy fast greens, breathtaking elevation changes, sudden direction switches and surprising length at 7,003 yards from the back tees.

And whereas many of the courses in the desert are essentially molded from desert scrub--manufactured creations--Oak Valley is naturally blended into the varied Beaumont landscape. It doesn't deserve to be missed.

Scott Arnold, Oak Valley's Head Golf Professional, touched on what makes the club unique--"It's a nice getaway from the crowds in the desert, as well as some of the other, more populated golf areas. It's almost like being in the country. No houses line the fairways--each hole is different. And because of the way it's laid out, you often can't even see another hole from the one you're playing." There definitely is a sense of peaceful solitude found on this course.

Fortunately or unfortunately, based on your point of view, the course is starting to get its due--and attracting heavier play. Called "The Best Course in the Inland Empire" by Golf Magazine and receiving a four star rating by Golf Digest, the track can't possibly remain little known for long. It's just taken almost a decade (Oak Valley opened in 1991) to get the word out.

Another reward for making the stop is the price tag. Golf in the desert during high season can deprive you of a couple Franklins easy. Oak Valley is a steal at $50 Monday-Friday and even the $75 weekend/holiday rate is an excellent deal considering what you get. Essentially, you trade money for drive time. A fair exchange on most occasions.

With this being said, the course makes it worth it, no matter what you're foregoing. Not only is the layout excellent and challenging, but the conditioning is noteworthy. We played it a week after Oak Valley held a PGA Tour Q school event--so it was understandably in great shape. But I've played it before when there hasn't been nearly the motivation to tidy up things for average golfers--and it was still outstanding.

The greens are in the best shape of any course in the region and they roll extremely fast. Arnold gives much credit to Oak Valley's Superintendent, John Harkness for the superb conditions.

Desert golf is known for having notoriously slow greens--sometimes you have to rap even a downhill putt to get the ball to the hole. Not so at Oak Valley. It presents a difficult change of pace if you've played at some of the desert resort courses the previous few days--but no one who enjoys the subtleties of the game should mind. You just better bring your patience along with your short game.

Landing areas off the tee are generous, and the thick rough will stop most wildly straying balls--but hitting out of it isn't pleasant. The premium is placed on accuracy into the greens--club selection and keeping the ball below the hole on the mostly back to front sloping greens.

The round starts off with a couple of visually pleasing, but fairly tame par fours that parallel I-10 (you don't see it, but you can hear it!). The third is a 185 yard par three that features the most significant elevation drop on the course. Wind direction and severity makes this seemingly easy par three into a monster if there's a breeze. There is room to miss short, but anything long will leave a downhill chip--not an attractive prospect.

The fourth hole requires a tee ball over a large gorse filled ravine--from the back tees it's only 184 yards to carry it--but it looks a lot farther. The second shot is severely uphill to a green that slopes sharply from the back to front. Anything short will roll off the green and could very easily roll a lot farther down if you're unlucky.

Holes seven and eight introduce you to the club's real length and difficulty. Seven is 474 yards from the tips and presents a downhill tee shot followed by a steeply uphill second.

The green is 25-30 feet above the fairway and sits seemingly on a ledge. Arnold recommends that most players think of it as a three shot hole--and bail out on the second shot to the right. Make a chip and putt, and earn a good par.

Eight plays 442 yards, also with a downhill tee ball. This time, the trouble on the second is on the right hand side with some deep rough and bunkers protecting a fairly narrow green. After these two holes, be glad to move on.

The back nine moves away from the freeway and seems even more isolated than the front--if that's possible. It also brings water into play on several holes, but lacks the sizeable ravines that populate the front nine. I'd hardly describe them as two completely separate nines--but it calls for a different set of playing strategies.

Par three number eleven's a good example. 199 yards and slightly downhill, water hugs the right side of the green and the left is protected by a steep bunker and deep rough.

Arnold says "Looking at the hole, it's hard to realize that to make the green, you really want to bring it in from the right. Most people bail left, and that's not a good place to be either." I certainly found that out--I chipped from the left rough onto the green--and the ball kept rolling, right into the water.

Sixteen might be considered Oak Valley's signature hole. 523 yards from the back, it's a visually impressive par five with a downhill tee shot to a wide fairway. The second provides an inviting chance to go for the green in two. Water protects the left side of the approach and the green, and there's a large mound on the right, as well as a bunker. Standing in the fairway, the green looks tiny in contrast to the hazards. It'll see how much nerve you have. If you choose the lay-up option, there's a chance for a bump up third. Probably the wise choice given the risk/reward possibilities here.

Scorecard

Conditions: A
Layout: A
Service: B
Practice Fac.: B
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: B
Pace of Play: B+
Resort Hotel: N/A
Value: A
Overall Rating: A-

Jeffrey A. RendallJeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Jeffrey Rendall is an avid golfer and freelance writer. After passing the California Bar in 1994, he moved to Virginia to pursue his interests in history and politics, where he's worked since 1995.


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