Barona Creek Golf Club
The Pride of the Barona Indian Tribe
By: Dr. Barry Lotz
There are three Indian tribes owning casinos in east San Diego County. Two own golf courses. The Sycuan Tribe owns Singing Hills and the subject of this article, the Barona Tribe, own Barona Creek Golf Club.
This top quality golf course, open to the public, is located 30 miles east of downtown San Diego. It is across the parking lot from Barona’s Lakeside-area casino, which too will be augmented by a $225 million expansion slated for completion late next year. Construction has begun on the project, which includes a new casino, undercover parking facility, a conference center and a “ranch-themed” 400-room hotel.
Opened in January 2001, this championship-caliber, $12 million dollar, par-72 course, took leading golf course architect, Todd Eckenrode of Gary Roger Baird Design International, three years to design and construct. It was also designed to take advantage of the natural beauty and contours of the surrounding terrain. Boulders and more than 170 full-size oak trees that are native to the Barona Indian Reservation, were incorporated into the design. Hit an errant chip shot and your ball could ricochet off a 10-ton boulder and bounce down a hillside.
The 7,088-yard course, with its five sets of tees, will challenge golfers of every level – from professional to beginner. The Black tees are for scratch golfers! The course offers golfers an exhilarating experience with dramatic changes in elevation and breathtaking views of the surrounding valley. It is a course that is very much visually appealing and fundamentally very challenging.
The Barona Indian Band in the development of this, the first 18-hole golf course on a California reservation, spared no expense. Sod was used on all 18 fairways for an instant mature look and making this course only the second golf course in San Diego to do so. Nearly 100 Augusta White bunkers and a series of lakes and ponds fed by natural streams add to the golfing experience. The greens are spacious, firm and very fast.
A really nice touch, incorporating the Tribe’s heritage, are the distinctive small rock monuments etched with a cattle-brand symbol, at each hole. These markers serve as a tribute to the tribe’s founding members, who were forcibly moved to Barona in 1932 from the nearby Capitan Grande reservation. The relocated families were allotted one wagon, five cows and two horses apiece. They used the brands to mark their livestock.
According to the course superintendent, Sandy Clark, the course features a water-conscious design that, depending on rainfall, the course will use 200 to 310 acre-feet of water per year, much less than most courses. (There are 325,851 gallons in an acre-foot).
Fifteen percent to twenty percent of Barona Creek’s water is recycled effluent from the casino’s $3.5 million dollar waste-treatment plant. The natural landscaping and a $1 million, high-technology irrigation system also minimizes consumption.
The course’s several lakes and man-made streams also recycle water that is pumped from the lowest lake back up to the top. The tribe’s 13 wells — six of them for monitoring only — draw from the Reservation’s own bowl-shaped basin.
Barona Creek Golf Club has a superb 10-acre on-site practice facility, which includes a 12,000-square-foot putting green, 6,000-square-foot chipping green and a 40-space, all grass, driving range. Other classy touches are the complimentary range balls, yardage books, tees and bag tags.
Each hole is an island of green between large expanses of rolling hills, rock formations and native plants. To reach grass fairways from grass tees, golfers shoot over streams and gullies.
The front nine offer a considerable challenge especially the memorable Number 3. This is really a tough cookie of a par 3 if there ever was one. This is a strong hole set along native rocks, with bunkering wedged between to serve as a savior of sorts. The hole plays slightly downhill and downwind, measures 260 yards from the back tees and 200 even from the middle markers. Together with the bunkering of the upcoming 5th hole serving as a backdrop, this green appears to be absolutely surrounded with bunker trouble. The true landing area is more generous than it appears, however, as the entire left side of the green, and chipping area above serve to work the ball onto this generously sized green. Watch out for the ridge running through the middle of the green. A par here will be quite admirable. A birdie will be practically unforgettable.
The fifth hole is the number one handicap with a stream running all along the left side, a series of bunkers and trees on the right with a narrow green surrounded by more sand. The green has a severe slope from back to front, so staying below the hole on the approach is certainly the best play.
The par 4 ninth features a manmade lake on the left with a small stream, which cuts right in front of the green with more sand behind the hole.
The back nine is definitely the most challenging and aesthetically pleasing of the eighteen holes
The eleventh is undoubtedly a memorable and unique par 3 especially from the back tees (189 yards). Majestic oaks, dramatic bunkering and truly artful rock formations surround the green. The back right pin, partially obscured from sight, had best be played conservatively. It’s an all or nothing shot and par is a very respectable score here, particularly in windy conditions.
The fourteenth is a magnificent short par 4. This hole drops a 100 feet in elevation, is slightly over 300 yards and offers a multitude of options from the tee. Bold players can give it a go and drive the green, but must carry the ball approximately 280 yards over a boulder strewn bunker complex. Most players will attempt to place their drives in one of a series of landing areas surrounded by a dry creek, more bunkers and a very unusual native boulder cluster. Certainly a chance for a birdie or better, but nonetheless dangerous – this is a true thinking man’s hole.
The sixteenth hole is the last of a great set of par 3’s. This is the shortest of the bunch, playing even shorter with the predominant wind at your back. By no means is it the easiest, however. The green is literally surrounded by bunkering, demanding accurate iron play. The putting surface is quite complex, combining swales, crowns and ridges to require accurate shot making. You had better put it close here, or getting up and down will be quite a challenge.
Both the par 5 seventeenth with its crossing stream and the par 4 eighteenth, features a large lake all along the left, bring water decidedly into play. On the par 5 seventeenth, a boundary fence runs the length of the hole down the left side, passing by a vintage windmill, which serves as the aiming point off the tee. From here, play is very strategic. The second shot offers numerous options, with a gorgeous creek splitting the hole into two fairways, then wrapping around the left side and back of the green. Lay-up shots placed close to the creek offer the best angles with which to attack the pin on this small green.
The par 4 eighteenth has the creek continuing down the left side of this very demanding finishing hole, spilling into a series of ponds and lakes, which finish at the clubhouse. Playing into the predominant wind, a strong drive is advised down this very wide fairway. Those bold enough to play along the dangerous left side will be rewarded with an easier angle to this green set against the lakeshore. A large bail out area to the right will see a lot of play, no doubt, and offers an opportunity to save par for those with imaginative short games.
Great beverage cart service, welcoming attendants and a great pro shop make Barona a truly pleasing experience. Remember though, that playing in summer should begin as early as possible. It does get rather warm and water should be consumed in great quantity during a round.
As for the 19th Hole, the entertainment value of the casino is hard to beat, and, with the proposed hotel, this complex will definitely be “the place” to stay and play. One does not need to go to Vegas, as Barona offers incredibly superior service to the Las Vegas resorts and is much less expensive. Their summer golf packages are simply unbeatable.
Simply stated, Barona Creek Golf Club is one of the very best golf and entertainment values in San Diego.
The course is also the site of the SBC FUTURES Golf Tour’s $60,000 Barona Creek Women’s Golf Classic
The course opens for play at 7 a.m. The $75 course fee — $45 after 2 p.m. — includes a cart rental and practice balls.
Reservations and additional information can be obtained by calling the pro shop at (619) 387-7018.
Don King – Golf Pro, (619) 387-7018
1000 Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside, CA 92040. Directions: Take I-8 to 67 North in El Cajon. Proceed through Lakeside, and then turn right on Willow Road and left on Wildcat Canyon Road to the course.
Barry Lotz, J.D., Ph.D. is the director of the Professional Golf Teachers Association of America. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the California Golf Writers Association, and serves both as a Consultant and Mediator to the golf industry. He is also the author of numerous books, including “333 Best Web Sites for Golfers” and his current book, “How to Build Business Relationships Through Golf” is in the Top Ten Golf Business Book’s best seller list.