Course Review: Vellano Country Club

Though I had no plans to play golf Sunday, I found myself a bit antsy in the morning. Also, I’ve had a growing curiosity about this course in Chino Hills that recently opened for public play. This once private club is now open to the public all day on Mondays and only afternoon the rest of the week. As a semi-private course just feeling its way in the public domain, it’s naturally a bit overpriced. I’ll be curious to see how the rates evolve as time goes on.

As I searched for last-minute tee times yesterday morning, Vellano seemed to be the most enticing option, even if the price was more than I really wanted to pay. They did have some $59 times available in the afternoon, but they were 2-4 players only and I wasn’t able to scare up any interest from my golfer friends. So I had to settle for a $65 price at 1:10, when they had a single spot available.

I saw some relatively positive reviews about this course on Greenskeeper.org earlier in the week, so I figured now was as good a time as any to check it out. 

The community seems pretty remote in Chino Hills, well away from the busier parts of town. It’s a few miles off the highway on some beat up old roads before coming to the gated entrance of the neighborhood. It’s definitely a swanky part of town with some really, really nice houses surrounding the course and a big, beautiful clubhouse at the course. 

As I drove up the hills toward the clubhouse, I was getting a good feeling about the course. As you know, I like changes in elevation, and it was clear to see Vellano offers plenty of them. I knew from reviews that the course was tight and hilly (“target golf”), set in the canyon landscape, but it really is something to behold in person. It’s a very “dramatic” setting for a course.

On paper, Vellano all adds up to a course that I would absolutely love. In reality, I was left feeling slightly disappointed and bewildered. They paired me with two other singles and we teed off a few minutes ahead of our time. There were a few groups ahead, so the pace was moving at average speed and we finished in under 4.5 hours. Another single caught up to us on the 6th hole and joined us to create a unique band of misfits who had very little in common other than a passion for golf. Two of the guys were also first-time players here and one was a resident/member, so he helped provide some valuable local knowledge which is greatly needed on this roller coaster of a layout. One of the guys actually left after the turn because he was so frustrated with the course!

Vellano was designed by Australian golf legend, Greg Norman, and his team. They definitely tried to use the natural contours of the landscape to craft this layout, but this is some rugged terrain and it makes for some really tricky holes. Most fairways are pretty wide, but slope severely to one side or another and there is usually a large bank of rough on the high side to funnel things down into the middle. Off the tee here, the goal is pretty simple: aim at the high side of the fairway. If you are going to miss, miss even higher and let the slopes take you back into the fairway.

With that approach, hitting fairways wasn’t a problem for me yesterday even though many holes just feel plain “uncomfortable” while standing on the tee. But the tee shots were easy compared to the rest of the course. There are very few flat lies out here and the greens are diabolical. They are massive (tending to be narrow, but extremely long from back to front), full of undulation and quite well-protected. There are plenty of false edges to contend with and there are some of the nastiest bunkers you’ll ever see throughout the entire course. From fairway bunkers to greenside traps, they are deep and penal. They are often grouped together in some very intimidating arrangements on the sides of hills. Some are really just for show, but many come into play.

Like the fairways, most greens have a sidewall on one side or the other that can be played to your advantage on approaches if you play the right shots. But other than the one sidewall, the front, back and other side generally fall off quickly into undesirable places, so you really have to be dialed in on your approaches and miss to the high side if you want to play it safe. Depending on which tees you play, the course isn’t super long, but it’s target golf to the extreme.

There are some great changes in elevation throughout the course and spectacular views. A lot of holes play significantly uphill or downhill, but most green complexes are slightly elevated to make them even harder to get at as described above. There are some forced carries to contend with and plenty of environmental hazard areas to avoid.

Add to all this the fact that it tends to get really windy here, and this is a course that will just mess with your mind all round long. It was pretty windy yesterday and that definitely added to the challenge factor. I can’t even imagine what it plays like when it’s really howling out there. 

The conditions were not as good as I was led to believe from the GK reviews. The fairways were pretty dried out and thin. They weren’t horrible to hit from, but there were some weak areas and you can expect a ton of extra roll-out (which isn’t always helpful here). The rough is pretty much a non-factor as it is cut tight and so many balls funnel back into the fairways or off into the bushes if you find the rough anyway. The bunkers had really nice sand that was extra fluffy and white. The greens were pretty good. Softer than you’d expect for this style of course, but I was grateful for that. Smooth on putts and very hard to read with such severe slopes throughout the course.

This is one of the more disorienting courses I’ve played. It should be one that I love, but there are so many uncomfortable shots here and no real let-up at any point in the round. It is really exhausting and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to one of SoCal’s other most polarizing course layouts—Champions Club at The Retreat in Corona. They are very similar designs, though Vellano is probably more manageable once you know it better. Champions Club is just unforgiving on all levels.

I didn’t hate Vellano and I did like the stylistic choice on the flagsticks, which have wood poles and triangular flags, but I definitely didn’t love it as much as I wanted to. Other than the nice facilities and service, I don’t feel the course itself is quite worth the price I paid and the mediocre conditions I encountered. I’m usually the first one to defend “funky” courses, but this one even threw me for a few loops and I’d only recommend it to the real thrillseekers out there.

Some pictures from Vellano Country Club (6/2/13):

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