Course Review: The Golf Club at Rancho California

I visited this course last Sunday with a couple of golf buddies. We were looking for a place to play at a relatively inexpensive price and not a super long drive. Heading out to Murrieta is a bit more of a trek than we wanted, but the deal was enticing enough for this course.

We had a noon tee time as a threesome for a good price of $33 (carts included). With the time change the night before, we wanted to hedge our bets and showed up a little early in the hopes that we might get out ahead of our tee time. It worked out pretty well as we were teeing off around 11:45. The course had plenty of players on it, but there were a lot of twosomes and things moved along at a pretty good pace of just over four hours.

It’s been many years since I played this course and back then it went by a different name (SCGA Golf Club). The name changes are just part of the unique history of this course. It originally opened for play in 1971 as Murrieta Golf Club and was designed by legendary architect, Robert Trent Jones, Sr.

According to their website, the course fell on hard times pretty quickly and closed in the late 1970s. In 1986, it was resurrected as Rancho California Golf Club in conjunction with the development of the community that surrounds it. In 1994, it was purchased by the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA) and repackaged as the organization’s “home” course. By then, it was regarded as one of the top courses in the region thanks to the design pedigree and a challenging layout.

With the more recent recession, the course fell on hard times once again. I’m not exactly sure when the SCGA sold it, but it ultimately changed over to The Golf Club of Rancho California and has slowly come back to prominence with improving conditions and management. When we were there Sunday, we saw some banners noting the course was again under new management and just “reopened” in early October.

I’m not sure if the newest management is a good sign or a bad sign, but it’s certainly fitting for a course that has seen so many ups and downs.

When I played it during the SCGA days, I found it to be a very nice course with a dynamic and challenging layout. I had vague memories of a few of the more notable holes like numbers 1, 3, 12 and 18, but I remember an overall positive impression of the course.

I was looking forward to coming back and my expectations were high that the course was as great as I remember it. It probably fell a tad below those expectations this time around, but was still very enjoyable on all levels. It is definitely a fun track with lots of great qualities.

The front nine is rather hilly, starting with the big dogleg right par-5 1st hole with a risk/reward approach shot down the hill and across a small ravine. The 3rd hole is the signature one here with a severely elevated tee shot and a green protected by water along the right. What goes down must go back up and you get some tricky uphill holes (7 and 8) to contend with as you finish your front nine.

The back nine flattens out some, but still offers plenty of challenge (probably more difficulty than the front, if you ask me). The 12th hole is a very tricky one (especially for a fade hitter like me) with a severe dogleg left, narrow landing areas and a large hazard guarding the corner. The 18th is a beast of a finishing hole. It’s another dogleg left that plays uphill all the way as you make your way back toward the clubhouse.

The 15th and 16th holes at Rancho California kind of stick out like a sore thumb and feel somewhat uninspired—as if they were not originally part of the same course or Mr. Jones took a nap that day when his team was laying out the final routing. Both are flat and pretty wide open, and 16 is one of the more boring par-3s you’ll come across anywhere.

Beyond those two bland holes, though, this is definitely a challenging course with a lot of design diversity and dynamic qualities you won’t soon forget.

It was also great to see the course in good overall condition. The tee boxes and fairways were playing nicely coming out of their recent overseed. The rough was a bit more hit and miss (some great areas and other spots that were not so good). The greens had recovered beautifully from the aeration they did a few weeks prior. There weren’t really any traces of punching, but they were extremely soft. This was great on approach shots (fire away at that pin!), but toward the end of the day we encountered some really bumpy putts as the result of spike marks and minor ball mark damage.

All in all, it was an enjoyable day on a good course that hopefully is continuing on a positive path in terms of management and conditioning. I’d love to see this place reclaim its spot as one of the better courses in the Inland Empire because I feel like it’s become somewhat of an afterthought in recent years with several great nearby Temecula courses drawing more positive attention.

Some pictures from The Golf Club at Rancho California (11/3/13):

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