Hemet’s Diamonds in the Rough

After a quick morning round at General Old on Saturday, my friend and I had plenty of energy and daylight left over. As we looked at tee time deals, two courses in Hemet stood out. We chose to play Diamond Valley as the better of the two options, but we also ended up playing Hemet Golf Club, too. None of it was planned, but in my world this kind of stuff just tends to happen…

Diamond Valley Golf Club • Hemet, CA • 9/6/14

Note: This course is now closed.

We booked an 11:00 tee time through GolfNow for just $25, which is a great deal. The place wasn’t too busy when we arrived, but there was a fivesome just about to head out in front of us. We really appreciated the pro shop guy asking them to let us tee it up first and they obliged.

After that, there was only a twosome in front of us all day and they were moving quickly, so we never pushed them much and enjoyed our own pace.

I’ve played Diamond Valley a few times in the past and I’ve always enjoyed this course a lot. As the name might suggest, it is definitely one you can consider as a “hidden gem.” Since it opened in 1999 amidst the golf boom, it has dealt with its own ups and downs over the years thanks to a poor economy and such a remote location. Hemet is far enough out of the way for most of us, but then Diamond Valley is even a little further off the beaten path.

It has been quite a few years since I last played Diamond Valley, so even though it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, I was looking forward to revisiting the course. It was just as fun as I remember.

I use the word “fun” because I think that’s a good way to describe this course. It is a nice mix of holes that will test every club in your bag, from the drivable 3rd hole (290 yards from the blues) with a giant mound full of desert bushes right in the middle of the fairway to the monstrous par-4 5th that plays at 460 yards and is often dead into the wind.

There are numerous short/tight holes with great risk/reward opportunities mixed with longer holes that are wide open and force you to give it all you got. The greens are big and feature some tricky slopes. The 9th and 18th stand out to me as two of the toughest green complexes here with some significant undulation.

There are numerous water hazards on the course that are definitely in play to force some uncomfortable approach angles. There is even one of the biggest greenside bunkers you’ll ever see on the massive par-5 12th.

In other words, you will never be left bored at Diamond Valley, but there are enough straightforward holes also mixed in so as not to overwhelm you with too many tricky holes. It’s really a great mix, if you ask me.

For the end of summer, Diamond Valley was in good overall shape, highlighted by great bermuda fairways. They were a little dappled in color with a lot of brown spots, but the lies were always good. The rough was shaved down and not much of a factor. The bunkers were very firm, though. I could tell the sand really wasn’t too bad underneath, so they could really just a good “tractoring” to fluff up the sand again.

The greens were pretty dry summer bermuda. A bit bumpy at times, but rolling at good speeds and holding approaches well. One weird thing we noticed was that holes 10 and 11 had poa greens (11 actually a little mixed, but mostly poa I think). I am not sure if that is on purpose or if poa just took over at some point and they let it be. It is rather odd, though, to have different grass on just those two greens.

Otherwise, it was another enjoyable experience at Diamond Valley and I’ll gladly go a little further out of my way again to play it in the future.

Some pictures from Diamond Valley Golf Club (9/6/14):

After a quick late lunch, we did a “drive by” of the next course just to see how things were looking. After all, it was on the way…

Hemet Golf Club • Hemet, CA • 9/6/14

I used to play here quite a bit back in the day. It was always cheap and easy to get out on weekend mornings. The drive is a bit much, but not really that bad. Like Diamond Valley, it had been a number of years since I last played here, so I was looking forward to seeing my old friend again.

One reason I have not returned in awhile is that I know conditions have gotten more and more questionable over the years. This course has been through a lot of transition and has had its struggles in the poor economy. Last time I played here, the greens were terrible and the rest of the conditions weren’t that inspiring. And by most accounts, it only got worse.

However, I had heard things were a little better here recently, so it was worth checking out. We only wanted to play if it was uncrowded and we’d be able to get around quickly. I saw some GolfNow tee times after 3:00 for $20, so the rate was good. The nice guy in the pro shop told us it was pretty open out there and we’d get around at a nice pace. He also offered to match the $20 rate so we didn’t have to book online.

Our energy reserves were running a bit low at this point in the day, but we decided to go for it. When we got to the first tee, there was an excruciatingly slow foursome out on the fairway and that was not a pleasant thing to see. We decided to skip the first hole and then came back around to play it at the end, which was a good idea.

Another twosome had pulled up to the first tee as we were driving away. We saw them putting out on the 9th green about three hours later as we were coming back around to play the 1st. We were really glad not to be them. Sometimes you just have to get creative!

We did run into some groups on the back nine that slowed us down a little, but it was still a great overall pace late in the afternoon.

Hemet Golf Club opened with the best of intentions to be a noteworthy Southern California course. It was designed by the Schmidt-Curley team (Oak Quarry, Goose Creek) and managed by Landmark.

When I first played there, it was still Landmark at Hemet, but it was already starting to go downhill. It ultimately just became Hemet Golf Club and slowly lost its luster. Nobody would consider this a top-shelf course anymore, yet there is still some life left in it.

I would love to see this course return to its former glory someday because it is such an enjoyable layout and the setting is nice, too. The housing development around it has grown over the years, but the course continues to struggle. I’ll admit I do have a soft spot for Hemet GC because it is the first course I ever broke 80 at.

You can definitely draw some similarities between Hemet and Diamond Valley. Like its cross-town rival, it also features a fun mix of holes. The long holes here are definitely not as long, though, but it still has some shorter risk/reward designs.

There are two stretches on the course that I am particularly fond of. On the front, I like the 4th and 5th. The 4th is a nice downhill par-3 that is tough to judge, especially when the wind is blowing. The 5th is a tricky one with a severe dogleg left around a hillside that tempts you to bite off as much as you can. I did notice there seemed to be more houses atop that hillside than in the past, so it does remove some temptation for longer hitters to try and go right at the green.

On the back nine, I think holes 13-17 are all fantastic. The 13th is a good par-5 that is reachable for most, but there’s plenty of trouble to get into if you miss the green. The 14th is a solid par-3 along the edge of the rocky hillside that might remind you a tiny bit of La Quinta’s Mountain Course.

The par-4 15th is a really fun one that is drivable for many hitters, but also has plenty of trouble to get into if you mishit your tee shot. The 16th is another good par-4, followed by the par-3 17th with water all up the right side and a big bunker guarding the left to force an accurate shot.

The course was in better shape than I anticipated, but it was still a long way from great. The fairways were patchy with some thin spots, some muddy sections and some really shaggy areas where the grass was lush and thick. I mostly had decent fairway lies, though. The rough was a mixed bag. However, I will say the rough around most greens was quite good—very thick and penal. The greens themselves were pretty good. They were super soft and a bit pock-marked late in the day (also footprints starting to show late), but not too bad. The fairway bunkers were pretty ugly with hardpan and grass/weeds growing through. However, you can tell they are putting their attention to the greenside ones, which were in fairly nice shape I thought.

The biggest complaint we had was the lack of drinking water on the course. In the heat of summer, they have to offer more. There was one jug on the front nine that we passed a couple times, but it was almost empty by the time we played. There was a jug inside the clubhouse by the snack bar with some ice and cups. I will warn you to load up as much as you can there because there is not one speck of drinking water on the whole back nine! It was brutal and made it hard to enjoy the course when we were so parched.

I would like to call Hemet GC a “hidden gem,” but the best I can say it’s still a “diamond in the rough” as it is still very rough around the edges. The skeleton of a fantastic golf course is still there, though, so it gives me some hope it can be brought back to life. Either way, it is still not a bad option because their prices are low and the conditions are reasonable enough for the rates they charge currently.

Some pictures from Hemet Golf Club (9/6/14):

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