With a number of Southern California courses closing in recent years due to the economy and/or the drought, it’s nice to see a handful of courses reopening after a long period of closure. Rams Hill did it in spectacular fashion and I believe Warner Springs Ranch is set to reopen any day now.
The executive Birch Hills Golf Course in Brea has been closed for several years with promises of renovations, but there were still some doubts and uncertainties along the way. The rebirth took longer than expected, but they finally got the course back open just recently.
A couple of my course collector friends were eager for the course to come back, so they could check it off their lists. I had played here once before it closed, so even though there are definitely some differences now, I cannot count it as a “new” one for my list. I still wanted to check it out, so I joined them for a round on Saturday afternoon.
We had a 12:32 tee time, but got there early knowing some bad weather might hit in the mid-afternoon. It worked out well as the course wasn’t too crowded and we got around as a walking threesome in about 2 hours, 45 minutes. The price to walk 18 holes was $29, which felt a little steep, but I guess that’s Orange County for you. They did just get in their carts this week, so now you can pay extra to ride. However, this is a great little walking course. The timing worked out nicely for us as the rain started to pour on the last couple holes we played and we got out of there just in time.
I have some vague memories of the course from before and there were definitely stretches that felt very familiar from last time, yet others that seemed completely new (the 12th hole feels especially out of place). I don’t know all the specific routing changes that were made or which holes were replaced/revamped. I do know they redid a lot of it and there’s still a ways to go. The course is open for play, but the property definitely has an “under construction” feel with a lot still going on. I hadn’t realized that they also leveled the old clubhouse, so now everything is running from temporary trailers as the new one is being built.
The staff was nice and friendly, and it was good to see the golf course reborn in a new light. It is still a par-59 executive layout with five par-4s and 13 par-3s. The par-4s range from 268 yards up to 379 from the blue tees. The par-3s range from 70-186 yards. I wish there were a few more mid-range par-3s in the 130-150 range. As it is, I felt like I was either hitting a short wedge or a hybrid on most holes.
The course was in okay shape. It’s not quite a Rams Hill level reopening, but things are fairly decent all around with some of the turf still needing to mature more. That’s especially true of the greens, which are still a bit firm and springy on approaches, but somewhat slow on putts. They were also sanded on top (not punched, though), but that didn’t affect putts too much. The good news is very few ball marks to contend with on a course where everyone is hitting a lot of wedges in. The tee boxes were boxes good. The fairways on the par-4s were pretty spotty, but okay enough. The rough was not much of a factor anywhere. The bunkers had good sand.
Overall, it was fun to revisit Birch and see what they’ve done. I think things will continue to get better as the construction develops and the course turf matures. This is a fun course to take the kids or get in some practice, but I do wish it was a little cheaper for what it is.
Some pictures from Birch Hills Golf Course (7/18/15):