Yesterday, I had an opportunity to play another resurrected course in Southern California. It seems courses are being run down and closed left and right these days, so it’s always exciting to see places being renovated and reborn. We saw it in spectacular fashion with Rams Hill, but then short courses like Hawk’s Landing and Birch Hills also came back with some fighting spirit. Now it’s Warner Springs Ranch Resort’s turn to give it another go.
I’ve been following Warner Springs closely in the past couple years because they’ve been trying hard to get reopen, but kept pushing it back for whatever reasons. Originally, it was supposed to be last summer, then last fall and then vaguely “sometime” in 2015. Over Labor Day weekend, they decided to have a soft preview opening with plans of opening for real sometime in mid/late October.
The price was $40 and included a bounce-back voucher good for $20 a future visit, so it was a pretty good deal and well worth checking out. I got a group of friends together. They had played the old course in the past and seemed to be interested in the prospect of it reopening, so I thought it would be great to play alongside them. It would be my first time here and a new course for my list. Speaking of my list, Warner Springs represents kind of an evil number as the 666th course I’ve played.
We had a 7:00 tee time and I arrived early, building in a little extra time for a long-ish drive into the middle of nowhere (really only about 40 minutes southeast of Temecula). I was expecting pretty hot temperatures in the daytime, but it was actually a little chilly in the early morning. There is some elevation here, so it naturally gets colder at night.
The place wasn’t too busy that early and never seemed to get super busy while we were there, but for a relatively quiet preview opening it seems they were doing pretty well. The staff was very friendly and great. The grille is also open and seems to be a popular spot as there are really no dining options for miles in any direction.
We enjoyed a very leisurely pace and let a couple singles and a twosome play through us along the way. We weren’t planning to play so slow, but the course kind of wore us all down and there was a lot of extra time spent searching for balls. To say Warner Springs is still a little rough around the edges would be a massive understatement.
Even if they are ultimately able to get lush coverage throughout and remove all the weeds still growing in, there will still be some issues as the ground underneath is very bumpy and lumpy. By all accounts, this was never a really pristine course in the past either, but they put in a lot of time and money and it still seems like there’s a long ways to go. Locals may not care because they’ll be happy to have some form of golf back in town, but for trying to draw visiting players who have to drive out of the way to get here, it may be a tougher sell until they can really solve the conditioning issues.
I hate to say bad things about the conditions because I am really rooting for Warner Springs to keep improving and stay open this time around. There is a ton of potential with this course and the entire property. It is a fantastic setting for a golf course with a bunch of mature trees throughout the course (pines, oaks, weeping willows, you name it) and beautiful scenery all around. There are some minor elevation changes in play and it’s just a beautiful place to have a secluded golf course.
The layout is also quite enjoyable and much more difficult than it would seem based on very low ratings and slopes. The conditions do have a major impact here because there isn’t much roll-out on drives right now, making the course play much longer. The fairways did have mostly decent playability (very inconsistent, though), but anything off the fairways was an adventure. If—and I emphasize “if”—you can find your ball, you generally will have a nasty lie. It might be in hard pan dirt, weeds, a super thick/deep patch of grass or just sitting down in a depression. The bunkers were heavy and damp in the morning, but the sand was fine. The greens were “getting there” and the good sections rolled nicely enough, but there are still a number of bare/dead spots and the new turf is somewhat spongy. Once they can really get the greens good, that will go a long way.
Otherwise, the layout is fun and challenging with some tricky angles on tee shots and uncomfortable sight lines on many approaches. All those big old trees definitely come into play a lot. Amidst the renovations, they didn’t alter the layout too much. The biggest change is the third hole, which went from being a relatively short/straight par-4 to a very tough dogleg right that plays longer and forces a perfect tee shot to clear the corner. There were a handful of new tee boxes in play, so the tee angles on a few holes will be different than what you remember if you’ve played here in the past.
By the time Warner Springs opens for real in another month or so, it will still be rough around the edges and it may take years to solve some of the issues around the course. I hope they have enough time, money and patience to resolve them because there is potential for this to be a really special course. It seems the prices will be reasonable, but the location will still be a deterrent for many. Getting the resort revitalized and open again will also help the course, as that will bring in more customers.
I wish I had better things to say about the rebirth of Warner Springs Ranch Resort. Only time will tell and I hope to hear better things in the future, so I can return sometime and play it as it’s meant to be presented.
Some pictures from Warner Springs Ranch Resort (9/6/15):