Some friends and I recently went in on an auction for the Junior SCGA. We were bidding on a few rounds at private clubs in Southern California, but we only won one. Still, we ended up with a fantastic deal for a foursome at Spring Valley Lake Country Club in Victorville.
We played the round yesterday, teeing off around 9:30. There was a big men’s club group that went off at 8:30, so they had us start on the back nine. We ran into a few groups, but the overall pace was great around 3.5 hours.
The high desert part of Southern California (ranging from Palmdale up to California City and out toward Victorville/Barstow) really isn’t known for great golf like the low desert (Coachella Valley). There are some good courses and some better-than-expected options, but the standards are still somewhat low. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Spring Valley Lake. I was pleasantly surprised by this course.
One thing it does have going for it is a design pedigree. Spring Valley Lake is a co-design with both Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Robert Trent Jones, Jr. being involved. That automatically gives it a few brownie points. It also tells you to expect something fairly challenging.
At first glance, the course doesn’t look like it will be too difficult, but it definitely will make you work. The fairways are more narrow than you think and the angles are deceptive throughout.
We started on the back nine, which may have been the front nine originally. I am not certain of this, but several signs seem to point to the nines having been flipped at some point. Whether you start on the front or the back, you will be faced with a very tricky hole to start.
The 1st hole may be the toughest on the course, though it is ranked as the #3 handicap hole. It may also depend on which tees you play. Two of us were playing the blue tees, which makes this a severe double dogleg par-4. The tee shot was uncomfortable for me as a fade-hitter because of a huge tree on the left just before the fairway. Otherwise, the first half of the hole does turn to the right. Then, there is a hidden creek that runs across the fairway at about 300 yards out (my playing partner found that out the hard way after what we thought was a perfect drive). The hole then turns left and pretty sharply around some trees along the left side. It is a tough opening hole from the blues. From the whites, that first dogleg is nullified as you tee off to the left of that aforementioned huge tree. It doesn’t come into play at all, but the creek is definitely more reachable for the average hitter.
The 10th is another severe double-dogleg that plays uphill. It is a par-5, though, so your positioning on each shot is crucial. Unfortunately, I did not look at the hole map and made the wrong assumption about the shape of the hole. I hit a good drive and what I thought was a good lay-up on the right side (thinking the hole kept curving left), only to find myself basically blocked out by trees between me and the green that was up and all the way around the corner to the right.
There are a few other tough dogleg holes here, and there is a lot of sneaky water in play on the front nine. It really is a course where local knowledge will go a long way. I think once you know how to play each hole, you can figure this place out and score well. As a first-timer, it was definitely much tougher.
The signature hole at Spring Valley Lake is undoubtedly the 18th hole. It is unusual for a regulation course to finish on a par-3, but that’s what you find here (one of the signs that suggests the nines were flipped). But like Pasatiempo or River Ridge (Vineyard), this is one par-3 you don’t mind finishing on because it is a gorgeous hole. Each tee box is very separated, so it is essentially 3 or 4 very different holes depending on the angle and elevation you are coming in from. The blue tees are the most elevated, which gave us a great view of the valley behind. However, it’s certainly an intimidating hole from back there.
My only real gripe from a design standpoint was the lack of variety on the par-3s from the blue tees. They are all different style holes and three out of the four are fantastic designs with water in play, but the yardages are 180, 199, 187 and 191 respectively. With elevation having an effect on the two longer ones, they all end up being very similar distances. I hit the same club each time and that’s kind of boring. From the white tees, there is more variation in yardages, but from the blues I’d prefer to have some more variety.
I was pretty impressed by the course conditions in mid-summer. This course is very well maintained. It was looking very lush and green throughout. There were a few weak spots here and there on the fairways, but they were mostly great. The rough was punitive in most places with thick coverage. There were a few patches where it was absolutely brutal. I will say I thought the conditions overall were better on the back nine compared to the front. I noticed more weak spots on the front nine. The bunkers were the worst aspect of the course, as they were a bit thin and crusty.
The greens were receptive and rolling very pure at medium/fast speeds. The surfaces were very nice, though reading putts was extremely deceptive. I was really over-reading breaks all day. These greens are much flatter than they appear and I found a majority of my putts going dead straight when I thought there’d be a slight break one way or the other. The only thing you do have to be careful of is uphill vs. downhill. Uphill putts are really slow and downhillers can easily get away from you. Otherwise, play less break than you think on most greens here.
Spring Valley Lake offered a nice experience. The people there seemed friendly and it’s a relaxed atmosphere reflective of the high desert lifestyle. It is a good course design with well above average conditioning. I’d definitely recommend playing it if you ever have the chance.
Some pictures from Spring Valley Lake Country Club (8/17/17):