MURRIETA, Calif. -- If turf could talk, the grounds of The Golf Club at Rancho California would spin yarns of famed course-dwellers like few tracks across the golf-flush Inland Empire.
Designed by luminary architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the early 1970s and regularly tackled by local legend (and course record-holder) Rickie Fowler, these grounds may have indeed changed ownership more than Fowler alters color preferences, but the modern-day milieu readily suggests a return to the course's heyday as one-time host to myriad high profile events.
Long known by its former "SCGA Club" moniker, today's "Golf Club" ownership (proprietor of six California golf courses) is evidencing a renewed commitment to reinstalling Jones' original design vision (reverting to original tee placements standing foremost) while keeping conditions on par with the ample competition about the Inland Empire.
"In recent years, the course did gain an unfortunate rep for having some bad conditions," said Dustin Nino, tournament director of The Golf Club at Rancho California. "But we've brought on a new superintendent, added new sand to the bunkers and converted our greens to bentgrass, which has really started to pop."
True green fee value adds to the allure.
"We're offering the country club feel without the country club price," Nino said. "I mean, you can throw a stick out here and hit 10 different golf courses. So we have to be competitive with everybody."
The Golf Club at Rancho California's front nine
Though a wealth of the latter nine (save for the fun par-3 10th and a muscular pair of finishing holes) plays more pedestrian across property starting to show its age, the front nine lives among the most engaging sides in all of public southern California golf. These hills are alive with some excellent elevation changes and exceptional views of the Murrieta and Temecula valleys.
"It does have a bit of a desert feel at times, but once you're out there and experience some of these elevated tee boxes, you're like, 'Whoa!' It's a fun track with a lot of scenic holes," Nino said.
Moreover, Jones' genius is most consistently found in the green structures across the course. Well guarded by strategic bunkering throughout, the wealth of putting surfaces also include the studied challenge of ascending false fronts and penal walls. Combined with wind factors that can appear across these grounds, some fascinating math is required with iron play to aptly adjust for all factors when approaching the fast, sizable greens.
Study is evident from the outset at the 565-yard, par-5 first, which doglegs right then moves dramatically downhill toward a blind creek bed before the green. While long hitters have the option of playing over the tree-lined right, all players will need to carefully consider a strategy for either wedging toward the sloping hazard with prudence or bombing to the green.
The 413-yard par-4 third is an exceptional hole with a drastically elevated tee box overlooking a taut landing area and eventual water-guarded green. Manageable in length, an advisable play suggests clubbing-down to find the fairway before a full swing from the 150-yard range over trouble.
The stellar run ensues on the climbing 553-yard par-5 fourth (second-longest hole on the course), which smartly segues to the diminutive 167-yard sixth (the shortest hole).
At the 348-yard par-4 seventh, another elevation rise adds distance to the diminutive routing before the player climbs farther to the burly, top-handicapped 431-yard par-4 eighth, where one should take careful note of pin placements on the two-tiered green, lest four-putts ensue.
The Golf Club at Rancho California: Final thoughts
Superb greens and very fair rates make The Golf Club at Rancho California one of the top value plays in the Inland Empire; especially across a front nine that evidences some brilliant strokes from master designer RTJ Sr.
"The greens are very fast and very true," low-handicapper R.T. Choi from Los Angeles said. "You really have to be below the cup, which means you also have to be accurate with your approaches and be aware of greenside bunkers."
Instruction and facilities
The Golf Club at Rancho California grounds offer a driving range along with instruction and clinics. First-time visitors are advised to visit the course Web site, which offers detailed hole-by-hole descriptions that will prove valuable knowledge for the engaging elevation changes (and challenges) to come.