Secret no more: Renovation shines spotlight on the Country Club at Soboba Springs in San Jacinto, California

SAN JACINTO, Calif. -- The Country Club at Soboba Springs may be one of the best southern California "Inland Empire" affordable golf courses you've never heard much about, but this is a hidden gem that has lots of potential.

Rickie Fowler knows it -- he fired the course-record 65 when the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com) spent 2009-2012 under the scrutiny of the Golf Channel cameras, which took in the stunning San Jacinto Mountain views.

Voted Inland Empire Magazine's "Best Place to Play" for 2008, the Country Club at Soboba Springs is a 7,204-yard par 72 designed by Desmond Muirhead in 1967 as Soboba Springs Royal Vista Golf Club.

The Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians purchased the course in 2004 and hired Cary Bickler -- a disciple of Muirhead -- to renovate it, including a new irrigation system. Bunkers were redone, including 25 new ones, and tee boxes were laser-leveled. Cottonwood and palm trees also come into play.

About 250 yards were added to the layout -- along with waterfalls, rock walls and streams. The changes updated a landscape look that includes panoramic views of the San Jacinto Mountains, where water comes into play on 11 of the 18 holes and where the greens are fast and small.

The only thing missing was an award-winning clubhouse experience -- done.

In April 2008, the new 32,000-square-foot clubhouse opened its doors with the area's best restaurant, the Maze Stone, and natural rock and beautiful alder-wood trim successfully brought the outdoors inside. Beautiful water features literally connect the golf course to the clubhouse.

And when you check out the green fees you will be amazed. You can tee it up here for less than $50 with cart.

Daily fee or membership? Soboba Springs has both

"The golf staff treats you great," said club member Stephen Petty. "Everyone knows you, and you don't even have to tell them your member number. The golf course doesn't really look that long, but it can be tricky. I find it easy to get from one point to the next but don't always score low, because the greens are quick, and water will get you with any errant shots."

Petty said the renovation removed a few trees and a lot of brush that made it hard to find a ball when you hit crooked shots.

"I love all the trees, because it is like an old-style parkland golf course where many times you can go over them when you miss the fairway," Petty added. "Also, the weather is great, allowing year-round play, and in the summer -- when it gets hot -- a breeze usually comes up in the afternoon to cool it off a little."

The par 3s here are not for worm burners. No. 4 is 148 yards over water and rock wall. Anything right and short won't work. The eighth is an elevated tee with all carry of 151 yards over a pond and water feature. But no. 15 is a beast from 236 yards over water surrounded by deep bunkers. This was the most difficult par 3 on the Nationwide Tour in 2009.

Eleven will also get your attention. This uphill, 404-yard, par-4 brute not only has deep fairway bunkers, but anything above the hole is a sure three-putt. The 16th was played as a 504-yard par 4 for the pro tournament -- also the toughest par 4 in 2004 Nationwide play. Water is left, and you can play it as a par 5.

The finale is a big dogleg right, 521 yards, but you must have a manageable approach, because, again, the green has water protecting it framed by the clubhouse and mountains.

After your round, don't miss the Maze Stone. Try the half-pound, fresh-ground top sirloin burgers for lunch and dinner on the weekends, including freshly cut filet mignon, New York strip and prime rib.

The Country Club also features a swimming pool and six tennis courts.

The Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians

The Soboba people, who also have a casino nearby, farmed land that was irrigated with water from the San Jacinto River, two of its tributary streams (Poppet and Indian Creeks) and from more than 40 springs. These water sources sustained gardens, orchards and animals.

Petty, who moved to the area in 1996, said he was told stories of a day when a hot springs and hotel was near the golf course, but an earthquake snuffed out the springs and rendered that hotel unsafe.

Soboba Springs: Stay and play

What is safe is the Quality Inn in Hemet, a great place to spend the night when you make the drive from San Diego or Orange County or Los Angeles. Your room includes a small refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, large HDTV, free wi-fi and hot breakfast. Call (951) 766-1902 for details. The hotel is located at 1201 W. Florida Ave. in Hemet, six miles from the golf course.

The city of San Jacinto is north of Hemet, south of Beaumont and east of Perris.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.
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Secret no more: Renovation shines spotlight on the Country Club at Soboba Springs in San Jacinto, California