Situated between the Oak Oasis and Lakeside Country Parks, within the rolling foothills that lie to the northeast of San Diego, the Barona Creek Resort & Casino golf course is the sporting centrepiece of the 400-room Barona Resort & Casino. Designed by Todd Eckenrode when the architect was a Senior Designer with Gary Roger Baird Design, this 18-hole layout offers a tough but totally engaging test of golf.
Starting at the 541-yard first hole (where a giant oak tree splits the fairway) and ending with the long par four 18th (which has water lurking along the left flank and beyond the green), the challenge is unrelenting, reflected by an imposing slope rating of 140 from the back markers.
Architect Todd Eckenrode commented as follows:
“Golf courses are being developed on native American land throughout the United States. It is paramount that we, as golf course architects, understand the culture of the various tribal nations with whom we work.
We had an obligation to work in concert with the high ideals and sensitivities of the Barona tribe. The golf course we provided our client became part of the environmental stewardship of the land, as we formed a marriage between the Barona philosophy and our concerns and vision for their project.”
The previous reviewer's remarks were spot on. So no need for me to go into details. Note I am a local San Diegan and I play Barona Creek a couple of times a year. It is one of my favorites / go-to courses. It is a gem.
For traveling players looking for a tougher challenge, I would also like to point out that the USGA uses Barona regularly for US Open SoCal local qualifying. Yes, it is a tournament-grade course that I believe was once used for the Web.com tour a couple of times.
So much of what calls itself "golf" in the Southern California area is loaded with an endless assortment of vapid golf designs. Many were quickly created for housing development purposes during the go-go days of the 1990's and the architecture usually is filled with non-descript holes that would not raise the pulse level of a corpse.
However, there are a few notable courses in which the architecture is exceptional -- clearly providing a rich mixture of holes and for shotmaking to be thoroughly analyzed before pulling the trigger.
Located under an hour from the downtown San Diego area is Barona Creek. The facility is owned and operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians and is one of the best Native-American owned courses I have played that feature an on-site casino / hotel.
The main attribute of the course is the land. The course is not hemmed in by inane housing clusters or other diversions. The land simply includes the golf course and the actual terrain is quite good. There's enough pitch but never to excess.
The tough assignment when doing resort type golf is providing for enough elasticity so golfers of varying handicap levels can have an enjoyable experience. You can't have a course that is overly demanding because pace of play concerns would suffer. On the flip side -- you can't have a layout that fails to provide thought-provoking shots and holes.
Barona is modeled with wide fairways -- there's more than enough room -- but there is a preferred side to play one's approach shots throughout the round.
The golf course starts with a par-5 -- long enough to stretch the muscles and get the day started. Don't be misled in thinking the hole is easy simply because of the fairway width. The green is angled very well with a supporting bunker complex to the right. Getting into position for a birdie will require blending the physical and mental sides together as a solitary tree is placed to make sure any second attempt to get to the green has to be thoroughly thought out. Best of all, the more left you go to avoid the tree and bunkers -- the more the green falls-away from you on that side.
Barona is a layout that adroitly incorporates the ground game option so well. You see this with the 260-yard par-3rd hole. On the surface the yardage would seem to be excessive. But the design allows for golfers to run the ball. The key is making sure the ground game option lands in the appropriate area to be funneled to the green.
At the par-4 4th you face a critical decision at the tee. How much do you attempt to cut the corner on this superb dog-leg left hole. The bunker complex is both massive and impressive for its presentation and strategic qualities. The more left you go the better the angle into the green for the approach. There's bailout to the right for the weak-kneed player but the downside is that the approach angles becomes infinitely more demanding.
This is the pattern at Barona -- different angles can be used for all the holes. The key? Knowing what to decide which one works best for your game. The routing is also exceptional -- you are constantly moving in different directions -- thereby the wind pattern is always shifting.
At the long par-4 8th you encounter another top tier hole. Bending left in the drive zone requires a carefully calculated tee shot. The putting surface is quite devilish -- bending hard from left-to-right and fortified by a frontal bunker on the right which must be avoided. There are bailout areas but none of them permits an easier next shot in the overall process.
The inward side is no less compelling. The par-3 11th is a gem -- the green banked around a colossal front right bunker. There's more room than it appears from the tee but complicating matters is that the prevailing wind is usually in the player's face so ample club selection is a must. The par-4 12th is an exquisite hole. The tee shot is blind and those favoring the right side receive the better approach angle. At the short par-4 14th you climb uphill to a green bracketed by bunkers and with a contour that requires careful calculation on the approach.
The ending quarter brings the round to a quality conclusion. Two long par-4's -- at the 15th and 18th -- are balanced by a terrific par-3 at the 16th which requires a deft touch to hold the green when generally played downwind. The par-5 17th is no less vintage stuff. Golfers need to think carefully about the split fairway encountered after the tee shot. Those taking on the more demanding right side will receive a much simpler approach. Interestingly, with the exception of the 16th -- all of the other three concluding holes generally play into the prevailing wind.
Barona Creek works in so many ways. Playability is always emphasized but to score well the player has to calculate carefully their abilities and then execute smartly. Fun golf is a concept that's bandied about like a tired slogan but so often fails to connect the gaps between varying handicap levels. It's never an easy task but the design at Barona Creek accomplishes that in a big time way. There are plenty of risky wagers to make when staying at the casino at Barona Creek -- the golf side is the one sure bet.
by M. James Ward