Pop quiz: What’s the first thing golf courses who just switched to a new automated sprinkling system do?
For decades Bonneville Golf Course here in Salt Lake City, Utah has been the most popular public course in the state and for good reason. It is awesome. For decades the course has been known for being a “hard and fast” course which calls for the player to accurately calculate approach shots, landing them at just the right place. Some shots needed to hit short and bounce up in order to stay on the putting surface.
Commonplace at Bonney now… bring your divot tool.
Over this summer the course has switched from manual, hand-watering to a new automated irrigation system. The change is done and the new sprinklers are working, really well. The course is as green as ever but it is very, very different. The greens are no longer the fast and hard greens I’ve grown to love (and hate in a good way on some days). They’re country club soft. Shots which once would bounce over the green when hitting the front half are now backing up. On the 3rd hole, a green which is very hard to stick, I hit a wedge to the middle of the green and spun it back off and down the hill. On #10 I did the same thing, hitting the middle of the green then spinning entirely off the surface.
Some shots this softness has helped though. I hit an 8-iron to the par-5 first, a back pin. My shot flew to the back pin, hitting about a foot short of the flag. Normally that shot would bounce over the green and leave an impossible downhill chip. Instead, I had a 15″ eagle putt.
The speed of the greens is considerably slower right now. This could of course be a factor of the blade length of the mowers, or it could be that they’re just slower because they’re more moist. Those of us who are used to “Bonney” speed and the fine and tough breaks those fast greens produces are now befuddled by putts which come up short and don’t break.
I’m not saying the change is good or bad. It’s just, “different.” The strategy has changed. Rather than hitting shots with the goal of hitting the front or even in front of the green, one must think pin high and go even longer than that. I’m finding that any club less than an 8-iron requires getting the to-the-pin yardage and aiming 10-15 feet past it.
Welcome to the new Bonneville.
I’ve heard a lot about the golf course at Pechanga and I’m glad I was finally able to make the short trip down to Temecula, California to check it out. The course is called Journey, or sometimes referred to as Journey at Pechanga.
Location Location Location
Journey at Pechanga is located on the property of the fabulous Pechanga Indian Reservation resort/casino in Temecula, California. Temecula is in a perfect location roughly midway between San Diego and Los Angeles. When booking my flights it was nice to be able to choose between the LA airports or San Diego. I ended up choosing San Diego this time around because the cost was a little lower.
Pechanga Hotel Left – Golf Clubhouse Right
Journey’s routing brings it in the hills behind the resort, and gives the course some great elevation changes and views.
Pechanga is a very challenging golf course featuring five sets of tees. With five sets of tees players can choose how much of the challenge, or journey, they wish to bite off. From the tips, the Copper tees, the course plays to a par-72 with a course rating of 74.8 and a slope of 142. In plain English that’s one tough journey.
The course architect for Journey is Arthur Hills. I’ve played many of Mr. Hills’s courses and while he has some architectural signatures, his design at Pechanga is quite unique and original on a few levels. Part of the uniqueness of the course design is the challenges Hills had in preserving sacred areas and sacred items on the property. Players who are unaware of these sacred items might complain or wonder why there’s a large tree in the of the fairway. After solid drives I found myself directly behind a couple of those large trees with no shot at the green. I was irritated for only as long as it took me to remember these are sacred trees. Then I took my bogey and moved on.
There are several spots on the course where huts can be found, and some very old historic structures.
Modern huts, homes, are not on the course and never will be. I love courses like this which aren’t developed for the strict reason of selling lots. Major points scored on this for Pechanga.
Tee shots at Pechanga are probably the strength of the course design. Hitting the tee shot accurately is perhaps the most important shot on just about every hole. Many tee shots present forced carries and very large elevation changes, requiring precision and good math skills at figuring out the yardage to elevation change difference. Coming from a mountainous area, the elevation changes were right at home for me.
Tee shots sometimes present the player with risk/reward options, like the par-4 5th hole. At around 300 yards a bomber could play aggressive and try to drive the green. There’s not much room for error though with a stream dissecting the landing area and a lake the player must carry. On my first time around the course I chose a conservative route on that tee shot, hitting hybrid to the left fairway. From there it was a sand wedge to five feet and my first birdie of the day. The second time I played it I played more aggressive and ended up making bogey.
The next hole (#6) is a par-4 that provides the most dramatic elevation drop of about 300 feet. Drives seem to stay in the air for an hour or two from that tee box. In the photo below I’m about to launch one on #6.
Par-4 6th Hole Tee
Another great tee is on the par-3 17th (pictured below), with a large drop and a view of the resort and parts of Temecula in the background.
Pechanga Golf Course 17th Green
I almost aced 17 on my first go-round. Unfortunately my playing partners just missed out on some free beer.
The fairways at Pechanga are generally fairly wide and not terribly difficult. If you’ve managed to find the fairway, you won’t be faced with a tricky or unfair stance, but you might have issues due to the aforementioned sacred trees. It happened to me twice, once on the first hole and once on the par-5 9th.
First fairway before the early morning marine layer has burned off. Note the trademark tree in fairway…
A few fairways are split, giving the player two routing options. One option is often for the more aggressive player and one for the conservative.
During my round at Pechanga I found the greens to roll smoothly. They were receptive to good shots, even spinning a few back. Some greens like the 18th featured large undulations and tiers while others like the 2nd and 3rd were more flat and subtle.
15th Green at Pechanga
Many greens are guarded by some stern bunkering. Greens located on the hillside often had a favorable uphill side to help deflect errant shots above the green onto the green. But that same slope would severely penalize errant shots which hit the downhill side. I know this first hand.
The gap between the 5th and 6th holes is literally about a five minute drive in a golf cart, including a massive elevation change. That may be the “Journey” right there! There’s another big gap between 16 green and 17 tee. Because of some of these long gaps between holes and the steepness of the hills I really don’t see walking the course as an option. The walk from 5-6 could take a fit individual 15-20 minutes. Those gaps make some of the routing/flow a bit on the funky side.
Pechanga has a great driving range with high quality range balls. There are actual greens and bunkers in the range providing players the opportunity to play real golf shots at targets with forced carries. This is a great alternative to the ranges on some courses where the target is “north.”
The short game area is perhaps the best of the practice facilities at Pechanga though. There are several short game greens with side-hills, chipping pitching slopes, and bunkers to practice from. That’s where I should have spent most of my time, and where most players would benefit as opposed to pounding drivers all day on the range.
Short game practice area
Finally the practice green (below) provides an accurate representation of the speed and feel of the greens on the course. More importantly though, there’s a bar/cafe about 20 feet away.
Pechanga Practice Green
The clubhouse is quite an architectural piece. Inside are the pro shop, locker rooms, and a great restaurant called Journey’s End.
Journey at Pechanga Clubhouse
The pro shop is full of a massive apparel and equipment selection. If you forgot something or need some new gear, they have it.
I had breakfast at Journey’s End a couple of times and the huevos rancheros was fantastic, along with the pancakes.
The Journey produces some very fun resort golf between all the great amenities the hotel and clubhouse have to offer and the Arthur Hills designed golf course itself. The course can play as relaxing or as challenging as a player may want with it’s diverse set of tees. Bring some extra balls and bring a camera.
Journey at Pechanga photo gallery.
Pechanga Resort/Casino photo gallery.
Today I had the pleasure of whacking the white spheroid around the Pechanga Golf Course here at the Pechanga Resort/Casino in Temecula, CA.
Above you can see my shot on the scenic par-3 17th hole. I hit a 9-iron past the flag left and it came back down the hill, nearly dropping for an ace. That was one of the highlight shots of today’s round.
Pechanga Par-3 15th
Now that I’ve made my way around the course for the first time I’m looking forward to taking another shot, or journey at Pechanga, tomorrow. I’ll know better where to hit shots, and not where to hit them. That doesn’t mean I can control where they go, however.
Sadly, an Arthur Hills “links” style course here in Salt Lake looks to be closing at the end of this season. I could go into the politics of why this is happening, and talk about mismanagement and all that, but I’ll just say that we have a lot of new bike trails in town now.
View of Salt Lake City from Wingpointe’s 4th tee – click to see more
I played Wingpointe a few days ago and the greens were as good as ever. Unfortunately the fairways are not that great and the only good lie a player is guaranteed is on the tee. But that’s the nature of the beast when you are on soil full of salt from the Great Salt Lake.
Wingpointe Golf Course
That round a few days ago might be my last there. As much as I love the design and the greens, the whole experience is tainted by the poor fairways.
I have many great memories at Wingpointe, like the time I shot 31-41 for a very irritating 72. Won a tournament there too a couple of years ago.
Sad to see this course closing. It won’t be the last golf course closure here in Salt Lake I’m afraid.
The gear I bring to golf courses lately doesn’t seem to include golf clubs or a ball. I’ve been bringing one or more of my multi-rotor copters from my golf aerial photography/video fleet. Below is a shot I captured last weekend at Soldier Hollow, home of two great courses.
Aerial Photo: Soldier Hollow Golf Courses – click for more
In the photo above the closer holes are the “Silver” course, and the farther away holes on the side of the mountain are the “Gold” Course.
Below is a shot looking back the opposite direction, including the fantastic clubhouse on the right.
Soldier Hollow Golf Course and Clubhouse – Click for more