Golf travelers seeking respite and reprieve from their respective metropolis is nothing new.
Amid the days of pandemic, however, the golf traveler seeking open-aired, bucolic getaways within a day’s drive represents a burgeoning travel space.
With airline travel largely stunted and golf’s green spaces seeing a rapid rise in rounds across the country during COVID-19’s grip on the globe, clubs-in-trunk trips are more popular than ever.
In Temecula, Calif., triangulated within a 90-minute drive of Los Angeles, San Diego or Palm Springs, a terrain of fervent foliage and rolling topography has long embraced wine-and-wedge guests coming in for a weekend of taste and play, making it but a small irony that luminary clubmaker Eli Callaway set stake his eponymous winery in these parts.
Today, perhaps more than ever, city-dwellers are reveling in a Temecula two-step of play, presenting ample distancing from the masses and a pair of excellent, contrasting courses separated by a three-minute drive.
Temecula Creek Golf Club
Fresh off recognizing the 50th anniversary of its original 18 (along with a marketing-moniker rebrand from the on-site hotel), Temecula Creek Golf Club’s (TCGC) trio of nines matches an allure of solitude with the attraction of adjacency.
Along with an exceptional on-site restaurant, golf guests of the Temecula Creek Inn can roll out of bed and stroll to the bag drop in literally a walk of about 90 seconds.
“From the pro shop door to the farthest on-site room, it’s maybe 250 yards. Not too bad,” says Steve Saunders, head golf professional at the Temecula Creek Golf Club.
Across the Oaks, Creek and Stone House Courses, the manageable distance of each(none is longer than 3,200-yards from the White tees) will find scoring kept in-check via dial-down shot-making demands.
The Dick Rossen-designed Creek and Oaks are both eminently walkable, orthodox-style plays, with the former considered the most benign of the nines. The Oaks does sport some enhanced challenge (notably on Nos. 3-6), with its mature foliage and continued risk-reward of clubbing-down from boxes.
“The Creek and Oaks originally date back to 1969, and are much more traditional layouts,” says Saunders. “They’re both walkable, more park-style; and they play a bit shorter, but still offer a good challenge with the tree-lining and ball placement needs.”
Of more interest, if not infamy, the Ted Robinson-drawn Stone House (circa 1990) will grab the flat cap of the newcomer with ample asks to carve the ball in either direction, while employing needed imagination for approaches.
“It’s dog-legged enough where you have some blind shots toward the green,” Saunders says of Stone House. “From the boxes, I think there’s only one par 4 where you can see the green from the tee.”
As for that “Two-Step,” in recent years, TCGC was acquired by neighboring Pechanga Resort, which soon resulted in a bunkering makeover, along with leveling and re-sodding of tee boxes.
Proudly quaint and quiet, TCGC serves as a complimentary contrast to the bold Journey at Pechanga, located two miles down the street.
“Here, it’s bit more old-school, laid-back. Down the street, The Journey is a really, really nice, amenity-style facility,” says Saunders of the course contrast. “It’s your big, modern, dramatic resort-style course, with its length from the tips, elevation changes from the tees and native terrain. It’s challenging, but still plays pretty generous as far as landing areas.”
Players teeing at both properties may get a mini-Journey taste by starting the visit with a Stone round.
“With twists and turns along the way, I kind of think of our Stone House as a mini-version of The Journey,” concludes Saunders. “If you extended it to 18 holes and over 7,000 yards, it would have some similarity.”
The Journey at Pechanga
Situated same-site as its eponymous resort and casino (the largest gaming space on the West Coast), the aptly-named Journey has carved its way into a SoCal must-play since debuting in 2007.
Built upon ancestral land of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the design from underrated Arthur Hills (along with Steve Forrest & Associates) proves a sprawling, experiential play.
Bold and dramatic across its routing, it’s a mind-blow that even the likes of three-time PGA Tour winner Brendan Steele could author a course-record 62 here.
Playing the proper box is key to enjoying the ride, and, in brief, this isn’t the course where most will match their handicap.
“Here at The Journey, coming up on 13 years old now, it’s a Bucket List course, and, for first-timers, it’s an eye-opener,” says Scott Mallory, director of golf at The Journey. “Most first-time players need to check their egos a bit. There’s some teeth here, and we’re proud to have grown a really dedicated following; we’ve got a reputation for the details here.”
Deservedly charting among the top public plays in all of golf-rich California, such details are narrated by inviting, swaled greens, a run of superb risk-reward par 4s, along with Instagram-ready, elevated tees (see: the 444-yard par-4 sixth, which drops nearly 200-feet from box to landing area, before a downhill approach). A virus-driven spacing measure of 15-minute tee time intervals only adds to the allure of enjoying ample elbow room amid the vast natural space.
For returning players who haven’t visited in recent years, know that The Journey has eased just a bit, with softening tweaks including removal of two bunkers on the par-4 seventh, turning the 13th from a par 5 into (an easier) par 4, and an inverse par switch on the 16th. Perhaps most notable among the changes is a rework of the former (four-putt begging) Ruffles potato-shaped Biarritz-style green on 18, now flattened some and made far more playable.
Course character is further defined by ascending twist of cart path segues (about seven miles, all told), charming bridges and scared Native American landmarks, including several kiicha homes along the ride.
For Temecula two-steppers, the brass at the brawnier cousin course sees the compliment in taking on both properties.
“The Oaks and Creek, it’s that traditional, tree-lined feel; it’s not that hard, not that long, but it will test you,” adds Mallory. “And it does give all level of player some challenge, which is a nice aspect. And the addition of the Stone House does give some diversity. When people drive past the property on the I-15, they want to go play those courses.”
Deciding which property to play first is part of the fun.
“Our course is a bit more challenging for most, so heading down the street will offer a little more positive feel for your game,” says Bill Crist, head golf professional at The Journey.
Across the times of coronavirus, a day at Pechanga’s sprawling space is all part of the Journey, for players both returning and nascent.
“With the nationwide rise in play, one thing we’re really happy to see here is all the players who are new to the game,” Crist concludes, “new golfers coming here just to enjoy being outdoors.”