6,600 yards, 131 slope from the Blues

I felt surprisingly energetic with 2 hours of sleep under my belt. It’s not every day I get to see friends I grew up with and as the hours flew by the night before, the morning tee time grew shockingly closer and closer. You gotta re-live those glory days every now and then and even though we were talking about things that happened decades ago, it all felt like it happened a few days ago. No longer used to these types of late nights, I knew it was a matter of time before the crash came. But with golf on the line, the energy seems to find a way to remain. So as I strolled to the range that morning, I was fresh as a spring chicken. Even if it was a race against time.

I knew very little about this course. My brother in law raved about it and so that was enough for us to decide on playing here. I’ve wrote about it before, but the Southern California public golf scene is tough. Supply cannot meet demand and with everything expensive with searing hot temperatures pretty much year round, courses either cannot keep up or cut corners because the demand will always be there. Alas, finding available tee times at a quality course, on a weekend nonetheless, can be quite the challenge. Oak Quarry is set a bit east from metro Los Angeles in Riverside and was designed by Schmidt-Curley in 2000, who have built a number of courses in Southern California, Palm Springs and even China, both jointly and individually. It’s on Golfweek’s best in state list and has been on Golf Digest’s list of best public courses.

The course is indeed set on, and in, unique terrain. The Jensen Quarry was first mined during World War I for marble and cement, which was then used on and off until the late 1970’s when the last of the cement-grade marble was removed. In contrast, the course sits at the base of Mt. Jurupa, a +2,200 foot mountain that looms above and provides elevated terrain mainly to the front nine, while the quarry comes more into play on the back. The geological splendor of towering rock alongside the cavernous quarry that now shows off native greenery and trees to the depths below is a riveting scene for golf. Of the southern California courses I have played, it reminded me a bit of Angeles National with the foothill bedrock terrain interspersed with dry river beds and ravines. There are more hills here than at Angeles though. The playing structure features variety in hole shapes, with an array of forced carries and a smart avoidance of anything too severe uphill. The strategy is more direct than subtle as the golfer needs to make decisions such as alternate fairways to take, whether to lay up on those forced carries and taking note of the terrain movement feeding into the greens. Conditions were fine and something I never get too riled up about but there were enough issues that at least made me do a double take with the green fee. Nothing that made the course unplayable but they need to step up in a few spots.

In all, Oak Quarry was worth the visit and a fine play. It would hold up to repeat play to some extent as an every now and then place with its green sites and a bit more complexity than most modern execution-based courses but there’s a limit to the variety of playing style this course allows that would dull the experience after a while.

A very bold claim here

The First is a 367 yard par 4 (from the Blues). “Opal Outcrop.” A wide fairway awaits the opening tee shot while a smattering of bunkers is further ahead dominating the left side. There are fairway bunkers among them on the left but the angle into the green is most ideal from the left, so the close you get to them, the better looking your approach will be. The green is on the hill side, bunkers separating it from the fairway. Angled and oblong, there are run offs all over, the strongest movement being towards the front right.

The arid desert hills greet you at the green as Mt. Jurupa is high above to the right. Harsh country back in the day, I surmised as I drove my golf cart around full of water, food and golf balls.

The First
Approach shot territory
End of lower fairway
The green

The Second is a 352 yard par 4. “Zircon Tumble.” Decisions must be made at the tee, which looks down at the fairway. Water is off to the right and the fairway narrows considerably so that the golfer realizes driver will need to replaced in a much tighter area than the shorter wider portion. Whether one lays up short off the tee and settles for the longer approach or dares for the longer more demanding tee shot for a shorter approach is a personal decision but there is some room off to the left of the green for the longer shots in. It’s a bit downhill all the way to the green with a mild tilt to the right towards the water, which do come into play on each shot.

The Second
Approach shot territory
The green

The Third is a 274 yard par 4. “Microlite Ledge.” A short drive from the green prior higher up into the hills, a blind tee shot before us on this shorter par 4. The fairway is one of the widest of the course, yet moves quickly from left to right. There’s actually the smallest pot bunker at the front right of the fairway, a small greeting waiting for those hitting it way too short. The approach must accommodate the left to right movement. The green is above the fairway separate by bunkers on the right and the hillside, but the left side does run up if one is so inclined to use it. There’s a lot of ways to go about this hole and even a smaller incorporation of the natural setting, which I wish there was more of throughout. A solid short par 4.

The Third
The green

The Fourth is a 520 yard par 5. “Biotite Bluff.” Heading a bit off to the right from the tee, the native canyon on the right is no where to be in. The fairway starts to dip down to the green and turns left, the green set on that side with large scale bunkers draped on the hillside below. A bunker short of the green off to the right is likewise no man’s land with steep wall blocking the green, yet the entry point to the green is inviting to sling it in by air or ground.

The Fourth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 158 yard par 3. “Gypsum Gully.” This is one of the milder par 3 carries to the green, the hillside moving right to left towards the bunkers on that side and a lot of room to miss short and right of the green.

Many of the greens here have a center ridge that divides the green into an upper and lower tier. This is one of them, the ridge running across the green, which makes moving from one tier to the other quite the challenge with the flat stick.

The Fifth
A view of the valley beyond

The Sixth is a 325 yard par 4. “Magnesite Terrace.” I don’t know what is with these hole names. The tee shot overlooks two fairways while the green is in distance on the left. The right fairway is the safer option from the tee with its larger size and more level terrain. The left is riskier but if pulled off, the approach will be a lot easier than from the right. Perhaps the rock wall behind the green is Magnesite, I have no idea, but the green feels like it’s in an insulated amphitheater, blasted and carved out of the geological sundry.

The Sixth
Approach shot territory
Looking back

The Seventh is a 197 yard par 3. “Marble Ridge.” I didn’t see any marbles any where, I felt duped. Sneaking into the hills a bit, the green is well below us and sitting almost perpendicular to the tee. The ridge part of the hole name is correct, as the green is the ridge, moving at deathly speeds right to left and towards the front or back, depending on which side of the green you’re on. I wouldn’t club down all that much. There’s a lot of the canyon to clear.

The Seventh
The foothills

The Eighth is a 406 yard par 4. “Quarry’s Edge.” Now this hole name is an easy one to figure out since it indeed is right on the edge of the quarry, which is off to the left. There’s width here but any golfer that snap hooks his shot will likely end up down in the quarry, hundreds of feet below. One doesn’t realize just how treacherous that left side gets after the fairway, but it’s there. This is a downhill fairway to the green and the bunker group on the right needs to be addressed off the tee. The green and area leading up to it is rather mellow, but anything past the green will be trouble with a bunker, then after that, a severe drop off into the other quarry. The tee shot is the tougher shot here and if that is pulled off, it is time to score and get in some looks at the quarry, way way down there.

The Eighth
Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 380 yard par 4. “Graphite Tower.” Maybe the hill in the distance is used for graphite? Heading out to the tower, the fairway cants right to left. Lots of fairway out there though save for a couple bunkers, one short left and the other closer to the green. The green is off to the right and raised from the fairway. There’s a lot more room than it looks from the fairway, just don’t go too far right into the green side bunker.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory

The front nine swirls around the lower base before heading into the foothills. Lots of different looking holes and greens that invite an array of plays into them, with the par 3’s and shorter par 4’s among my favorite. I would rank them 7, 3, 9, 2, 1, 5, 6, 8, 4.

The back nine starts with the 550 yard par 5 Tenth. “Limestone Dome.” The fairway moves down and to the right as we head back in the direction of the quarry. The cart path breaks up the fairway and at that point, the fairway starts uphill while bending to the left of the green. There’s a single bunker near then green to speak of on the right, otherwise there’s a lot of green and short grass to work with for the approach shots in.

The Tenth
Moving down the fairway
The green, from the front right

The Eleventh is a 417 yard par 4. “Quartz Corner.” The quarry is bordering the left but is well hidden by the trees on that side. The right fairway leads straight from the tee while longer hitters may want to go for the left fairway for a better line into the green. Either way you go from the tee, the hole assures you’ll have to carry bunkers, so maneuver around them and bear in mind all the room at the green is to the left.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 216 yard par 3. “Muscovite Marsh.” Thankfully, the halfway house is after the hole prior, as your writer was in dire need of some replenishment as the night before started coming due. It’s a nice set up with enough to keep most everyone happy. Once loaded up, this par 3 awaits. A longer hole where the left side is inviting and moves to the right while that right side only appears to be an area to avoid. With the green running back to front and left to right, recoveries from the lower right side are easier to coax closer to the hole while anything above the hole is no good. It’s a solid par 3 set on a nice knob of a hill, used effectively.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 400 yard par 4. “Tourmaline Curve.” A dog leg right where a single tree guards the inside of the turn, then a grove of trees guard further inside, all to ensure those on the tee think long and hard about cutting the turn altogether. There’s also a bunker on the outside of the turn for good measure, to keep everyone honest from flailing out in that direction to clear the trees from the tee. The approach is a good one, again relying on angles and a nice green configuration to the terrain. Deep and narrow, the green moves right to left towards the bunker on that side, so the approach will do well to coming from the right side and use the slope to get close to the hole. That is most effective the further left of the green you are, which is set up from the tee. Another solid hole.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 555 yard par 5. “Pyrite Perch.” I’ve given up on the hole names. It seems someone had two columns, one with a bunch of geological materials and the other with physical viewpoints and mashed 18 together. Why not I suppose. I do wonder if anyone uses them. If I went into the pro shop and started talking about the par 3 Twelfth, whether one of the pros would stop me and ask, “Oh, you mean Muscovite Marsh, right? I love old Musky.” These are the things I ponder on the course, no wonder I’m no good.

Here we have a downhill par 5 with a some what elevated tee. The fairway is only of moderate width and favoring the left side is a good idea considering the bunkers on the right. The second shot can take a number of forms since there’s not a whole lot of trouble between that point and the green, so whether one goes for the green (there’s some room to miss on the the right) or lays up to a particular distance, even if it’s just short of the green, is a matter of preference and playing style. The green is deep and narrow with short grass short and right of it.

The Fourteenth
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking back

The Fifteenth is a 403 yard par 4. “Tremolite Pass.” The fairway ends abruptly here so that something less than driver is probably ideal off the tee. You still need to get it out there as far as possible since the approach will be on the longer side and uphill. In fact, once the fairway begins again on the other side of the cart path, there is an upper left side that leads down to the green while the lower right side means you need to carry some larger bunkers back up the hill to the green. It’s a tougher hole that requires precision and plotting.

The Fifteenth
Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 195 yard par 3. “Spinel Slide.” This is as close as we get to the quarry. The green is perched on the cliffside above it, the water is well below us off to the left and rear of the hole. The views are impressive, in all of its inland desert with a touch of oasis feelings, the towering rock formations beyond. The tee sits above the green and is all carry over the hillside. There is bail out room short of the green if one so chooses, just don’t go left, or even a touch of left for that matter, as everything is moving forcefully down into that quarry. A visually striking hole that is actually fairly challenging with the angle and smaller green size, have at it.

The Sixteenth
The quarry
Off green to the left
Greenside bunker, left
More quarry behind the green

The Seventeenth is a 329 yard par 4. “Calcite Canyon.” Indeed, we are in a canyon, or even a chute for that matter, moving away from the hills and back to the clubhouse. Something less than driver is fine for this shorter par 4, especially if one would like to avoid the fairway bunkers on either side. Two larger bunkers separate the lower left side off the green from the upper right side where the green is while the entry point to the green is off to the right. The deep oblong green is here and we’ve grown accustomed to at this point, with their back to front movement and this one favoring right to left.

The Seventeenth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 556 yard par 5. “Garnet Meadow.” A moderate uphill climb to the clubhouse, which bends to the left around water short of the green, with the green placed off to the left. It’s on the narrow side but only a couple bunkers to worry about and don’t go towards the water. Otherwise it’s a fairly straightforward finish.

The Eighteenth
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory

The back nine shines with its par 3’s and some of the par 4’s with engaging green configurations and different approach looks while the par 5’s lag behind as redundant and lacking substance except a few last minute wisps at their greens. I would rank them 13, 12, 16, 15, 10, 11, 17, 14, 18.

Generally, Oak Quarry has a lot going for it as a highly appealing higher end public course. Its unique setting is set up for worthwhile views throughout the round while the contours and greens are shaped with variety of presentation in mind. There’s enough for golfers of any skill level to enjoy themselves on the careening tiered greens and some strategy for the more serious golfers to contemplate. My personal preference would have been to see a little more naturalism and incorporation of the unique surroundings into the structure of play with more native areas encroaching into fairways here and there and about the sides of the fairways and a general melding of the the environs into the course as opposed to the stark contrast of such a natural landscape against a well sculpted modern course, but this was the sign of the times when the course was built. It’s a modern course built in spite of the natural landscape, which was used more as a visual aesthetic. There is, however, substance here and thought was put into the design that it would be an every now and then place for me.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A nice structure overlooking the First, Eighteenth and accompanying lake with the rocky hills beyond. A nice casual setting for a Nineteenth hole.

Practice area: Grass driving range and short game area, I believe the range is a separate charge from the green fee.