Few things have altered the golf landscape in Southern California as much as the proliferation of courses attached to Native American tribes, with seven being built, purchased or refurbished in the past two decades. And, because of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, most of the courses are near casinos, creating a kind of mini-Las Vegas, albeit over a much larger geographic swath.
The reason for the influx is twofold: local tribes have the land and the resources to create golf courses to augment their casinos and nearby hotels. Many of the courses feature some of the industry’s most lauded designers, good conditions and a reasonable price point.
So whether it’s golf, gaming, entertainment, accommodations or all of the above, these seven Southern California properties fit the bill.
Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon, Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, Cabazon
Morongo’s 148,000-square-foot casino has more than 2,000 slot machines and table games. The site also features a spa and a 27-story hotel, which makes it one of the most expansive hotel-casinos on our list. In 2011, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians opened Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon– two courses formerly known as East Valley Golf Club in Beaumont. The home of the Southern California PGA, the Lee Schmidt-Brian Curley courses include the 7,377-yard Champions Course and the 7,442-yard Legends Course. Both offer plenty of difficulty from the back tees, but a variety of tee boxes make them playable for all skill levels.
Eagle Falls Golf Course at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, Indio
Featuring a 250-room hotel, a 100,000-square-foot casino, seven dining options and a 2,500-seat amphitheater, this Indio property also includes the Clive Clark-designed Eagle Falls Golf Course. The course, which opened in 2007, isn’t a monster from the back tees (6,715 yards) but the towering sand dunes, fescue grass and massive bunkers give it a links-style ambiance. Some of the holes are modeled after famous British Open courses, such as the par-3 sixth, which emulates the Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon. While the front nine is linksy, the back nine incorporates more water features, including a 45-foot waterfall on the dramatic finishing hole.
Journey at Pechanga, Pechanga Resort and Casino, Temecula
(877) 711-2946 • pechanga.com
National golf publications tabbed Journey at Pechanga as one of the best new public courses of the year after it opened in 2008. Designed by Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest, the 7,219-yard course has drawn praise for its layout and landscape preservation. Sacred areas, such as ancient oak trees, were left untouched, and the course was sculpted to fit seamlessly into the rock outcroppings and adjacent mountains. The course is a fitting complement to the largest tribal property in the region, which includes a 522-room hotel, 188,000-square-foot gaming floor, a spa, 1,200-seat showroom and 10 dining options.
Sycuan Golf and Tennis Resort, Sycuan Casino, El Cajon
(800) 457-5568 • sycuanresort.com
A golf facility has been located a few miles from this casino and resort for much of its history, but in 2001 the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation purchased the 54-hole property and refurbished it. Oak Glen, which has received two redesigns since it opened in 1956, features undulating greens and plenty of water hazards. Willow Glen, which opened in 1968 and was redesigned by Ted Robinson Sr. in 1980, has tight fairways and Sweetwater Creek winding through it. The third course is an 18-hole, par-3 track called Pine Glen. Sycuan’s 103-room hotel is located adjacent to the golf course with fairway views and a short drive to the casino, which features card tables and more than 2,000 slot machines.
Indian Canyons Golf Resort at Agua Caliente, Rancho Mirage
Indian Canyons is 10 miles west of the resort and two miles from Palm Springs, making it a convenient location for visitors to the Coachella Valley. The North Course, which opened in 1963 and was designed by William P. Bell, winds through mid-century homes and offers stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains, not to mention a 100-foot fountain that straddles the ninth and 18th holes. The South Course, formerly known as Canyon South Golf Course, was also designed by Bell in the early 1960s. But a remodeling project by Casey O’Callaghan and Amy Alcott resulted in a new track in 2004. It’s just 6,582 yards from the tips, but water comes into play on six holes. When not on one of the courses, golfers can be entertained or pampered at Agua Caliente, which features a spa, a full-service casino and two entertainment lounges.
The Country Club at Soboba Springs, Soboba Casino, San Jacinto
While not a resort, there are few better golf courses with tribal connections than the Country Club at Soboba Springs, as evidenced by it being a stop on the Web.com Tour from 2009-2012. Originally known as Royal Vista, the Desmond Muirhead-designed course opened in 1967. In December 2004, the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians purchased the course and, under the direction of Cary Bickler, revamped the course that now includes a 32,000-square-foot clubhouse. At 7,100 yards from the tips, water comes into play on several holes, and 78 bunkers filled with Augusta white sand dot the course.
Barona Creek Golf Club, Barona Resort & Casino, Lakeside
(888) 722-7662 • barona.com
The 400-room hotel, expansive casino and other amenities are top-notch but might have to take a back seat to Barona Creek Golf Club, which is hailed as one of the best resort courses in the country by national golf publications. The course, designed by Todd Eckenrode and Gary Roger Baird and opened in 2001, winds through rolling foothills and native oak trees. Though scenic, the 100 bunkers and a stream that meanders through the back nine provide plenty of challenge from the tips. However, the fairways are generous and five sets of tees reduce the 7,088-yard track to as manageable as 5,276 yards, so this is a pristine course that can be enjoyed by all players.
– BY JOEL BEERS