As you make the drive on winding roads through the countryside in unincorporated Riverside County, you pass farmland with grazing livestock, a shuttered golf course (Quail Ranch) that didn’t survive the economic downturn and a compound housing the headquarters of a prominent international church group.
Then, suddenly, your destination appears, like an oasis in the desert – the lush green grass, the lakes and waterfalls, the palm trees and cottonwoods, and the modern, 32,000-square-foot clubhouse at The Country Club at Soboba Springs in San Jacinto.
The view gets better after you hop in your cart and head to the first tee. With the San Jacinto Mountains forming a majestic backdrop, the golf course offers spectacular views from virtually every hole. And upon closer inspection, the recently overseeded fairways are meticulously manicured and the greens are tour-quality smooth and fast.
Now it’s easy to understand why the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) conducted an event here – seemingly in the middle of nowhere – the past four years.
Soboba Springs also has hosted the 2008 California State Open and will be the site of the 2013 Big West Conference’s men’s golf championship in April.
And during my recent visit to conduct fairway research, there was actually one more sight even more jaw-dropping than the scenery.
It was the cost on the daily fee rate sheet:
Incredibly, $40 is the highest price you can pay Monday through Friday, with the fee dropping to $30 after 12 noon. On weekends, it’s $45 in prime time and $35 after 12. And after playing the course, it’s even more difficult to believe the rates.
From my perspective, it’s the best golf bargain in Southern California, even if you have to drive an hour to get there from Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. (The city of San Jacinto is south of Beaumont, north of Hemet and east of Perris.)
“This is an $80 course,” declares Phil Vigil, Soboba Springs’ new director of golf, who speaks from the experience of a golf course operator in Orange County, where he previously worked at Bella Collina Towne & Golf Club in San Clemente. “This is a great, great deal. And it’s my job to let people know about the rates and the experience here.”
If the course were in Orange County, it’s not a stretch to say it could command $100 green fees, reminiscent in some design aspects to Tustin Ranch and Tijeras Creek.
Soboba Springs is as challenging as it is scenic, requiring you to work the ball both ways to navigate the doglegs and featuring three par-3s requiring you to carry the ball over water hazards. Water comes into play on 11 of the 18 holes, and there are five sets of tees that stretch to 7,204 yards from the tips. It’s also a good walking course.
My favorite holes were No. 4, a downhill 148-yard par-3 over water; No. 7, a narrow par-4 with OB stakes on the left that plays 511 yards from the tips; No. 15, a long par-3 into the wind that plays 226 yards all the way back and was one of the toughest holes on the Nationwide Tour; and No. 18, a dogleg-right par-5 with water guarding the green on the left.
Soboba Springs wasn’t always this beautiful or inexpensive. It is a Desmond Muirhead design that opened in 1966 as Royal Vista GC. In December 2004, the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians purchased the course and property, which borders their reservation.
Under the new owners, the course was renamed and underwent $4.6 million in renovations under the direction of architect Cary Bickler, a Muirhead disciple. The course was lengthened, a new irrigation system was installed, new tee boxes were added and laser-leveled; bunkers were renovated, added and filled with Augusta White sand; and waterfalls, rock walls and streams were added to enhance the aesthetics.
In 2008, an $11 million Southwestern Colonial clubhouse was completed, featuring a restaurant, bar, lounge, men’s and women’s locker rooms, grill room dining, banquet facilities and dining terraces. Shortly thereafter, a four-year agreement was finalized with the Nationwide Tour to conduct the Soboba Classic from 2009-2012. That run ended in April.
“Hosting a Nationwide Tour event was a great opportunity to showcase our property,” Vigil said. “I’m excited about the tribe’s commitment to present the facility to the Southern California golfing public, to showcase the conditions and the rates.”
The secret is out: The Country Club at Soboba Springs is a bargain that is worth the long and winding drive.
– BY RANDY YOUNGMAN
For more information or to book a tee time, call (951) 654-4300 or visit sobobaspringscc.com.