Golf Course Architecture reports:
The course opened in 2001 at the Barona Resort & Casino, while Eckenrode was working as a senior designer at Gary Roger Baird Design before branching out on his own towards the end of the project.
“Barona Creek Golf Club has a special place in my heart,” said Eckenrode. “It was a springboard project for us many years ago. At the outset, we tried to create something very unique to the area, with wide playing corridors and strategic design elements. Native oaks were transplanted from select locations and used as standalone specimens to create an oak savannah setting amidst native grasslands. Every natural feature we could find was utilised in the design.
“The result was a course that caught people’s attention as different on one hand, in that it made you think your way around, where risks and their subsequent rewards could be found. And on the other hand, as a course that was respective of its natural setting, and not trying to be something otherwise. It’s a course that feels very authentic in this way.”
Barona Creek’s golf course superintendent Sandy Clark and director of golf Don King kickstarted the project to renovate the course.
Construction began in early January 2019 and, despite a slow start due to unusually wet conditions, Eckenrode expects the first phase of work to be complete by April.
“This year’s work is focused on the back nine only,” said Eckenrode. “We are renovating the greens and the greenside bunkers, as phase one of the renovations. The greens are being cored out down to just above the gravel of the original construction and built back up to the previous contours. These were mapped prior to the demo with GreenScan technology, so the contractor is able to restore them to almost the exact contouring when layering the green back up.
“Of course, we will be making some slight tweaks at that point, as there is a lot of sand build-up on the edges due to 20 years of sand splash from bunkering and the top-dressing programme. The greens renovation is more functional by nature and the tweaks should be fairly minimal, as the contouring worked pretty well beforehand.
“Refreshing the bunkering has me quite excited, as there will be a more dramatic and visual effect to them,” continued Eckenrode. “The bunkers will largely be replicated to the prior design and edging, but there are also detrimental effects of 20 years of play in those that we are going to try to unwind, such as poor ingress/egress and sand splash build-up from golfers’ shots.
“We are taking the liberty to remove a handful of bunkers that seem a bit superfluous two decades later.
“Reducing the sand splash build-up is important as these slopes onto the greens have gotten steeper accordingly. We also found that all perimeters of the greens had shrunk about five or six feet on average. This, coupled with the steeper tie-ins from the bunker build-up, means many hole locations on the edges had been lost effectively. So, I’m most excited to get some of these edge or ‘wing’ hole locations restored.”
On returning to Barona Creek, Eckenrode said: “I was surprised actually how much this hit home when we started the work. It hadn’t occurred to me before this, but we had never worked on something that we’d been involved with originally, so it’s a bit of a strange feeling.
“It really was time for this, however, actually a bit overdue quite honestly. I’m confident the refreshment of these features will have a striking effect, and I’m looking forward to completing the rest of the course in the coming years to bring Barona Creek back to its elevated standing as one of the highest regarded modern courses in southern California.”
Construction work is being done by Earth Sculptures Golf Course Renovation & Construction, who have worked with Eckenrode at Quail Lodge Golf Club and Orinda Country Club. Barona Creek’s assistant superintendent Dennis Orsborne, who has a lot of construction experience, will also be involved.
“We are very thankful to the Barona Band of Mission Indians for their trust in us, and investment in this first phase in a significant and important project,” said Eckenrode. “We don’t take this lightly and are excited to see the improvements come to fruition.”