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Solace, substance and fun at Barona Creek Golf Club

San Diego
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LAKESIDE, Calif. -- Mention Barona Creek Golf Club to anyone who's played a lot of golf in the San Diego area and you will most surely get a positive reaction.

It's a premium golf course, to be sure, and golfers expect a premium experience, but Barona Creek is unique.

Maybe it's the natural hillsides, wetlands and native areas that frame this 7,100-yard golf course. With no homes on it and plenty of views from the tee, golfers get a real sense of being away from it all.

Or maybe it's the conditioning, due in large part to veteran superintendent Sandy Clark's effort. He has not only kept this course in tip-top shape in the last 11 years, but he's also nursed it through some difficult times, like the wildfires of 2003 and 2007.

Or perhaps it's the excellent Todd Eckenrode design. Eckenrode, who worked for Gary Roger Baird Design, weaved the fairways, greens and more than 100 fingerling-like bunkers around 170 mature oak trees. There are plenty of lakes and ponds, fed by a series of natural streams that fit flawlessly into this ecological combination that makes Barona Creek a Bronze Signature Sanctuary Course of Audubon International.

Or maybe it's just that Barona Creek is just plain fun.

Plenty of driving room at Barona Creek

Wide fairways, large undulating greens and plenty of options are a good formula for enjoyment on a golf course. Barona Creek, which was built on the Barona Indian Reservation in 2001, has all of that.

With five sets of tees, ranging from more than 7,100 yards to just less than 5,300 yards, pretty much every level of player is going to find enjoyment out here, from the high-handicapper to the professional.

'In 2007, we had the Nationwide Tour Championship,' said golf shop manager Michael Maio, 'and we added a set of tees for that. So this course can play almost 7,400 yards.'

Players of all levels will appreciate the fact that the course allows you to swing away with the driver. With plenty of room on the fairways, you have to hit a pretty wayward shot to get into a lot of trouble. But make no mistake: The fairway bunkers can be treacherous and are designed to catch misplaced tee shots. And anything wild will most likely catch the native areas, which either have high grass, water or both.

As for the course itself, Eckenrode laid out a nice variety of holes. The course opens with a good scoring opportunity -- a straightforward par 5 that's reachable in two by good players and certainly a birdie opportunity with a wedge on the third shot for those who choose to play it conventionally.

The par 3s can be particularly demanding. The third, for example, is 260 yards from the tips, and the others are pretty well protected by bunkers and other hazards. The course also has a nice variety of par 4s, including the short risk-reward 14th and a most difficult finishing hole. The par-4 18th is 484 yards from the back tee and is a dogleg right that ends with a large green flanked by a lake on the left. The Barona Casino/Hotel is in the backdrop.

Barona Creek Golf Club: The verdict

While the rack rate at Barona Creek is $120 during the week and $160 on the weekend, the course is well worth it when you consider how truly good the experience is. The course has been rated among the top resort courses in California and one of the best casino courses in America. It's also one of the most environmentally friendly courses in the country, having won several awards, including the National Clean Water Act Recognition Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Among the latest environmental improvements is a turf-reduction program that has eliminated more than 10 acres of maintained turf.

Besides the course, the facility has a first-rate golf shop, friendly staff and one of the best practice areas in the San Diego area. All of 10 acres, it includes a 12,000-square-foot putting green, 6,000-square-foot chipping green and a 40-space, all-grass driving range.