It was a project that had been in the works for a while, and the rumors of where it was going and what it would be were vast. More than a year after opening, though, Journey at Pechanga is is reaping the successes of adding to the roster of impressive amenities at the expanding Pechanga Casino and Resort.
Built on a portion of ancestral land belonging to the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Temecula's newest layout is the latest design from Steve Forrest of the Toledo, Ohio-based Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates.
"I've never worked a site quite like this one," Forrest said. "The Journey sets out at the base of a large mountain, crosses the Pechanga River, a dry wash where I have not yet seen any water, then basically sets off into the sky."
Literally 10,000 years in the making as the course’s tagline indicates, the land was once the site to a game named Shinny that native youth used to play. The game, which involved players using wooden sticks to hit root balls, would sometimes go on for days; now, today’s generation can experience a similar playing tradition on the same land.
One look at the 7,194-yard course shows it to be difficult for walkers; with seven miles of cart paths, the layout rises and falls nearly 300 feet through the Journey’s 18 holes.
"With that much elevation change, you're going to be in a cart anyway, quite frankly," Forrest remarked. "So we made the decision early on in the design process to take full advantage of the terrain — we created some spectacular holes we could never have accessed or achieved on a 'walking' course."
Despite the elevation changes, Journey is easier than it looks from the tee, with wide landing areas and very large greens (including the 18th green, which has a massive swale in the middle of it). There are also five sets of tees which begin at 4,842 yards.
The course is routed between the mountainside and Pechanga Creek. Taking full advantage of the terrain, Forrest built such holes as the Island in the Sky, the par-3 17th with a tee box carved into the steep hillside of a canyon. For golfers looking for their inner pro, the 420-yard sixth has a 300-foot drop from tee to green, and nearly eight to 10 seconds of hang time making every player a big hitter.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the Journey is the historical journey the course takes the players on. Cultural sensitivity took precedence in Forrest’s design, so rather than cut down trees and shrubs (“Pechanga culture believes that spirits reside in oak trees and elderberry bushes, so they must be respected and protected,” Forrest said), he moved nearly 150 oak trees to other parts of the course, or integrated trees in the course design.
The land is also home to The Great Oak, one of the largest naturally growing, indigenous coast, live oak trees in the United States, estimated to be anywhere from 850 to 1,500 years old.
The course was routed around rock outcroppings and ancient burial grounds, and scattered throughout the course wooden houses and teepees provide a peek at the land’s past use.
Accompanying the new course is The Clubhouse, a spectacular 62,000-square-foot building adjacent to the resort and influenced by architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. While its exterior is impressive, the inside sports a cascading 30-foot waterfall and top-of-the-line golf shop. Journey’s End, the resort’s newest restaurant, offers golf course views and is open for breakfast and lunch.