When you think of world class golf courses your mind drifts to the rugged Ayrshire coastline, the dense forests of North Carolina, maybe even the perilous cliff tops of New Zealand. One landscape that doesn’t come to mind is a derelict limestone quarry. And that, my closed minded little friend, is where you are going wrong.
Just 50 miles east of central Los Angeles, in the dramatic Jurupa Mountains, lies Oak Quarry Golf Club. Once a fully operational quarry supplying marble, limestone and minerals, the quarry ceased production in 1979. 22 years later, Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt saw an opportunity: to turn an unwanted eyesore into a highly sought after golf course.
What materialised was an undulating, demanding and tactically prudent layout. Framed at its rear by Limestone Cliffs that give Oak Quarry its name, the course looks down upon the arid Riverside Valley and beyond.
The appeal of Oak Quarry golf course goes far beyond awe-inspiring aesthetics. With expertly positioned bunkering and fairways that sweep round bends and crevasses like the strokes of a brush, this 7000 yard track is no slouch.
The cadence of the layout tells the best story. Beginning in the openness of the Californian desert, the holes naturally weave their way through undulating terrain where small rocks protrude from the fescue littered wasteland, a clue as to what lies ahead. Gradually the holes begin to funnel towards the cliff base. As the Hans Zimmer backing track reaches fever pitch you enter the mountain.
The 330 yard 6th will likely elicit the first excited laughter amongst the group. A sweeping fairway flanked to the left by a sharp gully meanders downhill before reaching a green framed to the right by a 100 foot cliff. A Happy Gilmore style drive directly at the flag is tempting but perhaps not the most tactful strategy (of course it didn’t stop us trying it a dozen times). The intelligent play: a mid iron safely down the right, leaves a short pitch to a green protected by bunkers.
More epic holes sweep around the base of the cliff. Framing your curving tee shots as they climb up the looming rock faces, enhancing the acoustics of a smashed drive. You’re just as tempted to chalk up your mits and scale the cliff face as you are to send one down the fairway.
In fact the rocks add a handy framework off which to shape your shots: a hazard that provides a helping hand. The catcher’s mitt of the limestone monoliths draws your attention and shortly after, your golf ball. After all, if you hit a home run his way, he’s likely to throw your ball back onto the field for you. It's like bowling with the guard rails up.
Eventually you loop round to arguably the best par 3 in Southern California. There will be no arguing from our end.
The 14th hole at Oak Quarry measures just over 200 yards from the back tees. Playing downhill, with a cavernous water hazard to the left, the hole demands an accurate tee shot. Visualising the ball flight couldn’t be easier, the largest of the ivory cliff faces frames the hole at the rear encouraging you to paint a curve on the rock with your gradually drawing tee shot. The dramatic undulation change gives the hole a daunting scale. As you advance along the hole, chasms running along the quarry bed to the left reveal new views and features with every step. A pterodactyl swoops round the cliff edge, screeching for its young.
What becomes clear as you advance round the course is its relentless contrast. Far and near, horizontal and vertical, wide and narrow, man made and natural. Even its proximity to the showbiz metropolis contrasts with its primitive, rugged visuals. Every inch of Oak Quarry keeps you guessing.
Whispers of Oak Quarry crossed the Atlantic to reach MANORS London headquarters. Rumours of its extraordinary scale and quirk promised the opportunity to shoot Volume 2 of our Frontier Collection in a setting so deliciously contrasted with the more traditional Scottish surroundings of Volume 1. But we could never have anticipated what would unfold. A transportation device and time machine as much as a golf course. Oak Quarry is a prehistoric gem sitting enticingly close to one of the world’s most future-facing cities.