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Neighboring Vellano & Black Gold Sights to Behold

By: Steve Habel


Last fall during a tour of Southern California golf courses, I was able to play the super-exclusive Vellano Country Club and a fine and challenging city-owned track just on the other side of a mountain, Black Gold Golf Club.

Black Gold Golf Course

During the twisting 20-minute drive between the courses along picturesque Carbon Canyon Road, I grew intrigued by the differences and similarities in the courses. Although the two were built for completely different clienteles, they both were affected - and have survived (some would say thrived) - in a region impacted by the recession, thanks to excellent management.

Both courses were designed by high-profile architects: Vellano is a Greg Norman creation, while Black Gold, opened some five and a half years earlier when golf development was really cooking in Orange County, was fashioned by Arthur Hills.

Vellano and its gated community were built among the rolling canyons northwest of Chino Hills State Park for Southern California's well-heeled upper-middle class. Conversely, Black Gold occupies a mostly tapped-out oil field on land donated to the city of Yorba Linda, but it too provides a focus for area residents.

Vellano Counttry Club in Chino Hills

Dramatic Vistas & Great Shot-Making at Vellano

Vellano endured a series of weather and grow-in delays before opening in February 2007. The par-72 track sits at 1,000 feet above sea level and boasts dramatic elevation changes, gaping chasms and stands of native live oaks. From its highest points, players enjoy 360-degree views of the nearby mountains and the Inland Empire valley.

The rollercoaster-like, steep hills take golfers on a trek involving wooden bridges over canyons and past more than 200 stately old oaks as well as both natural and manmade waterfalls. Situated on 140 acres, there's 1,500 feet of elevation change, 400 feet of which are found on the first four holes.

Vellano was Norman's first design venture in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area and he enjoyed the opportunity. "I have not seen land possessing this much natural beauty in a long time," golf's "Great White Shark" said. "Vellano embodies the natural beauty of this pristine environment, creating one of the most desirable golf and residential destinations on the West Coast."

Stretching 6,935 yards from the back set of five tees - where it warrants a 72.6 rating and 138 Slope, Vellano gives players a little bit of everything to consider. Vellano's greens are perhaps its most interesting feature. The first green is 60 yards long, and none came from a cookie-cutter; each has plenty of movement along with ledges that make for some tough pins.

The 425-yard opener moves downhill and hard left off the tee to a landing area pinched both sides by deep bunkers. Its huge green is perhaps the longest and narrowest green in California; it's 180-feet deep and perched atop a cliff, with no margin for error.

The 458-yard second is Vellano's longest two-shotter and defined by huge grass mounds along the left. The approach is to a bunker-less green 30 feet above the fairway. The tee on the 240-yard par-3 fourth is separated from the carved-out-of-a-hillside green by a deep canyon.

No. 5, a 501-yard par-5, is one of the most intimidating holes here, with only a narrow slot to a landing area and a long carry over an oak-filled canyon. You cross two bridges to traverse the canyon and reach the fairway, which curls rightward around the oaks. The fairway gently tilts to the green, which is set against a natural amphitheater.

No. 8 looks and feels a lot like the first hole, as this 438-yard par-4 drops 90 feet off the tee to the fairway before climbing up to the green. A severe drop-off along the left, though, leads to a rough of tall native grass. Be forewarned: shots here have a tendency to roll toward it. At the rear of the eighth green is a gorgeous waterfall.

The 3rd Green at Vellano CC

The 569-yard par-5 ninth begins with a drive over that waterfall and a canyon on the left. Once in the fairway, the smart approach to the green is from the right, which allows one to avoid a series of bunkers that pepper the fairway along the left pathway to the target.

At Nos. 10-13, Vellano heads into a valley via a gradual 900-foot descent. Standing on the tee of the 425-yard 10th, you might think the views can't get any better as the entire Chino Valley spills out before you (you can also glimpse the cities of San Bernardino, Riverside and Corona), with mounts Baldy, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto forming the backdrop.

The drive comes off a 70-foot-high starting point to a narrowly sliced fairway due to a deep canyon along the left. A 200-yard poke placed to the right side of the fairway should provide a safe approach to the 10th elevated green.

Don't let the vistas distract you at the 556-yard par-5 12th as a tee shot that veers too far to the right will miss the fairway and find serious trouble. This hole descends 200 feet from tee to green, and the putting surface is guarded by 10 bunkers. You then head back uphill on the 331-yard par-4 14th. Aim your drive to the left at the base of the slope to avoid two fairway bunkers and a crevice on the right.

A Look at Vellano CC's Clubhouse from the Course

En route to the tee at No. 15 you'll meander through a peaceful oak-lined canyon and over another of Vellano's bridges. From the box the play on this 430-yard par-4 is down and across the canyon you just drove through; once at the fairway, the hole descends to a deep green fronted right by two bunkers and further trapped at the back.

The 524-yard par-5 16th gets more treacherous as you approach the putting surface. However, any ball placed toward the right slope will likely roll to the center of the fairway. To the left, a deep canyon and bunkers force golfers to aim starboard for success.

The 407-yard par-4 closer at Vellano is both tough and memorable, requiring a tee shot across another canyon. There's ample landing space left, but big hitters might want to take a line over the oaks to the right of this dogleg-right. The fairway then rises to a punchbowl-shaped green.

Deer, squirrels and coyotes roam freely in the valley housing Vellano, and a comfortable coastal breeze usually makes it about five degrees cooler than the rest of Chino Hills in the summer and five degrees warmer in the winter.

Only 205 homes will ever occupy the development's gated environs, ensconced as they are between refreshingly unspoiled privately owned real estate and Chino Hills State Park. Protection of the native landscape and a commitment to preserving open space gives the golf course a rural feel despite its locale within a master-planned community.

Because of its routing, the land and the "wow" factor from its panoramic vistas, Vellano is a course that would be fun to play every day. For more info, visit www.experiencevellano.com.

No. 2 at Black Gold

Black Gold Optimizes Site

Black Gold Golf Club is set on a rolling 219-acre plot involving prominent rises, valleys and canyons. Arthur Hills and team had a challenge with the routing, doing quite a balancing act to fit the holes in, especially on the tight home half.

Hills moved more than 2 million cubic yards of dirt to provide enough space for the tees, fairways and greens and to create this dandy, 6,756-yard par-72 layout. "The Black Gold site was one of the hilliest we've ever worked on," Hills said. "We've never moved even a million yards of dirt on any other golf course that I can remember. And because of all the cut and fill, we had to do a ton of re-vegetation of the slopes above the golf course."

There are still several active oil wells on the property. Hills noted they capped the ones that were actually affecting the course, and the existing layout came very close to at least one of them. Surprisingly, there weren't any outstanding environmental issues to deal with, and all has been well in the 13 years since the course debuted.

3rd Hole at Black Gold GC

Black Gold runs the length of the 843-acre Vista Del Verde, serving as the centerpiece for the community. Owned by the city of Yorba Linda, the course is also a focal point for local citizens.

On a clear day, visitors can view Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean from several points around the course. The gorgeous 12th hole presents the highest elevation point of any golf facility in Orange County.

Black Gold's five sets of tees ensure its amenability for all handicaps and, despite the site's considerable variety, the majority of the landing areas are flat and mainly treeless. Black Gold's hazards can be very intimidating because of their placement, size and plenitude. The layout's most memorable quality may be its smooth putting surfaces, which can be challenging for rookies to gauge. Here's a tip that might help: the greens break toward Disneyland, about 10 miles to the southwest.

The Par-3 10th at Black Gold GC

Black Gold's front nine is flatter and a bit easier, while the back side is much tighter and features a couple of truly difficult holes. Despite a rating of 73.1 and a 133 Slope from the tips, there are only two par-4s exceeding 420 yards, and none over 450; the two longest holes have more than adequate landing areas off the tee.

"The collection of holes at Black Gold offers one of the most diverse experiences one will find on any golf course," added Hills. "Each hole has its own unique mysteries and challenges. Black Gold's character is a perfect balance of strategic playing options, beauty and challenge."

Hills did an amazing job with the greens and surrounds, but they're a little tricky. At times, a putt will break opposite to what your minds' eye tells you, and there's more movement than appears.

The 299-yard par-4 second asks players: "Are you gonna give it a go?" The hole is slightly uphill off the tee, but the key here is to avoid three large bunkers at the front to find the rolling putting surface. Black Gold's 449-yard par-4 fifth is quite demanding off the tee. A huge, rocky mound enters play on the approach, and the fairway rolls leftward and then right. A deep bunker protects the entire front and right edges of the green.

No. 6 is a 500-yard three-shotter that's narrowed off the tee by a tree at the elbow of the dogleg-right. A bunker by the green is bigger than the putting surface itself. Next up are back-to-back par-3s, the 167-yard seventh and 220-yard eighth, the latter of which is the course's No. 3 handicap hole.

The back nine begins with another par-3, this one playing downhill and 194 yards. No. 11 is an intriguing, 415-yard par-4 with a tight spot for drives. But the landing area actually widens if the player flies the inside edge of an environmentally sensitive hill off to the left. A shorter approach will help as the 11th green is tough to putt and has a canyon short-left that swallows anything hit there.

I really like the 375-yard par-4 12th, which moves left to right around a long and narrow bunker. Its mounded fairway is one of the bumpiest on the course and its green is devoid of bunkers; instead, Hills created two large mounds right of the putting surface for interest.

Black Gold's finishing hole is a winding, 535-yard par-5 with a tough drive uphill between OB left and a hazard right. From here, the hole flattens out, but a lake will threaten both a second-shot lay-up and a ballsy approach to the green in two. A cool waterfall graces the rear of the putting surface.

Despite the severe terrain around Black Gold, there's a surprising amount of flatness to the course. It looks as though it's always been that way, with plenty of native vegetation bordering the property to make it like you've left the city and are enjoying golf in nature.

Yorba Linda is perhaps best known as where President Richard M. Nixon was born and is buried (in fact, the Nixon Presidential Library is about a half-mile from the golf club). Black Gold has received several honors, including a rating of 4˝ stars by Golf Digest's Best Places to Play and a ranking as a Top 3 Best Public Golf Course in Orange County by the Orange County Register.

For more info, go to www.blackgoldgolf.com.

Good options for overnight accommodations while staying in the area are Ayres Hotel or Chase Suites. For more information, visit www.ayreshotels.com or www.chasehotelbrea.com, respectively.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.