Oak Quarry is stunning, but it takes more than looks to win the NGCOA Course of the Year award
Golfers who arrive early enough at the Oak Quarry Golf Club outside Riverside, California, enjoy a special treat. A visual feast anytime of the day, mornings reveal Oak Quarry as a multicolored pinball machine, with rays of light shooting across massive bunkers that edge their way into the sides of Mount Jurapa. But guests need not despair a late afternoon tee time. As the sun goes down, the light show takes on different hues while shadows lengthen across what was once a working quarry.
In fact, Oak Quarry is a kaleidoscope of colors and scenery any time of the day and throughout the year. Normally a desert-style course with sparse vegetation similar to what golfers encounter farther south, Oak Quarry really shows off in the spring, when yellow brittlebush dot the surrounding hillsides. If golf had a national park, it would be the Oak Quarry Golf Club, the winner of the NGCOA’s 2013 Course of the Year Award.
The picturesque course winds through the jagged terrain of Riverside’s historic Jensen Quarry. Originally opened during World War I as the Riverside Cement Company, the quarry was a major source of marble, limestone and other minerals used in the construction of buildings, freeways and bridges in southern California. The quarry was abandoned in 1979 and the land sat idle until the design team of Schmidt-Curley, with help from PGA Tour player Dr. Gil Morgan, built one of California’s most stunning courses. Oak Quarry opened in 2000 and has since become a destination for golfers throughout the area as well as for a number of international guests.
“This is the one course that I’ve managed in my 20 years where every day I hear people talk about how amazing the views are, how great the holes are, and how good the turf conditions are,” says Brent Perkins, the club’s general manager. “The icing on the cake for us as operators is when we hear people talking about the service they received.”
A lot of talk revolves around the award-winning No. 14 hole, known as Spinel Slide. Considered the best par-3 in southern California by many, Spinel Slide plays 214 yards from the back tees into the lowest part of the old quarry. A stunning white wall of limestone rock towers nearly 400 feet above the hole, shimmering in the afternoon sun. If Oak Quarry is golf’s national park, Spinel Slide is its No. 1 attraction and most daring thrill ride.
Perhaps more impressive is the commitment to excellence displayed by Oak Quarry’s owners. The course was purchased in 2003 by the Koh family, which has been involved in a number of different businesses, from property management to wholesale art supplies to financial services. In less than a decade, Oak Quarry president Samuel Koh, management and staff have given the course a resort-like ambiance without losing the family operated charm. Koh calls the facility’s natural landscape, highly trained hospitality team, carefully selected vendor partners and loyal customers the “recipe for something truly unique.”
It does seem to be a successful concoction. In 2012, the daily fee course hosted 48,000 rounds (up 6 percent over the prior year) and ended the year with an 8 percent increase in revenues (green fees, food and beverage and golf shop). Perkins credits the performance to a simple philosophy of “great golf and great experience.”
Oak Quarry has assembled a diverse staff (80 percent are minorities) to execute on its philosophy and deliver its distinctive experience. Koreans, Hispanics, African-Americans and native Hawaiian islanders are among those who cater to an equally diverse clientele. “Our customers have a wide range of backgrounds, and when they see a diverse staff and hear their own language, I think that makes the course a little more inviting,” Perkins notes.
In addition to providing jobs, Oak Quarry supports its community as a site for fundraisers that benefit organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital. Koh also serves as president of the Koh Charitable Foundation and is active in fundraising programs that support pediatric epilepsy research in southern California.
Meanwhile, Oak Quarry’s commitment to golf’s growth is evidenced in Koh’s support of the California Golf Course Owners Association, for whom he and the Oak Quarry staff help produce marketing materials aimed at attracting new players to the sport. Perkins also volunteers as an assistant coach for the University of California-Riverside men’s and women’s golf teams.
Collectively, these efforts have helped Oak Quarry, which is located between the golfing meccas of Palm Springs and Los Angeles/Orange County, establish itself as a fixture on the California landscape. “We’re a little bit of a drive for many of our guests, but they seem to think of us as a destination that’s worth the drive,” Perkins says.