North County Times: Rancho Bernardo Inn marks 50th anniversary

Rancho Bernardo Inn marks 50th anniversary
By Marc Figueroa

February 22 2012 | North County Times
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RANCHO BERNARDO — Steve Campbell doesn’t belong to a country club. But he feels like he does.

The Rancho Bernardo Inn is that kind of place for the 63-year-old real estate agent, who has been playing the distinguished 18-hole course for more than 20 years.

“RBI,” as it’s commonly known to the locals, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a number of planned events and promotions.

For Campbell, his special event occurs every time he pulls into the parking lot.

“Every time you walk out by the Veranda restaurant and look out on the 18th green, it’s like coming home,” said Campbell, a men’s club member. “From the pro shop to the guys outside, they treat us like friends. They’re always in a good mood. They’re golf people and they want us to have a good time. That’s the kind of service they provide. It’s the whole experience; it isn’t just going out and playing 18 holes of golf and then going home and doing the laundry. It’s like a country club experience. I tell people (Rancho Bernardo Inn) is my club.”

Tucked between Pomerado Road and Rancho Bernardo Road just north of the community’s center, the Rancho Bernardo Inn opened in 1962 with 30 guestrooms and garnered almost immediate national recognition when the 6,639-yard, Billy Bell Jr.-designed course hosted the PGA Tour’s San Diego Open in 1964. Winner Art Wall shot a 14 under par and won by two shots over Tony Lema and Bob Rosburg.

The LPGA had a three-year run starting in 1978 when Nancy Lopez lost to Sally Little in a playoff. Joanne Carner, a Hall of Famer, won the tournament the next two years.

In 1986, Ted Robinson enhanced the course by adding water features on the ninth and 18th holes. In 1998, the course was remodeled by Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, who added a fourth set of tees and reshaped the 61 bunkers. And a two-year greens renovation project was completed just recently.

“Right now it’s in its finest condition that I’ve ever seen it,” said Campbell, who plays the course more than 40 times a year.

Many say the same about the entire property, which benefited from a $30 million makeover in the last five years, starting in 2007 with a new 10,000-square-foot ballroom and an upgraded spa and fitness center. It’s also in the final stages of remodeling its sports bar to go along with its two restaurants.

“It’s the whole experience of Rancho Bernardo Inn that makes it special,” said John McNair, the vice president of golf operations for JC Golf, which operates the property along with five others in North County and Temecula.

Some characterize the RB Inn as a playable layout (it’s 6,272 yards from the blue tees and 5,848 from the whites) that can sneak up on you with its multi-tiered greens, strategically placed bunkers and potentially troublesome creeks and trees.

McNair calls the course “strategic.”

“You have play it strategically if you want to get around this golf course,” he said. “You can’t just bomb driver and think you’re going to be OK.”

Case in point is the 544-yard, par-5 18th, which causes all golfers to put their thinking caps on, as a water feature comes into play on the second shot (tee shot for big hitters). With trees on the right and an uphill approach into a multi-tiered green guarded by another creek, it presents a risk-reward opportunity that’s anything but a no-brainer.

The same goes for the par-4 first hole, which at first glance seems benign at 347 yards.

“You think it’s no big deal, but it is,” McNair said. “Let’s say you miss the fairway bunker; you only have 120 yards in. Well, you’re going at an elevated green with two tiers. There’s no gimme there. It’s not just a flat, boring hole.

“The way some of the holes are done, either with bunkering, elevation changes or where the trees are, it’s not an easy course. There’s just some brilliant design to it.”

Added Campbell: “There are great shots all over the golf course. It isn’t just hit it and then hit a 9-iron.”

The Rancho Bernardo Inn has become more than a golf course for Campbell. At least once a year, he and his wife spend a day at the resort to enjoy the spa and the property’s amenities.

“It’s like being on vacation, but you’re two miles away from your house,” he said.

And though it’s practically in his backyard, he never gets tired of it.

“How could you?” he said. “It’s a special place.”