Golfers could see this one coming, but that still doesn't ease the pain.
After months of speculation and rumors about its future, Empire Lakes Golf Club in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. closed for good at the end of June. Its demise is a familiar tale -- one where the land is more valuable as something other than a golf course.
Its 160 acres, located in a high-density area an hour's drive west of Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire, will be converted into a housing development with a community center and shops.
Empire Lakes is one of the highest profile golf courses to fail in recent years. It's not often that a course with such a big-name architect (Arnold Palmer) and tournament pedigree gets plowed over. Empire Lakes hosted tournaments of various names and sponsors from 1999-2007 on what's now the Web.com Tour. Future major champions Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Lucas Glover and Jimmy Walker and other prominent names (Kevin Na, Boo Weekley, Jason Gore, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas) once prowled its fairways.
I played Empire Lakes about a decade ago during its prime. I wasn't blown away, but as conditioning and routings go, it would probably have garnered a solid four-star rating from me if Golf Advisor were around back then. From that article:
The course is relatively flat, but the rolling fairways and some fairway mounding and long, shaggy rough can play tricks with any lie. Without much elevation change to bother a golfer's scoring ability, Palmer made most of the par 4s and par 5s into dog legs, so you're never really aiming directly at any green off the tee. This makes strategy and positioning off the tee even more important. Except for several holes on the property's perimeter, there aren't many out-of-bounds areas to worry about. Many of the holes run parallel to one another, separated only by the mounding. A stray ball might land in your fairway from time to time, but it isn't a major problem.
In a more recent feature, I ranked Empire Lakes no. 42 among the top public courses to ever host the Web.com Tour. It would have finished among the top 25 if recent reviews on Golf Advisor hadn't revealed how much course conditions had deteriorated.
Golfers living in the Inland Empire will probably migrate to a few other excellent choices: The Journey at Pechanga in Temecula, Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco and Oak Quarry Golf Club in Riverside. Golf Advisor ranks Pechanga among the top casino courses in the U.S., while Oak Quarry -- where five-star reviews outrank four-star entrees two to one on Golf Advisor -- was named the National Golf Course Owners Association's 2013 Course of the Year. I played Hidden Valley a day before I played Empire Lakes all those years ago, and came away impressed by its scenery and swinging elevations (read the review here). It earns mostly four and five stars on Golf Advisor these days.
But no matter how many golf courses are left in SoCal, it's always sad to lose another one to urban sprawl. As the old song goes, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.