10,000 Years in the Making: The Journey at Pechanga Views History Through a Very Long Lens
“So many things in our society over the last 10 years have become ‘sustainable.’ But that word means different things to different people, and even more so to companies and corporations,” says Gary Dubois, Pechanga Cultural Resources Department Director. “For Native people, the only way to be when it comes to ecology is to be a steward of the land that has helped sustain our people since time immemorial.”
The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians are the shepherds of a golf course that
sits on a portion of their ancestral lands in today’s Temecula Valley: Journey at Pechanga. Those lucky
enough to have played it know that Journey is one of the most enjoyable and captivating tracks in the Southland. And there’s more than good course designers — the late Arthur Hills and his long-time associate Steve Forrest — at play in that.
Touring the site with Dubois, avowedly not much of a golfer, the way and why of this journey is revealed.
“So, the oak trees,” he says. “That was the biggest controversy of this entire project. Oak trees, to us, in our creation stories, our ceremonial songs, are sacred. The first people who were created in this world — we call them the Káamalam — they were the first born. They took the forms of human people, as well as the boulders, animals, oaks, cottonwoods. The golf course was delayed for two years because of these trees.”
Environmental constraints and concessions are nothing new to anyone who has tried to develop land in California. We save trees, protect waterways, avoid sensitive areas and resources and reduce chemical usage. To the Pechanga people, that’s nothing new. These are best-management practices borne of time that always has been and always will be.
10,000 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Journey climbs hundreds of feet into the hillsides and returns with jaw-dropping tee shots, because the tribe decided that nothing could come at the expense of the ethereal, the eternal. So up the hill scampered Forrest, followed by tribal workers surveying for cultural — and culture, in this context, embraces the natural — sensitivities.
“When we say, ‘This is a golf course 10,000 years in the making,’ we really mean it,” Dubois explains. “We’re avoiding all the cultural sites, the trees, the ceremonial areas. We didn’t want people playing over burial and cremation sites. That is why the course is the way it is.”
That fence along the par-5 ninth hole? Be respectful, do not try to retrieve your banana-balled Titleist from that funerary site. It might not look like Arlington National, but it’s just as sacred.
Sustainability in golf has formal definitions, and for a to-the-point distillate simply look at how the Environmental Institute for Golf, the philanthropic arm of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, describes its mission: “People, planet and profit.”
Further honing it down is USGA CEO Mike Whan, who notes: “All of us who love this game share a responsibility to leave it better for the next generation. If we act like climate change and water issues don’t exist, we’re handing the next generation an even bigger challenge. Everyone in the game has a role to play so we can ensure golf remains accessible, affordable and a better friend to the environment.”
A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
Let’s not forget that Journey, like the resort of which it is a part, and nearby Temecula Creek Inn, which the tribe now owns, are economic tools. As native Californians begin reassembling ancestral land holdings — held in trust by the respective tribes — and as they invest in hospitality or commercial enterprises, the intent is to provide stability and economic well-being for their peoples. So is restoring what often was lost — land, ways of living, mores and beliefs — through the waves of European, Mexican and American expansions.
Golf is “greening,” and those practices permeate Journey. Fairways were converted to Bermuda, lowering water needs. Irrigation practices are monitored by high-tech sensors and old-fashioned boots on the ground. The routing, skirting hundreds of acres, leaves vast expanses of native oak bosques, riparian corridors and sagescrub hillsides, helps foster surface and ground water recharge, and minimizes erosion.
When heavy storms are forecast, the on-site lakes are strategically drawn down to enhance capture. And, of course, habitat preservation means that players might see everything from coyotes to eagles, while cagier wildcats mostly remain hidden. Invasive plants are on the hit list, and Pechanga maintains a native-species nursery for regeneration and restoration. It goes on.
Journey is a journey on any number of levels: A grininducing romp from first tee to 18th green. A lesson over time, with cultural cues and artifacts judiciously scattered across the course, be it a historic building site, re-creations of a Pechanga village or something as simple yet utterly important to tribal life as bedrock mortar grinding stones, where food was prepared and dyes pounded and mixed.
The manufactured water features are also reflective of a long-ago era when this valley was thick in seep and wetland: Pechanga means “place where the water drips.”
“Our ancestors believed, as we still do, that people should only use what is necessary from the land,” Dubois says. “This concept of sustainability is obviously heavily practiced within Pechanga Resort Casino and at Journey at Pechanga. Our way of life includes respecting and honoring our ancestors, the first children; cumulatively, the Earth.”