Bryon Penfield caught the golf bug early in his life. Growing in up Murrieta, he played junior golf and competed regularly with Rickie Fowler. Now he’s the head golf professional at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. We recently caught up with him to talk a little golf, including his dream foursome.
How did you get your start in the golf industry?
I started working at Seven Hills in Hemet in college (he graduated with a business degree from Cal State San Marcos). After that I started working as a golf shop attendant at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. I then got promoted to first assistant and became head pro 3 1/2 years later when Blake Dodson moved over to Encinitas Ranch in December 2014.
Having been at the Rancho Bernardo Inn for almost seven years, you have seen plenty of changes.
I’ve seen not only the golf course but the entire resort evolve. The company is big on keeping their establishments up to date. When I got here in 2009, half the greens were bad and the irrigation needed work. We invested $2 million in a new irrigation system, which was a big enhancement to the golf course. And then we renovated the bunkers. Since I’ve been here the golf course and the entire property has improved with new restaurants, a new bar, room renovations, and a new parking lot. It’s nice to know we have a management team at JC Golf and an executive team that want to enhance the golf course and enhance the property.
What makes the golf course unique? And what’s your favorite hole?
The golf course has a good balance to it with scoring opportunities and challenges. The most talked about hole is 18. That’s the one hole you have to strategize every time you play it. Even if you pipe your drive over the ravine, you still have a 230-yard uphill shot over a creek into a three-tiered green. That’s a lot of risk that can be rewarded. The play is to lay up so you’ll have a wedge in. The hole has a lot of character.
What can the industry do to introduce more people to the game?
Focus on player development programs. I talk to people all the time who are interested in golf – they watch it on TV – but a lot of those people are not playing. Then you have you the lapsed golfer, those who used to play but don’t play as much anymore. We have to get those people interested. And we have to give people options, whether it’s a program for the family, for your wife, or something for after work.
Does the game have to change?
I don’t want to see it change drastically. I just think you need golf courses and facilities that play to all skill sets. Look at Topgolf, where you have a huge facility with bars, restaurants, games and golf. It’s more interactive where people are just swinging a golf club and having fun with their friends. Whatever we can do to get people introduced to golf and swinging a club – it starts with that.
Is golf just too intimidating for some?
The PGA has a program called Tee it Forward featuring more desirable tee boxes. There are things you can do to make it more appealing to the beginner golfer but also challenging for more advanced players. It is a difficult game so you need to have good instructors who know how to introduce people to it and make them feel more comfortable. You can learn quickly that while you may play golf courses that you see as difficult it doesn’t have to be so intimidating.
Which players would be in your dream foursome?
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and then Jordan Spieth. I grew up watching Tiger and Phil go back and forth. It would be great just to walk with those guys to see how they carry themselves around the golf course. I think that would be really cool.
Marc Figueroa is a freelance writer who has been covering golf in San Diego for more than 20 years.