La Verne’s Marshall Canyon is a golfing hideaway.

Golf pro Kenny Murray helps 8-year-old Matthew Ibarra with his backswing at the Marshall Canyon Golf Course range. Kenny has coached both Matthew and his older brother Julio Ibarra for about a year. / photo by Cassandra Egan

Golf pro Kenny Murray helps 8-year-old Matthew Ibarra with his backswing at the Marshall Canyon Golf Course range. Kenny has coached both Matthew and his older brother Julio Ibarra for about a year. / photo by Cassandra Egan

by Erica Lynn Lares
photography by Cassandra Egan

Kenny Murray steps on the greens of Marshall Canyon and takes a swing at the ball. The sharp contact “clink” when club meets ball momentarily silences the chirping of the birds. Kenny swings a perfect shot and yells “fore,” but his yelled warning does not clear the course. His ball is headed not toward other golfers but toward a family of deer.

Where the foothills meet the San Gabriel Mountains above La Verne resides the 18-hole Marshall Canyon Golf Course. This Los Angeles County owned course is unlike others; one of the great advantages is its remote location. Marshall Canyon is one of the few courses where there are few distractions. There are no busy streets, no heavy traffic flow. A huge sloped parking lot greets golfers. It is golf at its basic elements: just the course and the golfer. However, there are actually other guests on the course besides the golfer, but these guests are what make Marshall Canyon so unique. On any given day, a golfer may come across a family of deer, but these quiet creatures, which do not spook easily, are a great representation of the course’s peacefulness and beauty.

The beauty of the course is not the only thing offered. Marshall Canyon is managed by friendly and attentive people. Among them is Marshall Canyon’s golf professional Kenny Murray. A La Verne native, Kenny, since age 5, gained most of his golf skills and discipline at this course, learning the game from his father. He continued to play in many amateur events and won more than 130, with his best win coming in 2005 at the Inland Valley Amateur, where he fired a 66 (-8) at Los Serranos South. “I am still more of a hustler golfer than a tournament player, just like my dad. The strength of my game is by far putting; I just have a gift for putting.”

Kenny played golf at Citrus College; there, he decided to turn professional and played in many Golden State events. Nevertheless, he found that golf was a tough way to make a living. Kenny figuratively shelved his clubs professionally and became a personnel trainer, but he never stopped his love for golf. Always an athlete at heart, Kenny became a personnel trainer for Bally Total Fitness. After his gym training sessions, he would find himself at the course hitting balls on a weekly basis. In 2007, after seeing his passion, knowledge and talent for the game, the course manager told him of the just-opened professional position. Kenny interviewed and within 10 minutes was named the course’s golf pro. “I instruct all ages and levels of golf, but I would have to say that the majority of lessons I instruct are to golfers 18 years and under. But it is never too late to get started. The beauty of golf is that it is a sport that can be played at any age of a person’s life. The age of a golfer is not the challenging part to instruct; it’s the bad habits a golfer has and trying to break those habits,” he says.

Golf as a life lesson

For the beginner, the game can be challenging, with all its rules and terms. In fact, it can be overwhelming. The most important concept to grasp is the etiquette of the game. One must remember to have respect for the sport’s traditions. “There are so many rules; no one really knows every rule out of the rule book, but the etiquette is what I stress to young golfers during the lessons,” Kenny says. “Learning the etiquette is not only something a young golfer can use on the course but also in life. Golf and life can go hand-in-hand. It can teach discipline and respect. It is a very challenging sport, but it can be very rewarding, and it can be applied to everything in life.”

Indeed, Marshall Canyon has golfers of all ages with a variety of skill levels. Beginners abound, like John Carro, of La Verne, a first timer to golf who decided to take up the sport after seeing his friend play for 10 years. The great thing about Marshall Canyon is while it is kind to beginners, it is also known as a very challenging course, especially because of its 13th hole, also known as “lucky.” Golfers in the know say “lucky” is the most difficult in the region. It is a 420-yard par 4 that has a blind tee shot. If a golfer hits left, she is in the horse stables. There is a mound out on the fairway that blocks the view. The green is challenging if the ball lands on the right because it will roll all the way to the left of the green. Despite the challenge, the course culture puts no pressure on beginners. They can come and learn and not have to worry about being run off because most golfers are friendly and openly welcome newcomers.

Golfers like Patt Masson, of Claremont, and Erhard Fertala, of La Verne, are old golf hands, having golfed Marshall Canyon for decades. These individuals are a walking mirror image of the course, seasoned but full of life. Pat has been golfing since he was a 9-year-old caddie in Ireland, getting paid 18 cents for 18 holes. Now in his 80s, he chooses Marshall Canyon for its wildlife and friendly staff. Erhard, 87, also has been golfing on this course since it opened in 1966 and has not stopped since. Erhard and his golfing buddy Pat can be found at Marshall Canyon two times a week, a tradition that has brought their friendship closer. Proving age is not as serious a number as a golf score, these two are just as fun and free spirited as the young golfers. They joke about their skills and time spent on the course. Both started golfing before Marshall Canyon had a pro shop, coffee shop or banquet hall. Then, it truly was just the golfers and the wild course. Now, the coffee shop sells snacks. The banquet hall, used for tournaments and award ceremonies, is also available for rental.

Those who choose Marshall Canyon must love wildlife. Seasonally, birds, snakes, bears, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and deer—especially deer—mingle with golfers on the remote canyon greens. Being comfortable with wildlife is something to which golfers become accustomed. A golfer can walk right up to the deer and practically pet these beautiful creatures without them moving an inch. The deer, while wild, are calm here and cause no harm to golfers. Two years ago, a large brown bear walked across the No. 7 green and scarcely received a second glance from the foursome who did not break from their putting. Play at Marshall Canyon, and you will leave with more than a golf story.

Golf offers many life rewards. It can improve friendships and teach life lessons. Marshall Canyon is a great teacher for those who are open to the gifts and rewards that this unique course has to offer.

For Marshall Canyon tee times, call ahead 909-593-8211 or just show up and try your luck. The course is located at 6100 N. Stephens Ranch Road, La Verne. Green fees are $37 on weekdays and $46.50 on weekends, including the rental fee of a brand new golf cart. Golf pro Kenny Murray commands a $40 an hour fee, money well spent if you want golf to be a continuing passion.

Patt Masson of Claremont attempts to hit the ball from the bunker and onto the green. Masson, who learned to play golf in Ireland, has been playing Marshall Canyon’s course since it opened in 1966. / photo by Cassandra Egan

Patt Masson of Claremont attempts to hit the ball from the bunker and onto the green. Masson, who learned to play golf in Ireland, has been playing Marshall Canyon’s course since it opened in 1966. / photo by Cassandra Egan

Another La Verne SCIAC championship

The University of La Verne’s golf team has done it again, winning with a flourish its sixth consecutive SCIAC championship, eighth overall. La Verne had the youngest team out of the seven contenders in the SCIAC conference; the team holds fourth place in Division III national ranking for freshman class impact.

Seven of the nine golfers on the roster were new to the team, one of them being junior Derek Zachman. Zachman, named SCIAC golf player of the year, led the team from the start of the season with the help of senior Nick Ericson, the only returning starter from last year’s championship lineup.

La Verne’s golf team did not stop at just winning the SCIAC championship. They went on to compete for an NCAA national title, finishing 14th out of the 40 teams invited to the NCAA Championship, held May 15-18 at the Mission Inn Resort & Club at Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. La Verne ended with a total 1212 for the tournament.

Zachman concluded the tournament by tying for seventh among individuals with a 294 total [76-69-71-78], while Leopard freshman Trent Twamley ended the tournament with a total of 299 [75-71-75-78] to finish in a tie for 22nd.

“Overall, it was a great season, capped off by an average final result at the Championship,” Eric Riehle, La Verne’s head golf coach, says. “This team is very young, and some of our inexperience showed at times during the tournament; however, the knowledge that we gained moving forward is invaluable. The team and I are very excited for the years to come.”