The Pelican Hill Resort features a couple of Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole layouts: Ocean South, which debuted in 1991 and Ocean North, a slightly longer sibling that came along a couple of years later. Both courses are laid out on a cliff top setting at Newport Beach and both deliver a good, solid resort golf experience that offers spectacular Pacific vistas aplenty.
Measuring a rather modest 6,580 yards from the back markers, the Ocean South course is routed close to the coastline, with golfers crossing Newport Coast Road a couple of times during a round. The architect made the most of the limited ocean frontage available to him by siting back to back par threes at the 159-yard 12th and 131-yard 13th and the second of these short holes is rather unique as it features two sand protected greens which sit adjacent to each other.
Other notable holes include the par four 5th, which plays along then across a ravine, the right doglegged, uphill par four 15th and the 453-yard closing hole, where the fairway twice crosses a gorge on its way to the home green.
The Ocean South Course is closer to the Pacific Ocean than its younger sibling, but the rivalry still continues. The topography here is outrageously beautiful using some 350 feet of elevation changes to lead you on a meandering journey with three holes playing out along the beach. Many of the holes incorporate forced carries over deep ravines, making it visually stimulating yet intimidating at the same time.
Be forewarned that this par-70 layout plays 300 yards longer than the scorecard indicates so pick the proper distance or you might end up ‘singing the blues.’ The course stretches out to 6580-yards, so I heeded the warning and moved up to the white tee blocks at 5929 yards. All greens have a receptive side that will funnel your ball towards the hole, but the other side is nothing but trouble. In my opinion, you need a caddy to navigate these dastardly terraced greens since some of your putts will break the opposite of what they appear.
The visually impressive opening hole sets the tone for the day. This 407-yard par-4 is all downhill to a large raised green. Don’t get caught up in the view of the ocean in the background as the beauty of this coastal setting can be a distraction.
Holes 2 and 3 are short par-4’s, and I was best advised to play target golf since accuracy is more important than distance. Layup your tee shots short of the hazard and take your chances with a longer iron to the greens. If you challenge the traps, you will be playing out of them all day long.
For the most part, you have an option to avoid the fairway bunkers, but in typical Fazio fashion, he will make you wish your errant shots had landed in the bunker rather than in the gnarly scrub that surrounds them.
Hole #5 may be my personal favourite. Teeing off from a plateau overlooking a deep ravine this hole is a sharp dogleg right par-4 that finishes with a spectacular green that seems to jut out to the ocean. The prudent move is to take out your fairway wood to avoid any chance of reaching the far-side bunker to leave yourself with a short iron to the green.
What I found truly unique was the back-to-back par 3’s. The 12th green is perched above Crystal Cove National Park and well protected by bunkers. #13 maybe their signature hole, a short 113-yard par-3 with two separate greens to choose on any given day. Take some extra time and walk back to the black tees that are perched on a point to truly appreciate the crashing waves below and a 270-degree view of the entire coastline.
Holes 15 through 18 is one of the toughest finishing stretches in all of golf. In particular, the 16th, a 187-yard uphill par-3 takes you to the edge of the ocean where the wind will be a factor. The 18th at 419 yards (white tees), is a dogleg left par-4 that forces you to carry over two chasms making it one of the toughest finishing holes anywhere. Your tee shot needs to be long enough to clear the first ravine and land near the end of the plateau to have any chance of reaching this well-guarded green in regulation. Otherwise, hit a short iron to the end of the fairway and take your chances at an up and down to save par, which proved to be a good strategy. The challenge of the 18th hole is only superseded by the view of the ocean behind and the stunning Pelican Resort as your backdrop where you can celebrate your victory on the outdoor deck area with stunning views of both courses.
Pelican Hills Resort a Five Diamond Resort located just south of downtown Newport Beach, 15 minutes from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport and 45 minutes from LAX. It feels like an exclusive private club, but everyone is welcome for a price. Green fees range for US$275-295, including cart. To make the most of your experience, I’d budget an additional $45 plus gratuities for a forecaddie. Without his knowledge and assistance, there is no doubt, my score would have been higher, and the round would not have been as memorable.
The debate continues regarding which of Pelican Hill’s two courses is better since both are ranked in 2019 edition of Golf Digest’s ‘America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses’. Tom Fazio’s “re-perfecting” of the courses in 2007 and the addition of new tee blocks have increased playability, and you’ll be challenged to choose between the two.
Dave Finn is a Canadian Golf Journalist. To follow his adventures, visit www.golftravelandleisure.com.
The South course drops down into valleys and journeys to the coastline where holes 11-13 touch the beach. These are world-class holes! The South course is tighter – but for me it was the more engaging of the two, and the ocean holes are a real highlight.
And the double canyon carry on hole 18 to an amphitheatre green overlooked by the resort is a dramatic finish to a compelling game of golf.
Other notable holes include: hole 7 – a gorgeous beautifully bunkered par 3 with sea backdrop and water hazard along the right perimeter of the hole and hole 11 – a tree lined fairway leads to a superbly bunkered green with another ocean backdrop.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Pelican Hill’s South shares the same difficulty trying to walk the course as its northern sibling. Though there are ocean views--primarily on holes 11-13, which are hard by the Pacific—they are not as spectacular as on the North. The course does flow in such a way that the holes are more memorable. The greens have plenty of challenging contours, though not as dastardly as the North. There are a number of tee shots that challenge both one’s physical and mental skills, though 4 four require forced carries to the fairway. About half the greens are built to accept either a running or aerial approach.
If given a choice, I would prefer to play here than on the North, but not by a large margin.
Of the North and South i preferred the South. The reason why is simple, I played better. There are some very similar holes, for example #3, dogleg right. Number 5 is a cool hole as you get to decide how big your appetite is and how much you want to cutoff. Number 7 is a redan par 3 over water from an elevated tee into the wind. If the pin is right, do the smart thing and go for the center of the green. The par 4 11th is a real pretty hole with the ocean as a backdrop. Favor the left side. A unique feature are the back to back par 3s 12 and 13, However, the 13th has two different greens, that look like islands in a sea of sand. Aim left the wind will push everything hard right. The 16th hole is also very pretty the green appears to be floating on the ocean. Expensive but very enjoyable
If one is in need of total pampering and has a few bucks in the pocket to make it happen then there's few places in California that can match what Pelican Hill provides. The resort is located on the Pacific Ocean and when the weather cooperates -- which it often does -- the views are clearly first rate. One can even see Catalina Island in the nearby distance when the marine layer pulls back far enough.
With that said, the Tom Fazio designed South Course, is really an expensive power cart ride that goes up and down the slopes of the property. Hats off to Fazio because he clearly can create holes that look especially good but often times as the South proves here the inherent design elements are merely at the pedestrian level.
The opening hole is a good starter but for the bulk of the rest of the course till you get to the final four holes is just yawn type golf.
The height of the power cart ride really takes off when you have to drive through a fenced in area and actually cross in front of another gated entry to some of the most spectacular home sites one can imagine in Orange County. It's almost as if the golf is the secondary element when compared to taking in the views provided.
In fairness, the final quartet of holes is where the course sizzles. The uphill par-4 15th is well done -- players need to get the tee shots in play so that the uphill approach shot is doable. The par-3 16th plays generally back into the prevailing wind and reminded me of the par-3 16th at the South Course at Torrey Pines. The three-shot par-5 17th is well-protected by sand and the closer you get to the green the narrowed the landing area becomes. The closing hole is a leap-frog hole -- golfers must find a portion of fairway on this dog-;leg left and then hit their approaches over a barranca to a well-defended green.
The issues with the South are that is has to negotiate a difficult site and the usage of power carts becomes more of the storylines than the actual architecture. The facility does give those staying there a first rate connection in plenty of ways but the golf is merely a sideshow when this particular 18-hole layout should have been a main event.
by M. James Ward