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.
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