There are many special locations to play golf in America but few can surpass the full array of various top tier amenities provided to visitors when coming to Orange County in Southern California. With weather a cooperating partner and the intersection of land and water making for a visual treat that’s clearly hard to top. How popular is Orange County? Try over 48 million visitors in 2016 with visitors spending a whopping $12.1 billion for the fun and excitement provided.
The allure comes from having an incredible array of choices - with golf clearly one option on the menu.
Leading off is The Resort at Pelican Hill - a 36-hole facility located in the tiny community of Newport Coast, Pelican Hill is ideally situated on the Pacific Ocean and provides two Tom Fazio layouts that weave up and down the hillsides where the two courses are located. The North is the stronger of the two layouts and has the greater hole diversity. The closing holes on both the North and South use the native terrain in spectacular fashion. On a clear day, Catalina Island is in full view and when the weather cooperates - as it often does – it is hard to keep one’s mind on playing.
Just south of Pelican Hill, and also along the Pacific, is Monarch Beach Resort. Located in Dana Point, Monarch Beach provides a quality outward side of holes. The shot-making challenges are certainly present. Unfortunately, the inner half of holes is somewhat cramped and not as diverse as those found on the front side. The closing hole does attempt to make up for this and when the pin is placed to the far right side, it makes for an exacting approach. The other downside of Monarch Beach is the lack of a practice facility and the erroneous inclusion of the word “links” in its title. The turf provides a bit of a “bounce,” but it cannot remotely be considered a legitimate links type surface.
Away from the frantic pulse is Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo. It is hard to imagine that such a pristine layout set in rolling terrain is so close to everything but provides a clear distancing away from the stresses of daily life. The golf is a mixed bag of ordinary and exemplary holes. The qualities of the course really come to life when you ascend the middle portion of the course, which is on beautiful hilly terrain. The facility also provides affordable rates and various packages to consider.
There are two course options in the Irvine area. Oak Creek Golf Club is a quality Tom Fazio layout: the course is located on fairly flat terrain, but the routing and the hole diversity is quite good. The facility has first-rate amenities to add to the experience, with a top tier practice area to enjoy. The course provides sufficient playability, but when played to its maximum with tees and pins placed accordingly, the challenge is certainly present.
Near by is Strawberry Farms Golf Club. The layout is fairly predictable for the front nine, but it is on the back nine where the topography clearly makes its mark and the need to be both precise and sufficiently long enough off the tee is present. There is also a quality practice facility and the course is conveniently sheltered away from the incessant beat of daily life.
Avoid this major pitfall.
Local traffic in Orange County can be overwhelming at times - especially when on the freeways. It pays to leave sufficient time in planning one’s activities. This is especially so when arranging tee times and travelling for dinner reservations.
So how good is the golf?
Orange County provides above average golf. Not in the same league as the key private clubs in the greater area, however, the broad range of amenities and the service levels provided makes for a comfortable visit. Those architecturally enamoured will quite rightly wonder why the designs are not compelling and far too often rely upon the gorgeous scenery to make up for what is lacking strategically. Be interesting to see whether any of the aforementioned layouts opt to upgrade their designs.
What to do
Most visitors will head to Disneyland in Anaheim, disneyland.disney.go.com/. Be conscious of one’s time at the facility as many of the operations can feature long lines at peak times. Costa Mesa is an ideal area to base one’s operations. The Segerstrom Center for the Arts hosts a wide range of performers and shows - www.scfta.org. If one needs to indulge a desire to shop , head to the South Coast Plaza, www.southcoastplaza.com.
The collective revenue generated from the slew of stores centred here is tops in America, and is the largest mall on the west coast.
Where to stay
For those wanting maximum comfort and convenience, it is hard to beat an ocean front location at either The The Resort at Pelican Hill or Monarch Beach Resort. For those looking to have a bit more versatility and accessibility, it pays to stay at the Avenue of the Arts Hotel in Costa Mesa, which is convenient to a wide range of top tier activities, from music to the arts to shopping and culinary choices. Those looking to be near the Disney area, can book ones stay at the Anaheim Marriott, which is quite comfortable and well-serviced.
Where to eat
Vaca - located in Costa Mesa in the South Coast Plaza. This Spanish inspired restaurant is headed by “Top Chef” finalist Amar Santana and provides a rich selection of mouth watering dining choices. Old Vine at The CAMP - a mainstay for more than 10 years in Costa Mesa. Executive Chef and owner Mark McDonald focuses on seasonal ingredients for a menu inspired by southern Italy; McDonald works with winemakers to present innovative wine pairings with his seasonal menu. The CAMP is an eco-friendly retail campus and the first known environmentally sensitive shopping campus in the U.S. If you are in the Anaheim area for Disney, be sure to head to the Anaheim Packing District: anaheimpackingdistrict.com/packing-house.
The food selections are especially varied and reasonably priced.
If you go
When flying to Orange County, use John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana. The location is totally convenient, avoiding the nightmarish massive traffic jams routinely happening when using Los Angeles International.
North Newport Coast, CA
6,945 Yards / Par-71
CR: 73 / SL: 135
Architect: Tom Fazio
Pelican Hill - South
Newport Coast, CA
6,580 Yards / Par-70
CR:72.1 / SL: 133
Architect: Tom Fazio
6,700 Yards / Par-71
CR: 72.7 / SL: 136
Architect: Jim Lipe
Monarch Beach Golf Links
Dana Point, CA
6,645 Yards / Par-70
CR: 72.5 / SL: 135
Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Mission Viejo, CA
7,011 Yards / Par-72
CR: 73.8 / SL: 138
Architect: Casey O’Callaghan with Tom Lehman
Oak Creek Golf Club
6,850 Yards / Par-72
CR: 72.5 / SL: 133
Architect: Tom Fazio