Course Review: Pelican Hill Golf Club

Okay, I’ve decided to make this a unique review. Pelican Hill is one high-end resort with two great courses, but I played them several years apart.

I had the opportunity to play the Ocean South course back in 2008. Yesterday, I finally returned to play the Ocean North course as part of an SCGA member outing. So this review will be mostly about North as it’s fresh in my mind, but I had some really great pictures and spotty memories from South that I’ve never shared on this site. So, it seems like an appropriate time to post them.

Playing the Ocean North course was especially significant for me as it represented the final public regulation 18-hole course left on my list in Orange County. I signed up for the SCGA outing because they got a “reasonable” rate of $160. Yes, that is still horribly expensive, but at Pelican Hill it’s about as good a price as you’ll find these days.

I was in the 7:45 group, but it was really foggy in the morning and that slowed things down a bit for the early groups. It was closer to 8:00 by the time we actually teed off. The fog slowly but surely burned off by the time we made the turn, but it never quite got as crystal clear as I would have hoped (or as the forecasts predicted). That was a bit of a bummer on such a scenic course with a number of ocean views that were obscured early on.

When I played South, it was in the late afternoon during summer and I barely finished in the dark. However, it was a much nicer day and the pictures came out much better. I don’t remember the exact rate I paid back then, but I believe it was around $140 for a late twilight start (4:00) on a Friday. I am glad I do have the pictures because there isn’t a ton of details I remember about the course itself. I remember really enjoying the layout, conditions and scenery. The signature holes on South are the 12th and 13th, which are beautiful back-to-back par-3s overlooking the waterfront. I definitely remember those.

On the North course, I was a little disappointed in the par-3 selection. The 2nd hole is probably the best as you hit over a big canyon to a tricky green. I’m not sure if it normally offers any ocean views from the tee, but the fog was still so thick by then we could barely see the green. After that, all the par-3s are somewhat ho-hum and there’s not really one that would qualify as a “signature” hole despite plenty of opportunities with the setting and terrain of the course.

That said, North still offers plenty of nice scenery. Between the big rugged canyons, some ocean views and the garish multi-million dollar homes overlooking the course, it’s certainly a nice setting for a course. South is probably “prettier” overall, but North is no slouch. Both of these Tom Fazio designs have no shortage of aesthetic appeal.

I’m sure the fog had some effect on the front nine, but I thought the most memorable holes were on the back nine anyway. Numbers 14, 17 and 18 come to mind as great-looking designs.

South is generally considered the “better” course by most and I do remember it offering plenty of challenge. North presents a very tough test, as well. There are not many flat lies on the entire course and the big, rugged bunkers and canyons are intimidating from tee to green. Most fairways here slope significantly from one side to the other (from left to right more often than not), so you always want to aim to the high side.

Likewise, a lot of greens tend to slope one way or the other. One side usually has a hill that can help feed your ball down toward the hole if you miss on the high side. When you miss on the low side, though, your ball will likely feed off into a collection area, greenside bunker or even into the canyon brush if you are really unlucky.

The greens are probably the biggest story on the North course. They are extremely tricky. No matter which side of the hole you are putting from, it just feels uncomfortable. With a natural ocean break coming into play, along with the big canyons and undulating green surfaces themselves, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on. All day, our group struggled to read the greens. Everything feels like an optical illusion, which is equally frustrating and fun at times.

Condition-wise, the greens were the highlight of the course. They were in fantastic shape and rolling quite fast, making putts progressively more intimidating as the day went on and things dried out.

Otherwise, the course was far from “immaculate,” but still in very nice shape for winter. The tee boxes were excellent. The fairways were tight and fast bermuda with lots of roll, and I always had great lies. The rough was patchy in places, but the primary cut generally looked good. It was not super deep or thick, but the ball would tend to sink down and it could be tough to recover from. Then there were some deeper fescue patches around some bunkers and on outer edges that you needed to avoid at all costs. I was in two fairway bunkers and they were fine. I never found a greenside one, but they sure looked nice with fluffy white “resort” sand.

As you might expect at a luxury resort, the facilities here are nice and the service aspects are strong. Nowadays, they generally assign forecaddies with resort guests. They didn’t have them for the SCGA group, but it might have been helpful. Basically, they have things set up to make the forecaddies seem more “valuable” while on the course.

There is no GPS in the carts. There are no hole maps on the scorecard or tee boxes. There is no pin sheet for reference and they do not use a standard red/white/blue (front/middle/back) flag coloration. All the flags here are yellow and you just kind of have to judge where it is on the green. Not knowing the slopes of these crazy greens presents a huge disadvantage. Even if you know if the pin is front, middle or back, you still need to know the best place to land your approach shots for the desired result.

The sprinkler heads are well marked throughout the fairways and each cart is equipped with a rangefinder. It’s a pretty basic one, though, that only works with the reflectors in the pins. So you can get an exact yardage on approach shots, but it is of no help when standing on a tee and trying to figure out how far a bunker or hazard is. They do sell yardage books in the pro shop, so if you don’t have a caddie with you, you’ll probably want to buy one.

Beyond those issues, I had a great day at Pelican Hill both times I’ve played here. I’m glad I’ve gotten to check out both courses and get a taste of how the other half lives in the heart of Newport Coast. However, the prices here are just so expensive. Though I’d love to play here again, I just can’t imagine I will unless I come across a really great deal or I become much wealthier somewhere down the road.

Some pictures from Pelican Hill Golf Club (Ocean North) (2/11/14):

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Some pictures from Pelican Hill Golf Club (Ocean South) (6/30/08):

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