On Wednesday, I had a rare opportunity to play another one of Orange County’s most exclusive private clubs, Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach. I’ve been looking forward to this round for awhile, ever since some friends and I went in on a charity auction package that included three awesome OC rounds. First, we played Shady Canyon in December. Big Canyon was our second round. Then, we’ll be playing Newport Beach CC sometime soon.
We teed off around 9:00, joined by our member host—a really nice guy named Pete. I felt very welcomed around the club from the moment I arrived. I had full access to the member’s lounge and locker room. I got to warm up on the nice range and roll many putts on the massive practice green that gave me a sneak preview of how amazing the green surfaces were.
Big Canyon is certainly a high-end club in the high-end city of Newport Beach. It’s located just across the street from Fashion Island. Some of the taller buildings do loom in the background at times and houses are found along the majority of holes. Still, you feel nicely disconnected from the rest of civilization when you are on this course.
The course was designed by Robert Muir Graves and it is a fantastic layout with plenty of diversity and challenge. It features very attractive landscaping and a number of cool water hazards in play. Though there are no major changes in elevation, there aren’t many flat lies on the course either. It gently rolls up, down and around within the canyon. Most holes feature a dogleg one way or the other, with a pretty even distribution of fade- and draw-friendly designs.
There are plenty of well-placed bunkers along the fairways, and the greens are very well protected. Between some of the water hazards, elevated green complexes and deep bunkers, you really have to be dialed in on your approach shots to score well.
The greens really are the story here. They have plenty of undulation, but they are not crazy. What makes them memorable is how nice they roll. They were soft and receptive on approaches while rolling smooth and true at quick speeds. They were not lightning fast (not nearly as fast as they can be according to our host), but anything downhill was rather slick and anything uphill you had to hit firm to hold the lines. Basically, they were true as true can be.
It’s no wonder a lot of pros like coming here to practice and it was a popular practice arena for Tiger Woods when he was growing up. Fred Couples is probably the most notable current member. Unfortunately, we didn’t cross paths with him on Wednesday. That would have been the icing on the cake. I guess the Champions Tour players love to hang out at the lounge here while the Toshiba Classic is going on down the street at Newport Beach CC.
The overall experience makes you feel like a rich dude for a day, so that is definitely part of the appeal when playing an exclusive club such as Big Canyon.
There are many memorable holes at Big Canyon, but the signature hole is the par-3 15th. It plays over a pond at well over 200 yards from the black and blue tees. Fortunately, we were playing up at the whites, but it is still an intimidating hole with a beautiful look. The pond is currently home to two black swans (unfortunately not Natalie Portman or Mila Kunis), which were relocated from Santa Ana Country Club as they prepare for a major renovation there.
The course was in nice condition overall, highlighted by the greens as I noted. The tee boxes were fantastic and the bunkers were excellent, as well. The fairways were good, but I wouldn’t say great. I generally had nice lies in the bermuda turf, but noticed some thin areas throughout. The rough is also a bit inconsistent, but it was cut down and not much of a factor. In fact, our host told me that the members just voted to replace all of the rough with year-round bermuda. So that will be an upcoming renovation project.
Looking past some of the fairway/rough imperfections this time of year, it’s hard not to love this course and the high-end country club experience you get here. Certainly, if you ever get a chance to play here, don’t pass up the opportunity!
Some pictures from Big Canyon Country Club (3/23/16):