TRAVEL FILE : Orange County, Calif – Brief Article

John Strege

Historically, golf and Orange County, Calif., have been no more synonymous than, say, Los Angeles and a breath of fresh air. Some might even argue that until Tiger Woods came along, the cartographer overlooked the county in drawing the golf map.

This is not entirely true. In 1962, Tony Lema became Champagne Tony by inviting the press to join him in a toast to his first PGA Tour victory, in the Orange County Open, conjoining golf history and Orange County. So that’s the extent of the history, pre-Tiger, the history-maker himself. Woods was born and raised in Cypress, and father Earl still lives in the same home in which Tiger was raised, retaining it as a shrine, perhaps preparing for the day when tickets will be available at the door.

For now, the only Orange County birth shrine doing business is the library in Yorba Linda devoted to that ex-golfer Richard Nixon.

Until the last decade, it was doubtful that any traveler en route to Orange County was heading there because of golf. Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom in Anaheim may bill itself as the happiest place on earth, but for a long time golfers had to look elsewhere for fun. Disneyland, with its 14 million annual visitors, continues to reign on the tourist front. Golf, though, is gaining.

Today, the traveling golfer has myriad choices here, none entailing a particularly long drive (save during rush hour) from John Wayne Airport. The choices include public courses designed by many of today’s leading architects, including Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus, as well as local favorites like Brian Curley.

They aren’t inexpensive, their rates elevated by the cost of the land and the economic principle of supply and demand (the demand for quality courses here is greater than the supply of them). Then again, when a one-day pass to Disneyland runs you $43, maybe the golf prices are right in line. Location, location, location!

Pelican Hill G.C.,

Newport Coast.

…. Ocean S.

…. Ocean N.

$175-$250 (949-759-5180).

Two Tom Fazio-designed courses were built on what locals call the Orange Riviera, along the coastline overlooking the Pacific Ocean, offering a spectacular panorama, particularly at sundown, and views of Santa Catalina out in the Pacific and mouth-opening mansions between the fairways. The first course, the Ocean South, actually wends its way down to the beach, where a pair of back-to-back par 3s (12 and 13) are situated, each surrounded by natural vegetation. The 13th hole features two greens (separated by a waste bunker), used alternately. Many players prefer the Ocean North, once known as the Links Course. It offered Fazio better, more consistent terrain with which to work, and the result was more of an open links layout. Precipitating the name change was the fact that first-time visitors tended to choose the course known as the Ocean.

More Fazio

…11/42 Oak Creek G.C., Irvine, $95-$135


Oak Creek was expertly carved from a flat and virtually featureless piece of property–even the creek is man-made. The hazard guards the right side of the signature hole, the 558-yard, par-5 15th hole, but generosity is the hallmark of this course. Its fairways often are bordered by gentle slopes that carom the ball back toward the fairway. The greens generally feature subtle, rather than severe, breaks. Yet from the back tees, the course is capable of presenting a challenge even to better players, given the tees’ angles to the fairways and the long, hard par 3s.

Texas tea

Black Gold G.C.

(not yet rated), Yorba Linda,

$75-$95 (714-961-0060).

The newest course in Orange County, Black Gold was built atop an old oil field (hence its name). An Arthur Hills design, Black Gold features some spectacular vistas on clear days. The 12th hole represents the highest golf elevation in the county, with views to Catalina. Interested in a convenient side trip? The Nixon Library and Birthplace is only a half mile away, featuring clubs and photographs from Nixon’s golf past. A presidential golf exhibit is planned for this summer.

New views

…11/42 Coyote Hills G. Cse., Fullerton, $86-$106


Another course built on top of an oil field, Coyote Hills was designed by Cal Olson, with the late Payne Stewart consulting. It still has working oil wells outside the perimeter of the course. The layout was squeezed in places from a lack of available land, which places a premium on accurate tee shots. The elevated seventh tee, at the highest point on the course, offers spectacular views, weather and smog permitting.

Talega G.C. (not yet rated), San Clemente, $90-$115


A new course that is part of a residential development, Talega is a Brian Curley design with an assist from Fred Couples. It is too far inland from the San Clemente coast to offer ocean views, though it does feature dramatic Talega Canyon views on the back nine. Each afternoon, the ocean breeze arrives, generally affecting shots more on the back nine, which is more exposed to the elements.

Aliso Viejo G.C.

(not yet rated), Aliso Viejo, $60-$90 (949-598-9200).

This is a 27-hole facility by Jackie Nicklaus. His father held the course record, 65, on the Ridge-Creek combination until Philip Leoung bettered it by a stroke in 2000. The Valley is the third nine. This is a hilly facility featuring eight lakes and large, undulating greens, several of them with false fronts. The fifth on the Ridge nine is a case in point. It is severely uphill, a par 4 only 269 yards from the back tee. A second shot not hit beyond the false front can roll back down the hill to your feet.

…11/42 Strawberry Farms G.C., Irvine, $85-$135


Former Baltimore Orioles and California Angels third baseman Doug DeCinces developed this public course near John Wayne Airport. He employed Nicklaus associate Jim Lipe to design Strawberry Farms. The course is in the hills, and several holes were designed around Sand Canyon Reservoir, enhancing the course’s beauty and challenge. Strawberry farms once were abundant in the area, hence the name.

The right price

Mile Square

G. Cse., Players Course (not yet rated), Fountain Valley, $40-$72


Yes, there is quality golf available at a reasonable price by Southern California standards, and it is here at this public facility that recently added a second 18, the Players Course. Water comes into play on 12 holes, providing the course a challenge and more scenery. Unlike many new courses, this one is easily navigable by foot.

New and improved

Monarch Beach G.L.

(not yet rated), Dana Point, $135-$175 (949-240-8247)

A $1.5 million makeover in 2001 stretched this Robert Trent Jones Jr. course by nearly 300 yards, to 6,601 yards. Memorable is the 315-yard third, where the fairway heads straight toward the beach, then takes a left turn to the green, which is next to the ocean and flanked by the Ritz-Carlton.

Travel tips

Orange County has long been a family destination (Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm), but it’s also home to some of the finest beaches and surfing on the West Coast (Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach). . . . Accommodations reach to the high end. Take your pick from spots like the the new $240 million St. Regis Resort at Monarch Beach, the Four Seasons at Newport Beach, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott or the Doubletree in Irvine (where free chocolate-chip cookies might be the only bargain in the county). . . . For details on all things Orange County, try; for golf, click on


Course ratings are derived from the exclusive 5-star Golf Digest Places to Play scale. A single star represents “basic golf”; five stars indicates “golf at its absolute best.” Golf Digest’s Places to Play guide, based upon the rating of 20,000 readers, is available for $25 (800-793-2665).

COPYRIGHT 2002 New York Times Company Magazine Group, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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