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Relaxed Willowick Course in Santa Ana Is Old, but Good

October 22, 1992|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who frequently contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. This column appears regularly in OC Live!

Willowick Golf Course in Santa Ana is like an old pair of spikes: well-used and broken in, nothing terribly fancy, but thoroughly comfortable.

Willowick isn't scary. It's relaxed. There are no terrors to make your heart sink, no dirty tricks, no automatic double bogeys, no Himalayan slopes, no stainless-steel greens, no water, no brain-numbing strategic guesswork.

No, this is the sort of place where you can stretch it out a little. Go for the big shots. Take a few chances. Play the low percentages. Boost that ego.

This is not to say that Willowick is a cream puff. There is trouble here, mostly in the form of numerous trees. Both hookers and slicers can easily hit themselves into jail on nearly every hole. But you probably won't feel too bad about it because the trees are so beautiful to look at.

This course is, in a word, mature. It is probably the oldest golf course in Orange County, having been built in the mid-1920s (nobody who runs the place now seems to know exactly when), and it shows. The foliage is tall and graceful and lush, and the contours of the fairways appear not to have been tampered with for many years. And you'd have to drive to Hollywood to see shingle work as intricate as that on the roof of the little gabled pro shop. It looks as if it were built by Disney.

Good players score well here. Par is 71, and the course record is 61. Big hitters are also favored. Most of the fairways are wide, the rough is kept short, and eagles are possible on a handful of holes. A hole, for instance, like the Par 5 sixth, at a mere 463 yards, can trigger a Pavlovian reaction in anyone holding a jumbo driver.

You also get to pound the ball with the putter. The greens are thick and generally well-tended--and slow. Breaks are often minimal.

Bunkers, however, can be problematic. Possibly to make up for the lack of water hazards, many of the traps have cornice-like lips that can be difficult to blast over and nearly impossible to get out of if a ball plugs into the coarse sand.

The Wick--everybody calls it that--is considered by some to be one of Orange County golfing's poor relations, but manager Chris Donovan--who calls it "the poor orphan child"--says that several members of her large family, who are also in the golf course management business, have said they'd love to trade places with her. It's easy, she says, to underestimate the place until you play it.

"A bunch of my old friends from Lakeside came down to play here, and they were laughing about it," Donovan said, "but none of them shot par."

The Good: The prices. At $13 a round on weekdays and $20 on weekends (and $8 and $13, respectively, for twilight golf), it feels like the good, affordable, old days.

The Bad: Slow play. Many golfers learn at Willowick, and the price for their tutelage can be longer rounds.

The Ugly: "Fore!" You hear it all the time. Unlucky or unskilled golfers, coupled with the course layout, force you to keep one eye cocked for the action on nearby fairways.

A Matter of Course

* Willowick Golf Course: 3017 W. 5th St., Santa Ana.

* Distance: 6,063 yards.

* Par: 71.

* Greens fees: $13 weekdays, $20 weekends. Twilight golf (after 2:30 p.m. during daylight-saving time and after 1:30 p.m. during Pacific Standard Time), $8 weekdays and $13 weekends. Lessons are $30 per half hour.

* Carts: $10 per rider.

* Driving range: small bucket, $2.50; large bucket, $4.

* Reservations: One week in advance. Call (714) 554-0672.

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