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It's Just 18 Enjoyable Golf Holes

April 22, 1993|MIKE SPENCER | Mike Spencer is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff. and

The real charm of Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course in Irvine may be that there's nothing spectacular about the place.

No ocean views, no island greens, no tricks, no magic, no mirrors. Just a solid, well-maintained 18-hole layout that lends itself to a solid game of golf, the kind we used to enjoy before obstacle courses became the order of the day.

That's not to say none of the holes can jump up and bite you. If you're going to have any errant shots, get rid of them on the front nine, because the back toughens up, starting with a relatively short (355 yard) par-four No. 10. It's a severe downhill dogleg left to a green that you can't see from the tee.

Then you circle a lake clockwise with Nos. 11, 12 and 13. The water comes into play only slightly on the 385-yard par-four No. 11 but becomes a major factor on the par-five No. 12, which narrows right at the water. No. 13 is a relatively short par-three (160 yards from the men's tee) right over the water to a well-bunkered and tiered green.

Two other challenging holes are No. 5, the top handicap hole, and No. 16. No. 5 is a 502-yard par-five down a narrow fairway bordered by water on the right and the left. No. 16 is a 404-yard par-four straight uphill. It takes a couple of huge shots for the average golfer to reach the green in regulation.

And while the fairways can make the course seem like a walk in the park, the poa anna grass greens become the tricky equalizers. Most of them are tiered and bunkered, and they're hand-mown to make them slick.

Rancho San Joaquin also has some unique-to-Orange County features, including the only female head pro (Mitzi Sundberg). Those features also include a Practice Center, which has a driving range that's lighted for night play, four practice greens and bunkers. You're also given a choice of hitting off grass or mats on the driving range (grass costs $2 more for a bucket of balls because of maintenance).

Motorized carts are confined to the paths, although dispensation is granted anyone over age 80 or anyone with a physical problem. Their carts are adorned with a red flag, and they're allowed to drive them on the fairways.

Bird-watchers particularly enjoy the course because of the exotic species that populate the lakes and trees. According to course manager Andrew Valainis, they're left over from the days when Lion Country Safari was a neighbor.

Another big difference between Rancho San Joaquin and other courses in the county is that it's relatively easy to get on, even from a waiting list if you're a drop-in.

"I would say the longest you'd ever wait is an hour," Valainis says.

Greens fees are moderate: higher than most public courses but a lot lower than such fancy open-to-the-public private courses as Pelican Hill.

A Matter of Course

Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course, 1 Sandburg Way, Irvine, 92715.

Distance: 6,453 yards from championship tees, 6,229 from men's, 5,794 from women's.

Par: 72.

Greens fees: Monday through Thursday, $25 walking, $35 with cart; Friday, $35 walking, $45 with cart; weekends and holidays, $40 walking, $50 with cart. Twilight (after 3:30 p.m.), $14 Monday through Thursday, $20 Friday through Sunday and holidays. Super-twilight (after 6 p.m.), $7 Monday through Friday, $8 weekends and holidays.

Seniors (62 and over): All day Monday and Tuesday, $25 (includes cart); Wednesday and Thursday before 8 a.m., $25 (includes cart); Wednesday between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., $25 (includes cart); Friday until 10 a.m., $35 (includes cart).

Juniors (17 and under): Monday through Thursday, $13; Friday through Sunday and holidays, $20 (does not include cart).

Carts (per person): $10 for 18 holes, $7 for nine holes (pull carts, $3 for 18, $1.50 for nine holes).

Lessons: $30 to $50 (depending on pro) per half-hour session. Playing lessons also available.

Driving range: Practice Center includes driving range (with both grass and mat tees), four putting greens, practice bunkers. Large bucket of balls, $8 for grass, $6 for mats. Lighted for night practice.

Amenities: Pro shop, restaurant, full-service bar.

Reservations: One week ahead. (714) 786-5522.

How to get there: San Diego (405) Freeway to Culver Drive in Irvine. Go west about a mile to Sandburg Way and turn right. Course is at the end of Sandburg.

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