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Luxurious-Looking Tustin Ranch Is Easy on the Score and the Eyes

May 20, 1993|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

Hate hitting from the rough? Then you'll love this place.

The Tustin Ranch Golf Club was a groomed course from the beginning, when architect Ted Robinson bulldozed the property into a series of gently undulating hillocks. But since the winter rains, which were kind to the course, the layout has looked as if it were trimmed blade by blade with a pair of mustache shears.

Yes, it is a public course, and it is in Orange County, but the cuts of grass say otherwise. The rough is trimmed so short that you almost want to land in it, to get that nice, fluffy lie that helps your fairway shots along so well. The rough at Tustin Ranch is better than the middle of the fairway on most municipal courses, and the fairway is cut as cleanly as the top of a pool table. It's the sort of garden-perfect turf you see on many Southern California desert courses.

Head pro Buck Page calls the nearly four-year-old Tustin Ranch "user-friendly. It's not the kind of place that was built with the pro or the low-handicapper in mind. People say they have fun playing here, and you're having fun when you score well."

Not to say that Tustin Ranch is a cream puff. While the fairways are fine and velvety, they are far from flat. The course undulates nearly everywhere, and a handful of first shots on the front nine must be hit to rolling fairways from raised tees. It's probable that you'll hit few shots where the ball is on the same plane as your feet.

Also, several holes are well-bunkered. On No. 18, for instance, a huge, drive-eating trap looms on the right side of the fairway, No. 12 faces down approach shots with no less than three small bunkers fronting the green, and the odd pot bunker can appear all too suddenly in a critical piece of real estate.

Water comes into play on seven holes. The most spectacular of these are the 18th, where the green is protected by a large lake and a rock waterfall, and the 11th (considered the signature hole), a 133-yard par 3--a two-tier island green framed by waterfalls and a lake.

However, Page insists that most of the trouble to be had at Tustin Ranch won't smite you until you walk onto the greens. Most are small, he said, and even though the grass is kept long enough to tolerate a full putting stroke, many putts tend to be fast simply because they're urged along by the undulations built into the greens. The 18th, for instance, is three- tiered.

Still, the course is as beautiful as it is playable, particularly the back nine. While the front nine was put together essentially from the ground up, the back side was allowed to blend into some of the existing landscape. A creek runs through the back nine, along which is a lovely wind row of mature eucalyptus trees.

Other mature trees were left in place on the back, but part of an orange grove was cleared. Today, the existing orange grove still runs up against the course behind the 14th green.

Yes, you'll pay more for a round here, but Page says that the staff realizes it and makes particular efforts to keep the course clean and the starting times exact.

Even the course marshals are solicitous. Instead of the word marshal stenciled on their carts, you'll see the strange--but welcome--words customer service.

A Matter of Course

* Tustin Ranch Golf Club, 12442 Tustin Ranch Road, Tustin, 92680. (714) 730-1611.

* Distance: 6,005 yards.

* Par: 72.

* Greens fees: Regular hours--Monday through Thursday, $65; Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays, $85. Twilight hours--Monday through Thursday, $40; Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays, $50. Senior rate of $40 available first two hours Monday morning, non-holiday.

* Carts: Mandatory, included in greens fees.

* Lessons: $60 per hour, $135 for package of lessons: six hours over four weeks. Jim Colbert Golf School is a separate operation from the course itself.

* Driving range: $7.50, $6.25 and $4.50 buckets when play is from grass tees (Monday through Thursday). $6, $4.75 and $3 buckets when play is off mats (Friday through Sunday).

* Amenities: Restaurant, pro shop, putting green.

* Reservations: Five days in advance, beginning at 6 a.m. Unlimited advance notice if times are pre-booked using credit card (pre-booking costs an extra $10 per person). Phone (714) 730-1611.

* How to get there: Exit Santa Ana (5) Freeway at Tustin Ranch Road, northeast 1.6 miles to course entrance at Township Drive.

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