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Strokes Are Striking at Pelican Hill

January 20, 1994|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

Yes, it costs a lot.

And yes, you should save up and play it.

It's worth breaking into the piggy bank to play the new Links Course at Pelican Hill Golf Club for at least two reasons: 1) Here, you get to rip the ball a lot, and 2) You get to rip it around some of the most beautiful golfing real estate to be had anywhere.

The newer of the two courses that make up the Pelican Hill complex on the Newport Coast near Corona del Mar, the Links Course, unlike the younger Ocean Course, is broad-shouldered, wide and a siren song to the long hitter.

And it's arguably even more gorgeous than the Ocean Course, which also was designed by Tom Fazio and has never been accused of being anything but spectacular.

But where the Ocean Course is a marvel of precision architecture that requires equally precise shots (fake rocks even come into play occasionally), the Links Course is a big canvas painted with broad strokes, and that allows for what might be called informed, uninhibited play. Fazio has said that in the Links Course he wanted to offer the golfer "a larger variety of shot-making opportunities." Translation: You get to hit the gorilla ball more often.

And you still get to do it to the accompaniment of ocean views on every hole, just like on the Ocean Course. Unlike the Ocean Course, however, there is a sense of splendid isolation on some of the holes that work their way through natural canyons in which most of the natural hillside vegetation has been undisturbed.

Most of the holes play along an elevated upper plateau, but there are elevation changes of 100 to 300 feet as well, which allow for ever-changing views of the Pacific and of Newport Beach to the northwest.

The fairways are invitingly wide for the most part and were designed, Fazio said, not only to accommodate long and slightly erratic tee shots but galleries for professional tournaments.

It may be possible to use every club in the bag. Because the course was built along the lines of the existing terrain, shots can roll into many unintended places, and uphill shots that--when airborne--appear to be long, can fall disappointingly short as a result of both wind and deceptive elevation.

The greens are splendid. Subtle for the most part, they are neither polished-glass fast nor unnaturally slow. Putts can be struck with authority, but it pays to remember where the ocean is when you assess the breaks.

Played from the more conventional white tees (there are five tees from which to hit), the course is not terribly long at 6,150 yards. The first hole, for instance, is a temptingly short 470-yard par 5. Played from the gold championship tees, however, even the more accommodating par 4s become daunting, and the 17th hole turns into a 543-yard monster.

About that 17th hole: There may be no more beautiful one in all of Orange County. Called "Gut Check," it plays 506 yards from the white tees and offers a view from the middle fairway toward the green that is so gorgeous it can almost make you forget about the terrible trouble, in the form of a handful of bunkers and a steeply sloping hill, that confront the golfer on the right of the green.

Don't let the name of the course mislead you. "Links" is used awfully loosely here. The only relationship it bears to the barren, often unfriendly-looking courses in Britain is its proximity to the sea. Otherwise, this is a verdant jewel and may be worth the $105 green fee ($125 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays) just to stare at it. But what the heck, treat yourself--while you're there, go ahead and play it, too.

A Matter of Course

* The Links Course, Pelican Hill Golf Club, 22651 Pelican Hill Road South, Corona del Mar. (714) 760-0707.

* Distance: 6,150 yards.

* Par: 71.

* Greens fees: $105 Monday through Thursday, $125 Friday through Sunday and holidays.

* Carts: Mandatory; greens fee includes cart.

* Lessons: $50 for 45 minutes.

* Driving range: About a quarter mile from the main clubhouse. Small bucket $5, large bucket $9. Hit from grass. Pro shop and putting green at the facility. Hours: 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

* Reservations: Six days in advance. May be prepaid by credit card. (714) 760-0707.

* Amenities: Pro shop, snack bar, driving range, putting green.

* How to get there: Exit Corona del Mar (73) Freeway at MacArthur Boulevard, south to Bonita Canyon Road, left to Newport Coast Drive, right to Pelican Hill Road, right to the course.

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