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Oak Creek Takes a Different Approach

September 30, 1996|STEVE KRESAL and MARTIN BECK

One of the biggest problems with most golf courses being built now, is they are too difficult for the average golfer.

Architects often design courses with narrow fairways, several water and other hazards and severely-sloped greens all in an effort to get a mention on a top-100 list in various golf magazines.

Well, this isn't the case in Irvine at Oak Creek Golf Club, which opened Friday.

The course was designed by Tom Fazio, who has a long list of credits that including the courses at nearby Pelican Hill.

Fazio had the perfect opportunity to turn the almost 200 acres of flat ground that was formerly an orange grove, into a golfer's nightmare but opted for a gentle, but challenging course that rewards good shots and only penalizes poor shots on a few holes.

"Our philosophy is that golf should be fun and exciting and that's for all levels," Fazio said. "I love it when people come in and tell me they got a great bounce and I hope you say, 'Thanks Tom.' "

From the start, Oak Creek is a kind course. The most intimidating thing about the first hole is a clock in the center of a sign that encourages players to stay on pace to finish in 4 1/2 hours.

The hole that follows is a wide par five that is downhill off the tee and uphill to the green. The hole measures 513 yards from the championship tee box and is only 498 from the middle tee box.

Each of the holes has a name and No. 1 is "Breakout." The first hole, like many on the course, has banked sides that slope toward the fairway and the green is in a bowl with grass banks behind and to the sides that serve the same function as a backboard in basketball.

When Fazio first saw the land, the only usable feature was a series of eucalyptus trees that served as wind breaks for the orange trees. He was able to incorporate many stands of eucalyptus trees into the course.

The tall trees dominate the sides of the 13th fairway and 14th fairway and again come into play at the 18th, which might be the hardest hole on the course.

Called "Bunker Hill," the 18th is a 431-yard par four that sets up for a right-to-left tee shot, like many of the holes.

The course is 6,515 yards long from the championship tees and 6,171 from the middle tees. Three of the par-three holes, play at least 179 yards are longer but are downhill into bowl-shaped areas

The other par three, which plays at 163 yards from the championship tees, is protected by a lake on the right side.

But the best use of a lake comes on the ninth hole, a par five that is only 489 yards from the championship tees. The hole is called "Fortitude," because that's what it will take for a golfer hit his or her second shot over the large lake that runs along the right side of the fairway right up to the green.

"It's very easy to design a golf course that is hard for Tiger Woods," Fazio said. "And I'm interested in doing that sometimes. But why not make golf enjoyable, dramatic, sensational? Gosh, for me, golf needs to be fun and fair."


High-fee blues: As expected, Oak Creek is planted firmly in the high-rent district of Orange County courses with basic rates of $75 on Monday and Tuesday, $85 on Wednesday and Thursday and $100 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Only Pelican Hill ($175) and Monarch Beach Golf Links ($125) charge more to play on the weekend. The situation is maddening to Kenneth Taylor, an avid golfer who lives on the 10th fairway of Tustin Ranch, another upscale course with $100 green fees on weekends.

"It's just absolutely crazy," Taylor said of the fees at Oak Creek. "They're in a bedroom community next to a college. Sure, this part of Orange County is upper bracket as far as income goes but $100 is absolutely outrageous."

Taylor, 65 and a member of the men's club at Tustin Ranch, says he rarely plays there because of the expense. He hoped Oak Creek would be cheaper and believes the Irvine Co. could afford to provide a place to play that is within financial reach of more local residents.

"We like to play together as a family," Taylor said, "and it's just a little bit difficult to get the gang together for a $400 round of golf."

Taylor, at least, can get some relief. The course is offering senior citizen rates: $50 from 6:30 to 8 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, based on availability. Other bargain hunters have twilight rates of $50, $55 and $65 depending on the day of the week.


Hey neighbor: Two miles up the road from Oak Creek, construction is about to begin on another upscale course. A partnership headed by former Angel third baseman Doug DeCinces plans to break ground Oct. 15 on Strawberry Farms Golf Club.

The course will be built near the intersection of University Drive and Michelson Avenue below Irvine's Turtle Rock neighborhood on land leased from the county and the Irvine Ranch Water District.

LaRee Drolet, DeCinces' assistant, said the course is expected to be completed in the spring of 1998.


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