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ANN CONWAY

Where Populism and Ocean Views Meet

May 04, 1999|ANN CONWAY

It's the last thing you'd expect at tony Newport Coast: a public country club.

But that's the name of the game at the luxurious Pelican Hill Golf Club, where anyone can dine, dance or drink in a view of the Pacific.

Since opening in September, the $9-million facility--perched above two 18-hole golf courses built for $68 million--has become Orange County's hottest new venue for social events.

Both individuals and charity organizations are staging galas in its 4,300-square-foot exposed-beam ballroom inspired by the architecture of the California missions.

"The ballroom is booked for weekend social functions, including weddings, through next October," said Mehdi Eftekari, general manager of the Four Seasons hotel in Newport Beach.

(The Irvine Co., the club's owner, hired the Four Seasons to manage the property, which includes the reasonably priced Grill restaurant.)

"The beauty of it is that it's a public club that offers all the amenities of a private club," Eftekari said. "The response has been fabulous. We've become a destination."

And though it costs a bundle to book the 250-seat ballroom--there's a $21,500 minimum charge for food and beverage on a Saturday night--the amount is competitive with the $25,000 fee charged by the Four Seasons.

"It doesn't get any better than this," said Colleen Knottnerus, who helped stage a charity luncheon Sunday at the club. "The ocean view, the facility--they're all top-notch."

Along with Susan Smallwood, Knottnerus organized a benefit for the Blind Children's Learning Center in Santa Ana that took advantage of the club's amenities: art-filled corridors, fireplace-appointed patio, view-oriented ballroom and balcony.

As center supporters entered, they came upon the first of 300 auction items arrayed on tables snaking around the club--from the dramatic entry hall through the patio to the balcony fronting the ballroom and restaurant.

After the auction, guests were invited into the ballroom for lunch and a fashion show staged by Neiman Marcus at Fashion Island.

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With private golf clubs such as Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach and Santa Ana Country Club being successful bastions for the smart set, why did the Irvine Co. choose to make Pelican Hill Golf Club public?

First, the California Coastal Commission liked the idea of a course and clubhouse open to the public. "The commission has a bias against private facilities on coastal developments," said Larry Thomas, senior vice president of the Irvine Co. "We have the option to make one of the courses private--but we have no plans to do so."

Second, a fashionable public facility is an effective marketing tool. People who come to Pelican Hill Golf Club are also exposed to pristine Newport Coast, a prime area for residential development.

"The club serves the existing Newport Coast community as well as its surrounding communities,' Thomas said.

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Mondavi fest: King salmon encrusted in sun-dried tomatoes. Lamb-potato and truffle strudel. Strawberry-pistachio roulade.

All were served to guests attending a gourmet dinner Sunday staged by Fair Share 502--a nonprofit organization serving Orange County's hungry and homeless--at the Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center in Costa Mesa.

Whipped up by chefs Michael Kang and Paul Squicciarini, the gourmet meal served as an alternative to the "rubber chicken and dried-out veal you find at so many charity events," joked Kang, owner of Five Feet restaurant in Laguna Beach.

Up for auction: dozens of fine wines, including a 1934 burgundy from Kang's private collection. Event chairman Daniel Hedigan snapped it up for $700.

Net proceeds of $70,000 from the event will be distributed among Project Hope, Families Forward, Loaves & Fishes and Serving People in Need.

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Psssst!: Broadway singing sensation ("Jekyll & Hyde") Linda Eder has been signed by the Orange County Performing Arts Center to appear at its 26th Candlelight Concert on Dec. 10. Twenty-seven of the 43 tables for the annual gala--produced onstage at Segerstrom Hall--already have been reserved.

Eder's sold-out engagement was the highlight of the center's recent Cabaret Club season. Her remarkable voice and stage presence have earned her comparisons to the great ladies of theater, including Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. Information: (714) 556-2121.

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