Pelican Hill – Ocean South

Pelican Hill GC, Newport Coast. Ocean South Course by Tom Fazio, 1991.

The original course at Pelican Hill is somewhat uneven with a mix of spectacular holes and really forgettable ones. However, because a few of the memorable holes actually play down to and along the coast, if you are only going to play one of the Pelican Hill courses I think Ocean South is the choice.

The course starts with a hole that is perhaps indicative of what is to come. The view from the first tee is hard to beat, with a dramatically downhill par 4 tumbling out below and the Pacific in all its glory in the background. But the hole is a little awkward. It is strategically sound—challenge the fairway bunker on the right or deal with the deep left greenside bunker on your second—but the fairway slopes so downhill and right-to-left that it is an awkward hole to play.

The view from the tee on #1

The next few holes are a pretty forgettable bunch—a short, narrow par 4 followed by a short dogleg right and then a par 3 playing back toward the hills—but they get you to the fifth, a par 4 with the tee high in the hills, looking out toward the fairway angled on the opposite side of a canyon, asking you to choose how much to carry, all with the ocean for a backdrop. It’s a memorable and spectacular view, but the hole is quality, too. Really long hitters can actually take aim at the green while other have to pick the line and shot shape that works best for them. The green is fronted by a lone pot bunker that makes hole locations in the right much more difficult.

The tee shot on #5 asks you to pick your line and keep your concentration despite the view

The sixth is another rather bland uphill par 4 that leads to one of the course’s most photographed holes, the par 3 seventh, a relatively short downhill one shot hole (though it can play longer into the ocean breeze) fronted by a pond with a grand view of the ocean beyond.

The par 3 #7

And then the course moves into another run of fairly forgettable holes, mostly narrow in the trees and without many view of note. The eighth is a straightaway lengthy par 5, the ninth a par 4 to a green benched into a hill where anything short will be rejected and end up well below the surface, and the 10th green is a deeper but narrow target with two small but nasty bunkers to the right. These holes are fine and artfully constructed in Fazio’s typical fashion—though they all play more or less straight along Hwy 1 you’re not especially aware of it and anyway any disappointments you might have go away after the lengthy cart ride from the 10th green takes you under the PCH, through a private gate and eventually deposits you on the 11th tee.

The 11th is 367 yards but tumbling downhill looks much shorter. The green sits amid bunkers sculpted to looks like dunes here just above the cliffs and the beach—or maybe, maybe with Crystal Cove State Beach immediately to the left some of this sandy dunescape is almost natural. With Fazio you doubt it but you’re never sure.

The green at #11 is tucked into sandy dunes

The following two holes are the real postcard holes, the only truly oceanside holes among the entire 36 at Pelican Hill. The 12th is probably the better hole, though the 13th is more spectacular. The 12th plays about 160 yards from a raised tee over a low area to a green set between rock faces, one of which forms the edge of a front bunker, the other which backs the green. Long, left and short are no good here but there’s plenty of room to miss right—a fact Fazio cleverly hides from the tee.

From right of the green at #12 you can see there is plenty of room to miss here (and missing short is not a good idea)

The 13th is even shorter, just 130 yards (or less should you have the misfortunate of playing on a day when the alternate right green is in use). Again the tee is elevated to bring the clifftop setting and ocean fully into view. As noted, the hole as two greens and both are tiny, which makes them hard targets to hit, even with a short iron or wedge, from a slightly elevated tee, and with some breeze off the ocean hitting your ball. Here it is better to miss by a few yards than by a little. Missing in one of the surrounding bunkers is fine. But missing a green by a few paces and you’ll be in ankle high rough where you may have a hard time even finding your ball, let along extracting it. It’s an odd (but consistent) feature for a hole on a resort course and slows down play even more on a hole hat’s already slow with everyone taking in the view and snapping as many pictures as they can.

#13 offers two greens and views forever

The 14th is a short but notably uphill par 5 playing back away from the ocean toward the PCH. After that hole you cross back to the other side of the highway and play the 15th, which is perhaps the course’s most awkward hole. While it is more open than the run of straight, tree-lines holes in the middle of the course, the drive is awkward and the second shot to the steeply tiered green is severely uphill. This is the price to ay to reach the 16th tee, a lengthy par 3 playing to an infinity green with an ocean view beyond.

The 17th is a long par 5 playing across the slope of the hill and the 18th, like on the North, may be the toughest hole on the course, a long uphill par 4 that asks for a long drive challenging the left side of the fairway to shorten the hole and get a better angle before a second shot that must clear a canyon to a green with two very deep bunkers short right. It plays away from the ocean and offers great views looking back but is a brutal finisher for a golf hole.

Looking back over #12 and Crystal Cove from the tee on #13

The South overall has too many holes (or even whole stretches) of not great holes to be the equal of the Ocean North course from a golf perspective, but most people are probably not putting down their green fee at Pelican Hill for the golf course itself and ultimately I think if you are going to play one round here Ocean South has to be the choice. You’ll play anywhere from 4-7 holes on the South course that are pretty close to unforgettable and those forgive the rest. Whether either course is really worth how much you have to put down in greens fees is another question entirely, but then that’s up to you.

California 2nd Quintile [2021]