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The Greening of Orange County

Orange County now boasts of having the "Pebble Beach of Southern California." That thirty-six-hole treasure is Pelican Hill Golf Club--the double-barreled Ocean North and Ocean South layouts that sit imperially on the bluffs above the Pacific.

Samuel Johnson, when discussing natural beauty, distinguished between places that are "worth seeing" and those, far rarer, that are "worth going to see." In Orange County, many courses are very much worth seeing. But Pelican Hill, like Pebble Beach or Princeville, is worth going to see.

Since it first began winning Golf Magazine's Best New Resort Course prizes in 1992, Pelican Hill has moved ever higher in the ranks of most dramatic and scenic courses on earth. Add me to the converts. After more than twenty-five years of writing about golf, I have a very short list of courses that are in a flat-footed tie for Most Exciting Anywhere. Ocean South is on it. You can't pick among such beauties. It's immoral. But at least you can pay proper obeisance.

Every course has a rating and a slope. That's nice. But some elite courses should have a heartbeat rating, too. That scale would measure the amount your chest thumps as you play the course for the first time.

The reason "Orange County: Golf Destination" should be taken seriously is, quite simply, Tom Fazio's work at Pelican Hill. Without it, Orange County would have a handful of extremely fine public courses, most of them young and fun, but none of them intended or destined for greatness.

In this area, where land prices rocket higher than Internet IPOs, only Pelican Hill--built by the powerful Irvine Company--can, literally, claim the high ground. Thanks to an embarrassment of sailboat-strewn sea vistas, eucalyptus-choked canyons, rattlesnake-infested gorges and, along a few holes, wall-to-wall five-million-dollar Spanish-style mansions, Pelican Hill simply has the best golf canvas on which to paint within Orange County.

To skip Pelican just because its $155 to $225 green fee seems obscene is to be penny-wise. Would you pay that price to play Augusta National, Cypress Point or Pine Valley?That is, if they'd let you through the gate without taking your fingerprints. Well then, you have your answer.

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