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The Greening of Orange County

In a bizarre, Gilded Age II way, Pelican Hill breaks down an American class barrier that is seldom acknowledged--between the very well off and the very rich. Both Pelican Hill courses are an attempt to make you feel like a Goldman Sachs vice president or a Fortune 500 CEO for a day. The Pelican mood is Southern California relaxed and public-course friendly. Nobody's more a "member" than you. It's not pretentious. But it's regal.

Before you get too excited, I should address one blunt question: Is Ocean South in the same class--as a pure test of golf--as some of the famous courses mentioned earlier?No. It's too short at 6,634 yards from the tips (and either 6,274 or 5,855 yards from the sensible amateur tees). Ocean South isn't terribly hard if you are "take dead aim" accurate off the tee with a one-iron or a three-wood. In fact, the course has nine holes that can be reached in regulation from the championship tees without ever hitting a shot more than 175 yards.

However, on the heart-rate chart, I can count on my fingers the courses that have gotten me more consistently excited by the sights, and the shots, that lay in front of me.

Perhaps Ocean South is the average player's idea of ultimate golf pleasure because the scenery, variety and surprise are a ten plus; and your best shot is just good enough to pass muster. Who needs to be kicked out of bed by Madonna when Meg Ryan thinks you're just her kind of guy?

Pelican Hill's Ocean North course is the newer, longer and, at 6,856 yards, the more pro-oriented layout. Wonderful as it is, Ocean North has an odd problem. Built atop the headlands in a Scottish-links style, it may have too many hypnotic 180-degree Pacific panoramas. Many holes have a similar feel. As you gaze at whole cities--including Newport Beach and Huntington Beach--as they spread north toward L.A., you think, Which hole am I on?Did I play this one before?

By contrast, Ocean South feels like a mad-botanist's maze, with winding cart paths through primordial vegetation. You feel lost. Suddenly the next hole erupts before you--usually shockingly different from anything before it. When the huge views arrive, they almost attack you.

The front nine cascades through forests, over canyons and along the Pacific. On the back nine, the eleventh and the thirteenth--the latter a short par three with two separate, tiny greens surrounded by more trouble than Dennis Rodman--have vast homes backed shoulder to shoulder. It would be tempting to satirize them as row mansions, but they're too beautiful to mock.


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