There is nothing at Pelican Hill that is understated and the Ocean North Course is no exception. It was originally done by Tom Fazio in 1993 without much fanfare but when it got renovated in 2005 it took on an awesome character all it’s own. Not as visually scenic at the Ocean South because it lacks the close-to-the-Pacific drop dead looks, but to the discriminating eye the rocky gorges the course traverses give it a Plantation Course at Kapalua feel that is undeniable. As with the Ocean South the hardest thing is blocking out the visual drama so you can focus on the shot at hand.
The dramatic elevation changes and the definition to the holes created by the adjacent gorges on both of these courses reiterates the strategic element and makes angle of approach and shot shape germane to efficient play. One of the greatest shot shapers in the game today, Bubba Watson, recently played one of the courses at Pelican Hill from the tips with just a 20-degree hybrid and shot 81. You ever try putting with a 20-degree hybrid? I am sure Bubba had a barrel of laughs doing this especially on a course where shaping a shot can make a huge difference to getting it close.
Fazio designs are a master of strategic play for me. His greens are generally accessible, from a specific angle, which means there has to be forethought standing on the tees or hitting the lay ups on the five pars. The green complexes are angled to the approach positions often with bunkers only on one side. But many of the greens have rounded shoulders that influence the finishing path of balls away from their intended target. To complicate matters further the Poa Annua greens are like a house of mirrors to read and will leave you scratching your head when obvious breaks go the other way.
(Click on any picture to get an enhanced view of the image)
An early piece of the shock and awe comes on Number 2, the first par 3. This is a knee knocker standing of the tee peering over the gorge at the green slightly below on the other side. Doubt creeps into mind as you decide if the elevation change or the wind direction is more significant in your club selection. For sure it favors a right to left curve to work up the angle and pitch of this 40-yard long putting surface.
The Par 4 fourth is typical of the Fazio design swagger. The hole doglegs left of the tee favoring a draw but the green below the approach area is set back right which means a soft high fade works the best into a green with a high bank on the right. You need the full bag of tricks here, sometimes on the same hole.
Unique architectural composition makes the Par 4 seventh the number one handicap hole of the day. Standing on the tee you see a fairway split by a 40-yard long bunker goading you to pick your poison. The left fairway is the shortest and most accessible route home but this puts the full threat of the bunker in play off the tee. From the safer right fairway you have to manipulate a high fade into the front left corner of the putting complex and let it feed onto a very small green. Corporate CEO money is well represented in the McMansions set in the hills all around this green-Pelican Hills is the high rent district.
As the course turns south with the Pacific just over your shoulder on the right my favorite hole is the rough and tumbling Par 4 ninth. This is full Pine Valley look with a drive off a high perched tee down a log flume which, if you can hold the center line of the fairway, will allow your Titleist to roll forever. The second will be a club and a half more played off a down slope into a shelved green set half way up a monster hill laden with trees, folds, and an occasional mean bunker. There is absolutely no margin for error in your distance control or towardness on this approach-anything less than 95% of intention is looking at trouble.
The back nine plays about 250 yards shorter than the front mostly because of a couple of quality short par fours and only one five par. The first of the short fours is the eleventh, a swooping dogleg right thrill ride heading to the ocean. The very shallow green here is set on a shoulder above a deep bunker on the right so a well position tee ball on the left will set up nicely for a left-to-right approach into the center of the green. The slopes off of this green into surrounding hollows create bedeviling recovery pitches if your approach shot lacks articulation.
Two holes later is the second portion of the short par four feast. This time the dell green complex is wrapped around a deep bunker front left with a stepped surface working from front right to back left. The opposite shape coming in will work it’s way up to this pin.
Turning back to the ocean the 14th hole would feel at home on any Irish links course. The hole is delineated by trees set high on the hill tops but there is a vastness to the playing area all the way to the green. The approach is played up to a shallow false front green draped on the crest of the hill above a hideous bunker. Fazio provides a closely mown chipping area long and right where many smart approach shots will end up. While standing on the green take a peek over your shoulder, the view of the Pacific is breathtaking.
After meandering inland for a couple of holes, the postcard hole of the day is the only par five on the inward half at seventeen. A pond in the elbow of the dogleg right wards you left off the tee and the hole then ambles uphill to a green perched on a ledge above the ocean. Positioning the second to the left gives the best angle for a short iron into a very narrow green with nastiness all around. There is a single spread tree standing high above the green which gives this hole a very coastal California flavor.
Your day ends with a kitchy, truncated par four that will stick in your memory all the way through dinner. After a bold drive up the left to the high ground you are left with a three story down approach iron to a green that looks like the under belly of a large Labrador sleeping on it’s back. Hitting the pink part is just plain hard.
The Ocean North is of a decidedly different character to the South, less obvious drama but all the tactical punch. On a daily basis this is probably the course of choice to good players because wise tactics are rewarded and good scores should follow.
Newport Beach, California
Architect: Tom Fazio (1993-renovated 2005)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Black 71 6945 73 135
Blue 71 6563 71.3 130
White 71 6270 69.9 127
Yellow 71 4951 69.4 124