Visiting the Newport Beach/Orange County area and looking for another course to add to your dance card? This Tom Fazio design at Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine is a place to seek out. Without the ocean views and the rugged coastal terrain to work with Fazio did a brilliant job orchestrating a golf course through subtle rolling terrain, framing trees groves and flora, and an array of creeks and lakes to create a course that will challenge both your mind golfing skills.
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Tactically this is a positional golf course with clever offsetting angles of approaches to greens. Plotting your strategy from the green backward gives yourself the best chance of success into difficult green constellations. Buy the yardage books so you have some idea of the layout of the holes and hazards-better yet hook up with a seeing-eye-member who can be your Sherpa guide for the day. The bulldozers had their way here so as was the case with so many courses created in the 90’s the fairways are sculpted giving a lyric flow to the ground that affords very few level lies.
The green side bunkering is described as bull-nosed on the web site and you can take this literally because playing a recovery out of the nostril of a massive male cow is no picnic. Having said that, these green complexes are not overdone. There is, as the great golf architect Max Behr would say, a line of charm into each one of them if you thoughtfully position yourself for the approach.
The front side begins modestly enough with a couple of manageable par fours but climbing to the tee overlooking the Par 3 third your heart will get to racing taking in the view of the green jutting out precariously into Brady’s Pond. Think Alcatraz with grass. This begins a sequence of holes which make it evident that positional golf is the order of the day.
From the tee of Par 4 fourth, called The Grove, you see a driving area framed by a pair of towering goal post trees that have little tolerance for wayward tee shots. The trees behind the green is where the hole get’s it’s name but the low mountains in the distance give it some southern California romance and remind you that the ocean not so far away.
A quick switchback and the challenge ramps steadily up from here to the turn with a stout par four that which calls for length off the tee and careful precision into the green nestled on the other side of Brady’s Pond. Lowell’s Creek is the prominent feature on the long par 5 sixth as it wends it’s way up the right side from the beginning of the fairway all the way to the green surface. Even with a short club in your hand this is a dicey approach as green leans right feeding balls to the edge overlooking.
The front side ends with a monster of a par four calling for a long drive to reach the top of the hill revealing a compelling look at a green nestled just below the tile roofed Adobe clubhouse .
The back nine will capture your focus early and not let it go until the last drop falls on the finishing hole. The Par 5 Breakout is a mind bending three shot hole for most of us. The key here is staying out of the sand on all three shots. A strong drive on the left sets up a lay up well to the right for a short downhill pitch into one of the tightest green settings you see all day.
The eleventh is a subtle and picturesque par 3 where the green sits below the tee carved out of the foot of the hill behind. The shot shape is left to right and you must use the green contour to get it close.
Two long par fours with plenty of issues bring you to Chicanery a short par four that will drive the big hitters bonkers. The tee shot is into a narrow neck of the fairway just below a hidden fairway bunker on the right. From there Fazio stuck the green into a narrow closet below the fairway that will require a lawn dart approach to get close. The canopy of eucalyptus trees create a feeling that you are hitting into the Hollywood Bowl during sound check. Just a fabulous golf hole.
It only gets harder from here with a long par four called Outback, the number 1 handicap hole. This is a full par 4.75 and a bogey will feel like a par. The middle sized par four that follows is like a cape hole without the water. Named Crescent Moon it adequately describes the profile of the hole and the two slinging right-to-left shots it will take to get on to the green.
One more long and strong Par 3 sets up the dramatic finish into Fortitude a dicey short Par 5 that will remind you of the finish at Bay Hill. The drive is a power slinger from the right to try to catch the power slot and chase one down within reachable distance of another peninsula green. More likely you are laying up in the neck of fairway cordoned off by the water that defines the right side of the hole the last 175 yards in. If you land the approach on this green in regulation and you can finally exhale.
Oak Creek does not have much national notoriety but Fazio did an excellent job composing a visual golf experience that will be an enjoyable afternoon for players of all skill levels.
Irvine, California Architect: Tom Fazio (1996)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Black 71 6850 72.7 132
Gold 71 6543 71.3 129
White 71 6187 69.4 125
Silver 71 4989 69.0 120