When Tom Fazio first visited the proposed site at Pelican Hill, the world-famous golf architect described the terrain as “some of the most spectacular in golf.” And every time you play these legendary courses, walk these incredible grounds and take in the majestic Pacific Ocean beyond, you’ll understand why. Every round is spectacular. Every round is unique. And every round tells a story.
Sophisticated water conservation
With the California drought in full swing, and summer on the horizon, Pelican Hill Golf relies on their highly sophisticated conservation system to keep the links green. So advanced is the technology, Pelican Hill's eco-conscious courses have been spotlighted in national and local press from FastCompany.com to Orange County's Daily Pilot.
"We went to unprecedented lengths to design and install a water-management system based on conservation and recycling, designed to protect the area's most important asset: the Pacific Ocean," shared Stephen Friedlander, vice president of golf at Pelican Hill, when recently interviewed by FastCompany.
Long before the current drought, Pelican Hill Golf Club, nestled among the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Newport Coast, developed one of the most complex water conservation programs of any golf course in the country. The model has today's $6 billion golf industry looking to Pelican Hill for green guidance. In a single year, Pelican Hill Golf conserves 50 million gallons of water.
Many ingenious solutions have advanced the playing field for Pelican Hill Golf. In 2007, the Resort closed its golf courses for two years, allowing designer Tom Fazio to reconfigure the courses. During that time, the Irvine Company installed a water management system that includes five underground cisterns that can hold 1.2 million gallons of rainwater and runoff. The captured water is then recycled and used to irrigate the golf courses and surrounding landscape and millions of extra gallons are stored when it does rain.
Water conservation areas are found in front of the tee boxes on the Ocean South course's hole 10, where a fabric-lined bio-filtration basin captures water runoff from the Golf Club's maintenance facility and filters it through grass, gravel, sand, soil-and finally through the filter fabric into an underground drainage system. A bevy of other Pelican Hill Golf green ideas include moisture meters to measure exactly how dry each area is, there are smart sprinkler heads, smartphone apps to water only the areas that need it (allowing golf course superintendents to monitor 400 acres of greenery and water specific areas only day or night), drought-tolerant Bermuda grass on tees and fairways and the list goes on.
"Essentially, we meticulously micro-manage water use across every corner of the golf course that requires irrigation," Friedlander told Daily Pilot.
Currently, only 37% of California golf courses use reclaimed water to irrigate. Can other courses adapt these changes? Yes, but switching to recycled and reclaimed water is slow and expensive-pipes alone can cost $1 million per mile.
"It's the right thing to do for the future," said Friedlander." Southern California is an arid climate, so when you live in an this climate with an average rainfall of about 11 inches per year, that doesn't give you enough water to keep a golf course alive. To tap into potable water is not environmentally sensitive and it's not sustainable."
An Ace of a Space
That large, open-air space you may have noticed adjacent to the Pelican Hill® Golf Clubhouse and practice facility is the new Golf Pavilion, a unique event venue that's already a hit with tournament hosts and event planners. While it may look like a simple open area, it can be dramatically transformed into a stunning setting for parties, post-round functions, speeches and other social gatherings.
"The Golf Pavilion has flexibility and atmosphere," says Amanda Reeve, Director of Meetings and Special Events at The Resort at Pelican Hill.® "It provides a unique private venue for evening events. Brides and grooms seeking an alfresco California-inspired reception will have the benefit of beautiful landscaping, green vistas and even the possibility of floating Chinese Wish lanterns airborne from the practice green. Planners are always looking for a new experience for their guests. With the golf tie-in, many grooms tell us that the Golf Pavilion's location is the best of both worlds. It's already very much in demand for upcoming events."
The open-air function space was built primarily for hosting pre- and post-golf event functions, such as registrations, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, award presentations and auctions, according to Steve Friedlander, Pelican Hill's Vice President and General Manager of Golf. "It will also be used for social catering that's not necessarily related to golf," he says. "But golf is the primary motivator and has priority on bookings."
With more than 7,000 square feet of usable solid floor space, the Golf Pavilion is an immensely convenient amenity for golf tournaments. It can comfortably hold up to 500 people in a reception and 300 people seated at a buffet. It can also be configured for a more intimate feel.
"Golf groups never have to leave the clubhouse area for their pre- or post-golf functions," says Friedlander. "That convenience allows golf events to run with ideal efficiency. Imagine your next golf event, in which golfers seamlessly proceed from their last hole to an open-air barbeque, as our attendants whisk away their clubs to be cleaned and placed safely inside their vehicle. On their way to the Golf Pavilion, golfers can even stop by our luxurious locker rooms to freshen up, following a fun day of tournament play on Pelican Hill's two Tom Faziodesigned, ocean-view courses."
The Golf Pavilion's floor is made of attractive pavers that match those surrounding the golf clubhouse. There are electrical outlets on the perimeter to accommodate audio and visual needs and for formal affairs, the outdoor terrace can be completely enclosed with a large canopy tent.
This is officially Pelican Hill's largest event space—augmenting the 504-acre Resort's existing 20,000 square feet of function space—as well as its first major venue expansion since the Golf Club was renovated back in November 2007. The Golf Pavilion also offers complimentary valet car service and self-parking.
Bridging form & function
DURING CONSTRUCTION OF Pelican Hill's golf courses a decade ago, the designers and architects working on the project faced a dilemma: How would golfers in their golf cars safely cross the wide road between the golf shop and the courses?
The potential conflict between the golf cars and the cars coming into the Resort was clear, says architect Brad Neal, the recently retired Vice President of Architecture for The Irvine Company.® The obvious and typical solution would be to build a small, narrow bridge over the road for the golf cars.
But Pelican Hill's architects saw the chance to do something grander, something with both function and style, and it quickly became obvious that what appeared to be a problem was actually an opportunity.
"At that point, we didn't have a clear entry monument to the Resort," Neal says. "So we decided to take full advantage of the situation and create a gateway that would play both roles."
The result was the now-famous bridge that marks the entrance to the Resort off Newport Coast Drive. The towering structure, meant to resemble ancient Roman aqueducts such as Pont du Gard in southern France, features soaring arches and stands at 40 feet tall, as high as some four-story buildings. The bridge opened with the golf courses in 2007, and to this day, serves a dual purpose: It allows the golfers who drive their golf cars atop it a direct route to the course, and provides visitors the first glimpse of the Palladian-style architecture that characterizes the Resort.
In fact, the bridge epitomizes the style of Andrea Palladio, the Renaissance-era Italian architect whose churches, villas and palaces provided the main inspiration for The Resort at Pelican Hill.® Like Palladio's work, it evokes classical Roman and Greek architectural principles, and is beautiful and practical at the same time.
For the most part, the construction of the bridge went smoothly, Neal says, but there was one issue with the final stages. Before sandstone was added to the bases of the bridge to give it an antique look, the surface was finished in Italian plaster but the weather wasn't cooperating.
"Rain had created a challenge in ensuring that the plaster wasn't mottled looking," Neal says. "We decided to do the plaster again so the surface was consistent and the craftsmanship was just as intended and designed."
The effort paid off, since not only do golfers have a bridge that allows them an outstanding view of the Pacific Ocean as they drive to the first tee, but they also get a taste of the grand architecture of the Resort when they first enter. "It started out as a functional challenge," Neal says. "And now it has become iconic."
Fit to a Tee
BUYING GOLF CLUBS is a lot like purchasing a new suit: They probably won't fit directly off the rack. But get them tailored, and you'll turn some heads. After all, each golfer has a unique swing requiring distinct club characteristics, with respect to loft, lie angle, clubface angle, shaft flex, grip size, clubhead weighting and more. Using playing clubs with standard specifications, golfers will likely miss out on potential distance and accuracy. But with customized clubs, they can swing away with the confidence that they're squeezing the most from every shot.
"Custom-fit clubs will simply help you have greater control of ball flight, promote more solid shots and increase your distance," says Glenn Deck, Director of Instruction at Pelican Hill® and Oak Creek® Golf Clubs, who is also a GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Teacher. "So if you care about your scores, get clubs that fit you. I'm a big proponent of clubfitting."
Most golf retailers will have at least one professional clubfitter on staff who will take customers through several steps to ensure they are getting the best fit for their swing. The clubfitter first will ask about their game, where they play most, course conditions they typically face and what part of their game needs help. Then, they will take some static measurements—height, arm length, hand size, distance from the fingertips to the ground as the golfer stands up straight, etc. Next, come dynamic swing measurements to determine what club length, lie angle, grip size, shaft flex and clubhead design are needed. Golfers will hit balls with various club makeups, while a computer tracks and analyzes ball flight. The fitter also might evaluate the wedge bounce and sole, as well as measure for a putter.
Depending on the fitter's thoroughness and the number of clubs being fitted for the golfer, the process can take between 45 minutes to three hours. Most clients believe it's time well invested.
Golfers who know which brand of clubs they want to play also can visit one of the company's certified fitters. Or, they can go to a professional independent fitting center, such as CoolClubs, which operates locally at Oak Creek® Golf Club's practice facility in Irvine, a sister property of The Resort at Pelican Hill.®
"We represent all of the major brands," says Mark Timms, CEO of CoolClubs. "We have 12,000 club combinations at our Oak Creek facility, and you will walk away with the exact clubs you need. A big advantage you have getting fitted at our Oak Creek set-up is that it's outside, so you can see your exact ball flight. Basically, there are tens of thousands of different clubs to buy, but only a handful will work best for you. And trying to find those clubs yourself is just nearly impossible."
Timms says a typical driver fitting can result in distance gains of up to 15 yards, as well as straighter shots. Inevitably, that translates to lower scores.
The Story Behind Pelican Hill® Golf Courses
When Tom Fazio was asked to design a pair of golf courses along the Newport Beach coastline back in the mid-1980s, the world-renowned golf course designer examined an aerial photograph of the lush coastal property and thought he was given the wrong image.
"The land was green that day the picture was taken, and with the dramatic rolling hills, I thought it was Ireland," recalls Fazio. "My first impression was that someone mixed up the photograph. I thought I knew the area from being out there several times… it was an interesting setting. I showed a friend in Newport Beach the picture and he said that's what it looks like after a rain, which isn't often. That made me go look at the property firsthand and see its scale."
The spectacular oceanfront land Fazio was scrutinizing would become Pelican Hill,® comprising of about 500 sun-drenched acres perched along the Pacific Ocean. He instantly realized that this was an ambitious undertaking because of the elevation changes, the property's visibility from Pacific Coast Highway and the planned Newport Coast® development.
"I knew this was going to take a lot of effort and development," says Fazio, who initially declined The Irvine Company's offer to develop the courses. After all, he was an East Coaster with six young kids at home, and thought it would keep him from spending time with his family. "I also had plenty of work to do in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida," says Fazio.
Several weeks later, he received a phone call from then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth—friend of The Irvine Company®—telling him he couldn't pass on the opportunity. "I told him I had kids, and that I can't be there," says Fazio. "He said he could get me a house there, I could bring my kids and we could spend weekends together. I tried every excuse to get out of it, but he wouldn't take no for an answer."
Ueberroth ultimately invited Fazio's entire family out west for a week. "I got them into the ocean and on boogie boards and was hopeful they could understand the quality of the assignment," recalls Ueberroth. "I remember driving his wife Susan in a convertible along the coast and tried to have her convince Tom to put his mark here. She did, and the rest is history."
The Irvine Company® coveted Fazio due to his reputation for respecting the natural landscape. Fazio was known to walk a prospective property in all seasons, understand the land's history and design accordingly.
"I remember driving his wife Susan in a convertible along the coast and tried to have her convince Tom to put his mark here. She did, and the rest is history."—Peter Ueberroth
Other architects were considered, but they all sculpted courses into developed land. This would be something different, a signature project for The Irvine Company. "It was an important decision," says Ueberroth, who was impressed by a Fazio course in Maryland he'd visited because the designer seemed to lay out the golf holes seamlessly, without agitating the land.
When Fazio first walked the Pelican Hill® site, he was accompanied by his staff and several Irvine Company executives. From the top of the property, he looked down at the elevation changes and immediately realized the land's potential. "We also had to plan how the residential land west of the roadway would fit, because that was a very integral part of the project," says Fazio, who designed all 36 holes at once, even though Ocean South opened well before Ocean North.
"I couldn't wait until the end of the day to walk the property, then sit and watch the sunset over the ocean and think about what we did that day and what we were going to do tomorrow."—Tom Fazio
From a golf playability standpoint, Fazio wanted to ensure spectacular views. "It was no accident that at the 7th hole on the South course, when you stand on the tee and look at that green, it looks like the green is hanging right in front of the ocean," says Fazio. "It's the elevation of the tees and the green and contouring the land, and situating all of it in such a way that when you stand on a tee, you think you're hitting a ball right at the ocean in the background. It's all well planned. Again, The Irvine Company® was so much into doing it the right way, and giving me the resources."
Of all of Fazio's fond memories building the property, one stands out: "I couldn't wait until the end of the day to walk the property, then sit and watch the sunset over the ocean and think about what we did that day and what we were going to do tomorrow."
He returned in 2007 to rejuvenate the property. Again, he was awed by The Irvine Company' insistence that everything be done properly—including closing down both courses for a year.
"They're about the long term," says Fazio. "While we renovated, they got us new drainage, fairways, bunkers, grasses and new technology to recycle water that had evolved since the course originally opened.
"You drive in through the entrance, see the setting, walk out into the environment and before you even tee it up, you're in awe."—Tom Fazio
That's why it's gotten better and people who go there are instantly enamored. It's why it's one of the great places in the world."
Aside from all of the latest technology, the unparalleled natural setting and the marvelous golf courses, Fazio says that the entire experience of visiting makes Pelican Hill® so alluring. "You drive in through the entrance, see the setting, walk out into the environment and before you even tee it up, you're in awe," he says. "You're looking at the ocean, vegetation, greenery and native plants. It looks like it's never been disturbed, like it has always been there. You know you're at one of the finest golf facilities ever. And you won't want to leave."
Course designers have control over each hole's playability, set-up, tee shot direction and landing area, movement of how it plays, hole lengths, its twists and turns and its elevation changes. But Fazio goes a step further, wanting each Pelican Hill guest to "get to one hole and say, 'Wow, I really like this hole.' And then you get to the next hole and say you really like this one, too. It's part of the total ambience. The whole place is so special. You can even enjoy it if you're not playing golf. I'm glad to have been a part of it. And it keeps getting better."
STEP UP TO THE TEE on the par-3 13th hole at Pelican Hill's Ocean South course and instantly you realize something's different. Glancing ahead at your target, instead of the typical single green, you see two, full-sized, permanent greens. They are lined up side-by-side, separated only by a large bunker.
"Of all the golf holes I've had the opportunity to design, this particular hole is one of the most unique you can play," says renowned course architect Tom Fazio, who crafted both of Pelican Hill's award-winning courses.
Odds are you've never seen anything else like it in America—holes with double greens are more common overseas—although Fazio has incorporated double-green holes into a handful of his 200-plus course designs.
This seaside hole is listed at 131 yards from the tips for either green, each of which has its own nuances, terrain, breaks and bunkering. Of course, only one of No. 13's green is open on any given day. Course operators simply alternate the open green daily to spread out traffic—a major benefit to golfers.
"We had a limited amount of space directly on the ocean," recalls Fazio. "When you create a green, one of the factors to consider is the number of players you have. In Newport Beach, you have a 12-month golf season and the potential for a lot of golf rounds. So pin placement is a big factor, as are ball marks. On a medium-short par-3 like this, you get a lot of ball marks. So you need a big footprint for a green surface. From a playability factor, large greens are easier to hit."
Fazio and his team decided that instead of creating one large green, they would add some variety by making two distinct greens. "We now have alternatives that allow us to make the spaces smaller, relative to shots coming into the green," says Fazio. "And we can use alternating greens. We can switch pin placements and targets, plus it's something special and distinctive. All those pieces factored in. The whole program at Pelican Hill® was always for great, spectacular, distinctive, unique golf."
Of course, this set-up makes for a more challenging hole that requires pinpoint tee shots. Plus, the greens play differently from one another. "The right green's elevation changes are different than the beach-flanked left green, and it has a lot of interesting character that measures up with the left green," says Fazio. "The shape, contour, features and complexity of the edges and the framing give us variety."
Golfers have expressed enthusiasm for the unique challenges of the two greens, according to Steve Friedlander, Pelican Hill's vice president of golf. "They love that they can play two different holes on two different days," he says. "And they comment that the small, postage-stamp-like left green looks like they're hitting to an island, which makes it 'scary fun'."
IT'S A TYPICAL TUESDAY MORNING at Pelican Hill Golf Club.® Waves are crashing on the beach below the western-most holes, the sun is shining and golfers are taking advantage of the spectacular early winter weather. On one of the fairways, frequenters Robin Endsley and Wendy Freix enjoy their weekly round together.
"This setting is great for women golfers," said Endsley, a Laguna Niguel resident who, like Freix, plays to a 16–ish index. "We love the amazing ocean views and the fact that both courses are challenging. We meet people from all over the world here.
It's pretty neat. It can be 80 degrees and sunny in February and we won't think anything of it. But it's priceless seeing the look on people's faces from back east who we're paired with—taking in the views, the weather and maybe watching the whales out in the water. That makes us realize how lucky we are."
Freix, of Newport Coast, noted that Pelican Hill's diverse playing experiences are great for women, too. "A lot of local courses have too many straight-away holes with trees left and right. Every hole seems the same," she says. "Here, there's so much variety. And I enjoy that part of Pelican Hill more than anywhere I've played."
Freix added that while some of the long holes can be difficult for weaker players to reach in regulation, Pelican Hill does a great job setting up the forward tee boxes to make rounds enjoyable for shorter hitters.
Then there are the amenities, the Resort staff 's friendliness and the fact that the entire golf experience is embracing.
"From the moment you valet your car, the staff is always available and approachable," said Freix. "They're always friendly to guests and everyone's helpful. And, on the course, we never feel intimidated. The players' assistants are so friendly."
Case in point: Freix marks every golf ball with a red or pink heart—something the players' assistants have come to know. "My lost balls always come back to me, when they're found," she said, laughing. "You feel special here, and they treat every guest the same way. I love that consistency. That's how they run the place."
Endsley added, "At other courses, when men see a female ahead, they figure we're the cause of slow play. Honestly, I've never felt that here."
In fact, that's a source of pride for Steve Friedlander, vice president of golf at Pelican Hill, who says that he and his staff go out of their way to make sure every guest—regardless of gender—receives the ultimate reverence. "Our direction is to treat everyone with a smile and respect," Friedlander said. "And that equality extends throughout the facility. For instance, our women's amenities are identical in size to the men's, which you don't see very often."
Friedlander believes that Pelican Hill's attention to chivalry is just icing on the cake when it comes to bringing women back to play golf: "We don't take women for granted here."