SoCal golfers come to grips with Pelican Hill's two-year shutdown

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Pelican Hill's management believe its ocean-overlooking tees can help make it a resort destination.
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - They've long called it Southern California's Pebble Beach. They just never expected it to shut down in order to become more Pebble Beach-like.

This is what the devoted golfers who played and loved Pelican Hill Golf Club are facing.

"It's my favorite golf course in Southern California," Zoran Kostas said. "Personally, I think it's the best course in the LA area that you can play without joining a country club with Brad Pitt. And now it's closed.

"For what? So they can get a bunch of guys from Chicago and Pennsylvania to come out and play it?"

Pelican Hill - actually two Tom Fazio-designed waterfront courses in Orange County - will be closed until at least the fall of 2007 (and likely until early 2008) so that a resort can be built on the site. The hope is to turn Pelican Hill into more of a golf resort destination, like the real Pebble Beach.

How the new 204-room hotel and 128-villa residence club will affect the golf courses remains to be seen. A new clubhouse will be built. The fairways will be reseeded with Bermuda grass. A new water irrigation system will be put in. The owner, the Irvine Co., promises in a press release that the courses will be "enhanced" by Fazio himself.

Still, some Pelican Hill devotees wonder what will be taken away.

"The views are what really make the course," Kostas said. "I just hope we're still staring at the ocean and not into some guy's living room."

Pelican Hill has long been considered one of the most scenic courses in Southern California. It appears in the opening credits of the FOX hit The O.C., and it's sweeping vistas of the Pacific have won it many fans among golfers.

The Ocean South Course opened in 1991, Ocean North in '93. Pelican Hill positioned itself as high-end from the beginning (it charged $175 weekdays, $250 weekends), and no one's expecting the price to come down when it reopens.

Not with Irvine Co. President Clarence Barker promising in a press release that the new resort will be "five-star".

"It's pretty much a splurge, once-a-year play already," local golfer George Wilson said. "If they come back with any type of Pebble Beach pricing you won't see many people out there. It's going to be interesting."

Wilson worried that Newport Beach is becoming too trendy and will be positioned as a hot golf destination with sky-high green fees. Golf while gawking at $20 million ocean homes!

Fazio seems excited by the chance to revamp. The celebrity golf architect gets another paycheck and a chance to tinker.

"As a golf-course designer, this is an exceptional opportunity," Fazio said in a statement. "Not only because I get the chance to revisit courses I designed and look at them from top to bottom, but because these courses will reopen in conjunction with a stunning new resort."

To Kostas and other Pelican Hill fans, the courses were already plenty stunning enough. Not having them as an option for almost two years could change some thinking in Southern California golf.

"Out of sight, out of mind?" Kostas wondered. "It seems like a really long time to shut both courses down. Why not keep one open?

"I'm sure I'll find somewhere else to play."

Kostas shrugged. It was almost 80 degrees and sunny on a perfect January Newport day. A nice day to find a new course?

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