The Resort at Pelican Hill: A seaside Tuscan village in Newport Coast

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

NEWPORT COAST, Calif. -- The timing was perfect.

The Resort at Pelican Hill
Readers of Conde Nast Traveler rated The Resort at Pelican Hill the top resort in California in 2011.
The Resort at Pelican HillPelican Hill Golf Club - Ocean South Course - no. 12Pelican Hill Golf Club - Ocean North - hole 2Pelican Hill Golf Club - Ocean North - No. 17Pelican Hill Golf Club - Ocean North - No. 18The Resort at Pelican Hill - circular pool
If you go

Just as my threesome putted out on the 13th green of the Ocean South course at Pelican Hill Golf Club, a family of five pelicans flew overhead. This tiny par 3 of just 131 yards is the finale of a three-hole stretch that kisses the Crystal Cove beach along the Pacific Ocean.

"This place is so scenic, it's almost spiritual," noted our forecaddie James Greenberg.

It was a memorable moment at The Resort at Pelican Hill, a destination that constantly strives to deliver them. Mother Nature lends a hand now and then, not that the resort needs too much help.

Upon opening in 2008, Pelican Hill leapfrogged more famous golf resorts to climb atop many "best of" lists. The gorgeous 504-acre property, with panoramic views of the coast and ocean, rated as the top golf resort in California by readers of Conde Nast Traveler in 2011. It's the little things that make the resort such a big deal.

The Resort at Pelican Hill: Overview

The AAA Five Diamond property exudes California cool. Kate Starr, public relations manager for the resort, calls Pelican Hill "casually chic."

"A lot of the specialness of the resort is in the details," she said, pointing out the Greek and Roman influences in the architecture.

Workers cut and laid more than 1.1 million glass tiles in the grand salt-water Coliseum Pool, one of the largest circular pools in the world. Stands of olive trees were planted throughout the property to recreate northern Italy in southern California. Tapestries from the 17th century hang in the Great Room off the lobby. The classic Italian Rotunda, a domed structure, sits between the courses 300 feet above the ocean in an ideal spot for weddings and outdoor banquets.

The resort's 204 bungalows are spacious enough for families and still romantic enough for a honeymoon. The decor, 42-inch flat screens and limestone fireplaces make anybody feel at home. Celebrities tend to gravitate to the privacy of the 128 villas for the separate pool and fitness facilities and 24-hour butler service.

Most luxury resorts tend to charge extra for valet parking, wireless Internet and use of the spa's sauna and steam room. At Pelican, they're all part of any stay. The 23,000-square-foot Spa at Pelican Hill, a Five-Star oasis by Forbes, boasts 22 treatment rooms, salt-water Roman-soaking tubs and even a new barbershop for men.

Tom Fazio golf at Pelican Hill

Pelican Hill Golf Club's Ocean North and South Courses get all the publicity, but a third Tom Fazio course affiliated with the resort, the Oak Creek Golf Club, in Irvine, is another great place to play. And it costs nearly half the price.

The 6,850-yard Oak Creek doesn't feature the eye candy of Pelican Hill courses, which were redesigned by Fazio in 2007. I say, if you put it on the coast, you'd have a hard time picking the best layout of the three.

Forecaddies and members tout Ocean North as the best Pelican Hill design. The North plays 400 yards longer than Ocean South over more dramatic terrain. Both have their "Oh my!" moments.

The green of the north's 558-yard 17th appears to be floating in the ocean on the horizon. The 159-yard par 3 at No. 12, the best of the coastal holes on Ocean South, plays to a green shelf tucked into the dunes and jagged rock formations. Both courses climax with diabolical approach shots over canyons on No. 18.

"One of the defense of the (Ocean South) course is it's just so distracting," said Bruce Young, a local resident who played it earlier this summer.

GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Instructor Glenn Deck spearheads the Pelican Hill Golf Academy.

Pelican Hill restaurants

Hand-made pasta and gelato made fresh daily are the staples of Pelican Hill menus.

The gelato, an Italian frozen dessert like ice cream, comes in at least a dozen different flavors. It's sold as a treat in the Caffe.

The Pasta Room for the Andrea Ristorante & Bar, a signature Northern Italian restaurant, was inspired by Managing Director Giuseppe Lama's mom, who still lives in Faenza, Italy. The signature Risotto dish changes seasonally.

"(The pasta) melts in your mouth," Starr said. "It's unlike anything you've had before."

The casual Coliseum Pool & Grill serves the same spaghetti with other traditional choices of fresh fish and comfort foods for children.

Off-property pursuits

The spa often organizes a complimentary beach fitness walk along the shore at the Crystal Cove State Park in the morning. The resort also runs a free shuttle to the beach, where children can explore tide pools filled with sea creatures.

Ocean activities abound. Choose from surfing, boating, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving and whale watching. Balboa Island and Newport Harbor offer sailing and dinner cruises.

Those looking to spend some cash can shop at Fashion Island or hit the trendy art galleries of Laguna Beach. Families can splurge at Disneyland just a half-hour away (depending on traffic) in Anaheim.

These excursions -- like every other experience related to The Resort at Pelican Hill -- are a fiesta of the senses.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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