Whether you’re looking for respite from the work week or to impress a client, our local golf scene has a
course for every requirement.
By Allison Emery
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro, aficionado or an amateur—maybe you’re there more for the socializing than perfecting your swing (hey, no shame here!)—the game of golf can be enjoyed by all. It’s par for the course that the natural landscape and weather temperament of Orange County lend themselves to the creation of impressively designed courses, many of which boast superb amenities and provide a place of community in addition to a great round. Here, we share a few of our local favorites.
BEST PRIVATE COURSE
Bella Collina San Clemente
Location: 200 Avenida La Pata, San Clemente
The first Gary Player signature course in the West, Bella Collina, a private golf club situated amid San Clemente’s rolling hills, boasts 27 holes that are formed to fit the natural landscape of ravines, gorges, hills and valleys. The club is open seven days a week, and there are no lotteries for tee times. And weekend warriors—or those wanting to squeeze in a quick nine before or after work—don’t need to fret. “Golf at Bella Collina is different because it’s faster,” says Bella Collina’s PGA head golf professional, Brian Hollenbeck. “Our singles play 18 holes in two hours and our foursomes are done in three and a half.”
Cost: Membership rates: Family Golf ($2,500 initiation fee, $575 monthly dues); Single Golf ($2,000 initiation fee, $460 monthly dues); Social (access to exclusive social events, $250 initiation fee, $25 monthly dues).
Info: 949.498.6604 or bellacollinasanclemente.com
Insider Tip: If golfers don’t like playing the same 18 holes over and over again, they can enjoy three different 18-hole course combinations. Bella Collina boasts three nine-hole layouts, which can be linked to offer more variety.
BEST NINE-HOLE COURSE
The Ranch at Laguna Beach
Location: 31106 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
The nine-hole Ben Brown’s course at The Ranch at Laguna Beach is breathtaking with a striking location between a canyon and the coast. Leave your stress behind, this private resort offers the perfect course to relax and unwind with its coastal ranch vibe and casual elegance. After a round, head over to one of the resort’s dining accommodations, including Harvest Restaurant/Harvest Patio and Ben’s Pantry, which all overlook the first tee. “Just like boardwalk watching is fun, Ben Brown’s is known for ‘tee watching’ while you are having a drink with friends or some lunch with clients,” says Andy Fechko, The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s director of golf. Finally, golfing at The Ranch isn’t supposed to be a serious affair, according to Fechko; in fact, find golfers—including the owner—barefoot while on the green, especially on Fridays.
Cost: Average rate is $50 per person.
Info: 800.223.3309 or theranchlb.com
Insider Tip: Hole 5, one of the longest holes on the course, has invisible sets of winds, so timing is imperative. Andy Fechko, The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s director of golf, advises it’s best to “sit on the tee and count it out” to get that perfect shot.
BEST SCENIC COURSE
Strawberry Farms Golf Club
Location: 11 Strawberry Farm Rd., Irvine
The par-71, 6,700-yard, 18-hole course set on Strawberry Farms in Irvine is amid a 35-acre reservoir, scenic rolling hills, and flora and fauna. A little-known fact: The course was first developed by Doug DeCinces, a former third baseman for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “It appears you are out in the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” says Tom McCray, Strawberry Farms Golf Club’s PGA director of instruction. “The surrounding natural vegetation and wildlife create a tranquil environment while still providing a great test of golf.” After a round, make a beeline for the Farmhouse Grill, which provides a peaceful setting to add up your score with friends and enjoy a great menu.
Cost: Average rates are $125 (Monday to Thursday) and $175 (Friday to Sunday).
Info: 949.551.1811 or sf-golf.com
Insider Tip: Some of the shorter holes like 2, 8, 14 and 18 require a very accurate tee shot, but some length can be sacrificed to avoid hazards protecting both sides of the fairway. While the other par-4 and par-5 holes on the course would call for the driver, these holes should be played with the next shot in mind. “[It’s] better to have 150 yards from the fairway than taking a penalty shot trying to get closer to the green,” says Tom McCray, Strawberry Farms Golf Club’s PGA director of instruction.
BEST “NINETEENTH HOLE”
Tijeras Creek Golf Club
Location: 29082 Tijeras Creek, Rancho Santa Margarita
“Tijeras Creek Golf Club is a tale of two nines,” says Rob Heslar, PGA director of golf at Tijeras Creek Golf Club in Rancho Santa Margarita. This motto comes from the two different experiences of the front and back nine holes; the front nine works through homes within the surrounding community, while the back nine winds through old sycamores, oaks and native chaparral. With unmatched scenery, golfers feel like they’re at an upscale resort versus a community course. After a round, golfers should head to the club’s signature restaurant—often called the “19th hole” as slang for a golf club’s bar or restaurant—TJ’s Cantina. The eatery is always abuzz with activity and serves an array of beer, wine and liquor; daily lunch; Taco Tuesdays; Sunday brunches; specialty dinner nights; and occasional live entertainment.
Cost: Average rates are $130 on weekends and $105 during the week; Creek Card Membership rates are $90 on weekends and $65 during the week.
Info: 949.589.9793 or tijerascreek.com
Insider Tip: “The biggest tip one can have is to find Saddleback Mountain and know that putts will break away from the mountain towards the ocean,” says Rob Heslar, PGA director of golf at Tijeras Creek Golf Club.
BEST FAMILY COURSE
Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club
Location: 6772 Avery Pkwy., Mission Viejo
Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, located amid Trabuco Creek and The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo, is a public 240-acre golf club co-designed by PGA Tour player Tom Lehman and local golf course architect Casey O’Callaghan. Perfect for families and all skill levels, the course offers five different tee boxes ranging from 2,496 to 7,011 yards. Additionally, it’s never too late to learn, as the club offers golf lessons and junior golf clinics on its all-grass driving range that is open seven days a week. Public tee times can be reserved up to 14 days out, while members are able to book tee times 15 days out. After a day under the sun, the club’s award-winning O’Neill’s Bar & Grill is the perfect spot to grab a cool drink and bite to eat al fresco style.
Cost: Average rates range from $40 to $115 (golf carts included). Individual and family memberships start at $199 per year.
Info: 949.305.5100 or arroyotrabuco.com
Insider Tip: As the adage goes, families who golf together stay together. With the family membership at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, adults receive the member rates at all times, while children (15 years and younger) can play for free at super twilight any day of the week when playing with a parent or another paying customer. The membership runs around $308 for the year and each family member receives a free twilight round of golf, play in member events, $50 range card and early loyalty points that are good toward free golf, plus discounts on food and golf shop items.