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Newport Beach a different kind of OC golf escape, from Kobe's hilltop mansion to Paris Hilton shopping

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

With top-end golf courses like Oak Creek, Pelican Hill and nearby Strawberry Farms, excellent shopping and a beautiful beach, Newport Beach, Calif. is the place for people who like to live large, on and off the course.

Pelican Hill Golf Club - Ocean View
It's about ocean views on Newport Beach courses like Pelican Hill Golf Club.
Pelican Hill Golf Club - Ocean ViewNewport Beach - Lunch Crowd

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Kobe Bryant's house (or at least one of Kobe's houses) sits high on the hill, looking down at you as you line up an approach shot. The inventor of Hot Pockets has an even bigger mansion lording high above the next hole (hey, Nestle bought Hot Pockets for a cool $2.6 billion). There are rumors that Jack Nicholson is looking in the neighborhood.

"The houses around here are in another league," Pelican Hill Golf Club Director of Instruction Glenn Deck said, laughing. "It's a little different."

No kidding. Are you playing golf or going along on one of those Hollywood star homes tours?

In Newport Beach, it's often one and the same. A golf trip to this land of ocean, shopping and clubbing glitz can be a different experience. In the same way that a trip to Mars might be a unique tale. Forget anything you know about California's relaxed vibe. Buckle up for a crazy ride.

This is the OC. They do things a little differently here. You might run into Sean Penn in the local grocery store (a giant Whole Foods full of organic dishes of course). You will face holes where sailboats bob in the water over the green. What are you going to be more distracted by?

It depends on how you approach your Newport Beach golf vacation.

Sure, you can go to Fashion Island Mall and drop $10,000 on a golf carry bag if you so desire (the Louis Vuitton store). But you can also go to a little deli in the heart of Newport Beach where regular folks chow on $7 sandwiches that are simply divine.

"Don't believe everything you see on the OC or MTV," California native Ray Handle said. "Newport Beach is more than just rich people and spoiled kids driving Mercedes with their daddy's credit card.

"It's mostly rich people, but some of us come here to play too."

Handle shrugs. Before getting into his Lexus. Power to the people!

Newport Beach is not the place you go to for cheap golf. You're not going to find any Myrtle Beach deals in the 949.

Pelican Hill charges $235 with no twilight discounts for both of its recently revamped and reopened Tom Fazio courses. Oak Creek Golf Club - another Fazio in the shadow of the Saddleback Mountains - is $110 Monday through Thursday, $150 weekends, though it does have $75 weekday twilight and sometimes $45 super twilight rates.

Not far away in Irvine, Strawberry Farms Golf Club comes in at $110 weekdays and $160 weekends. It would probably be more than that if it had an actual Newport Beach address with its canyons, hills, swamps and hulking rocks playing out over a 35-acre reservoir that lets you feel you've really escaped Southern California's freeway lifestyle.

Newport Beach's easy access to other golf destinations is one of its largely unknown pluses. San Diego is only 90 miles away, letting the smart vacationer combine Pelican with courses like Torrey Pines and La Costa on the same trip. Palm Springs is only 100 miles away, meaning you could get Newport Beach's ocean along with the desert on courses like Classic Club and PGA West Nicklaus Course in one cramming session in golf topography.

"I think some people who don't know California that well, just assume that the state is so big that they have to chose one area or the other," longtime California golf packager Tim Hurja said. "They don't realize you can hit a lot of Southern California spots in one nice trip."

Make Newport Beach one of those stops and you'll see what it's like to live large.

Whether you fit right in and enjoy this same type of lifestyle back home (Botox treatments included) or are just pretending for a weekend, it makes for a different kind of fun golf escape.

"Nobody cares how much money you make out on the golf course," said Pelican Hill General Manager Steve Friedlander. "They're all jealous of you - no matter how much or little you earn - if you can hit it past them."

Turns out, golf is a great equalizer. If only Julia Roberts' character in Pretty Woman had played.

From Sean Penn to Dennis Rodman, Newport's not rigid rich

If you think Newport Beach is just a bunch of stuck up rich guys more rigid than a flagpole, you don't even know half the story. For a long time, NBA Bad Boy Dennis Rodman lived here. In an unassuming condo complex otherwise dominated by retirees. You'd pull in, see a few Cadillacs, tons of small California cars and Rodman's tattooed face on the side of a huge trailer he'd take to promotional appearances.

If the Worm's hanging in Newport Beach, you know there are plenty of places to party.

Those looking for a sophisticated vibe should head to the Pelican Hill Grill on a Saturday night. There are big screen TVs with sports events showing, but the majority of the crowd is decidedly more interested in how they look.

The golf clubhouse restaurant with high-end food has become a place to see and be seen.

Paris Hilton has been spotted in the Island Hotel's lounge - conveniently right across the street from all of Fashion Island's shopping excess.

You never know what's going to turn into a scene in Newport Beach.

While a bunch of golf writers were being driven back from a course, the wife of a Michigan radio host in the SUV jumped out to see a wedding dress in the window of a little shop downtown. She bought the dress on the spot.

You never know what you're going to stumble across in Newport Beach.

It might be Crystal Cove State Park, one of the few cheap activities in the area (though you do have to pay for parking in one of those only-in-California moments). Here, the ocean isn't just something you see over the green and down a cliff. You can walk up to it.

Yes, a little beach time with those birdie tries is worth it. Surely, Kobe would agree.


45 miles from LA
90 miles from San Diego
100 miles from Palm Springs
Top golf courses: Pelican Hill, Oak Creek, Strawberry Farms
Top off-course activities: Beach, ocean sports, high-end shopping

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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