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 ambi-tious 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. 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.
“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
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.