Stewards of the Land

Where Old Plus New Looks Better Than Ever

The 16th century-era Italian architecture may rank as the most noticeable feature at The Resort at Pelican Hill,® but the landscape plan anchored by the Resort’s long-standing commitment to water conservation reflects equally impressive Roman ingenuity. Combining ages-old systems of irrigation and agricultural efficiency with modern-day technology, the Resort has set a high bar with its mission to preserve natural resources and protect this pristine land.

Water conservation dates to the Neolithic Age in Asia, where lime plaster cisterns captured precious rainwater. By the 4th millennium B.C., cisterns had become indispensable to farming in the arid Middle East.  The Romans of 2000 B.C. upped the ante, developing an advanced technology in which larger receptacles fed cement and crushed-rock pipes that conveyed vast quantities of water to a rapidly expanding empire. It is astounding to think that, while digital connectivity has utterly revolutionized the human experience, our approach to water conservation looks surprisingly similar to the one used 4,000 years ago.


The Resort at Pelican Hill is the flagship hotel of the 150-year-old Irvine Company.® Of the Irvine Ranch’s 93,000 acres that stretch from the Cleveland National Forest westward to the Pacific Ocean, more than half have been permanently designated as open space.

The Irvine Company’s vision for the Resort was to blend Mediterranean design with California’s natural environment, complementing the coastal ecosystem as well as The Irvine Ranch® and Newport Coast master plans. Elegant Italian cypress, aged olive trees and stately Canary Island palms and fig trees are punctuated throughout the property by sweetly scented lavender. While the Resort was being developed, a whopping 7,200 California pines were painstakingly removed and stored before being replanted in appropriate spots around the new structures. The Resort even installed bluebird nesting boxes and set up motion-sensor cameras to monitor the bobcat population. The result of all this forethought is a parcel of land both lush and efficient, home to indigenous and protected species including the red-tailed hawk and the California gnatcatcher.

“A Mediterranean-inspired plan was appropriate because we share similar latitudes and rain cycles,”  said Pelican Hill landscape designer Bill Burton, FASLA, of Burton Studios in Solana Beach, California. “And yet,  Pelican Hill® has more varieties of plantings, more texture and more color than a Mediterranean garden.”


At 400 acres, the Resort’s Ocean North and Ocean South golf courses represent the property’s largest chunks of real estate. Set amid lavish vegetation and boasting 200441_IMG_8408stunning vistas of the Pacific, the 36 championship holes host players of every age and experience level from across the globe. Renowned designer Tom Fazio laid out both courses in the late 1980s, opened them in the early ’90s and returned to “re-perfect” them in 2006. Among the improvements, he enhanced water conservation measures and increased the diverse native scrub acreage, which requires no watering once it’s taken root, to more than 92 acres.

Under Fazio’s watchful eye, tees and fairways were replanted with drought-tolerant hybrid Bermuda grass, which originated in the Middle East and thrives in low-moisture environments. This decision alone, according to Stephen Friedlander, Pelican Hill and Oak Creek’s vice president of golf, has resulted in an annual savings of 50 million to 60 million gallons of recycled irrigation water.

At the heart of the water conservation system is a set of five underground cisterns with a total capacity of 1.2 million gallons. Irrigation lakes on the Ocean North and Ocean South courses double as reservoirs for cistern overflow; during the 2006 reperfection, these were enlarged to accommodate an additional 5.4 million gallons of water.

“In an average rain year, the cisterns collect and add millions of gallons of rainwater to our irrigation lakes,” said Friedlander. “We also purchase recycled water from the Irvine Ranch Water District to irrigate the golf courses and the landscaping throughout the Resort.”

The professional golf maintenance staff monitors moisture levels day and night using state-of-the-art sensor systems, making adjustments remotely or using hand-held technology. The team gathers at the end of the day to assess overnight irrigation requirements. The goal, said Steve Thomas, director of golf course maintenance, is to safeguard the balance between quality of play and plant health.

“No one wants a soggy course,” said Thomas. “On the other hand, it has to be just the right level of dry for optimum play. And of course, we want it to look perfect.”

Drought-resistant plantings and ground cover, serviced by a sophisticated irrigation system, contribute greatly to the property’s water conservation plan, but The Resort at Pelican Hill® did not stop there. The original design team, in an effort to prevent wastewater and contaminants from streaming down the hill to Crystal Cove State Park, installed catch basins to filter runoff and capture debris; polymer inserts to neutralize impurities; and two filtration basins to capture runoff and remove pollutants before feeding the water into the Pelican Point Lift Station, located on the 12th hole of the Ocean South course.

By virtue of its elegance, beauty and sky-high standards, The Resort at Pelican Hill has built a reputation for unparalleled guest service and comfort. At the same time, its owners continue to place a premium on environmental preservation, mindful that the property is a nonrenewable resource that must be protected for generations to come. By repurposing the innovations of the ancient Romans and implementing them in coastal California, what is old becomes new again: a gem, built for the future with a nod to the past.

  • Ocean South Hole #18. Of the 400 acres making up Pelican Hill's courses, 135 acres are irrigated with recycled water.

  • Two of the cisterns buried along Ocean North Hole #1 hold 270,000 gallons and 180,000 gallons.

  • Our guests will never see this cistern, which holds 240,000 gallons, buried under the Resort's driveway.

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