Best of Orange County 2021: Best golf course

1. Pelican Hill Golf Club

22800 S. Pelican Hill Road, Newport Beach; 844-878-0942;

Whether you play the 6,949-yard North Course or the 6,580-yard South Course, the hazards and pitfalls of these perennial category champions are numerous — starting with the spectacular scenery that keeps your shutter finger shooting pictures on nearly every hole.

That puts your swing at risk of shooting some big numbers, because renowned architect Tom Fazio designed both Pelican Hill courses with the intention of making you think on nearly every hole. The risk/reward element comes into play, making both Pelican Hill courses not only visual masterpieces, but tactical challenges as well.

For example, there’s the South Course’s 13th hole, which features not only a postcard-view of the Pacific, but two greens that give variety to a short par-3. No two times are the same. And there’s the North Course’s 17th, a perfectly designed risk/reward, dogleg-right par-5 that demands potentially round-making or breaking decisions on every shot.

At the same time, what makes Pelican Hill the masterpiece it is is the way Fazio managed to take the canvas he received and turn it into a seamless golf experience. Not every oceanfront course can make that claim.

Along with this, Pelican Hill is a full-service, five-star resort. Its Mediterranean theme offers bungalows and villas, an Italian-themed pool with 11 million hand-cut glass mosaic tiles lining the bottom and dining choices ranging from Northern Italian cuisine to bar-and-grill fare.

— Brian Robin

2.  Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club

26722 Avery Parkway, Mission Viejo; 949-305-5100;

Water comes into play on 10 holes and a natural view of rustic Orange County comes into play on all 18. Just the way architects Casey O’Callaghan and PGA Tour Champions pro and 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman drew it up.

What the pair drew up was an eminently playable, 240-acre course set in the Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve that belies its accessible location off Avery Parkway. Five sets of tee boxes give players of all skill levels the run of a course that plays between 5,045 yards and 7,011 yards. The opening 12 holes take players through canyons, featuring several elevation changes. The final six holes play more flat.

O’Callaghan and Lehman designed Arroyo Trabuco with Trabuco Creek as a natural feature. The creek comes into play on seven holes, with lakes appearing on another three.

Aside from the various wildlife frolicking around the course, one of Arroyo Trabuco’s standout features is O’Neill’s Pub, which offers a tasty Sunday brunch, along with lunches and dinners that combine a nice post-round meal with stunning views of the surrounding ridges and cliffs.

3. Black Gold Golf Club

One Black Gold Drive, Yorba Linda; 714-961-0060;

Bring your A-game. Because even though this Yorba Linda course is one of the best values in Orange County golf, it is also one of the most demanding. Black Gold plays every inch of its 6,756 yards from the back, black tees. Even from the shorter blues (6,439), whites (6,045), golds (5,564) or reds (4,936), Black Gold contains plenty of teeth from tee to green.

Black Gold is one of yeoman architect Arthur Hills’s five California courses. Hills, who passed away in May at 91, created a demanding course replete with elevation changes, numerous water features — including the course’s signature waterfall off the 18th hole — and bunkers that always seem to get in the way.

And after your round — hit or miss — Derrick’s Grill awaits, providing breakfasts, appetizers and lunches, along with banquet service for up to 250 guests. The fish tacos and grilled Harissa chicken flatbread are culinary keepers.