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Tustin Plants Dream Field for Golfers

A year and a half ago you would have looked at the 160 acres of Tustin bean fields and laughed. A golf course here? The ground was flatter than a dial tone, more boring than a piano recital. It was a great place to bring the 4-H Club, but a lousy locale for foursomes.

So naturally the city of Tustin and the Irvine Co. agreed to build a golf course on that exact site, the dullest and most uninteresting parcel of land you’ve ever seen, unless, of course, you own a tractor and enjoy beans.

Assigned the task of converting agriculture into 18 holes of greenery was the respected golf architect Ted Robinson, who lives in Laguna Beach and knows a thing or two about designing memorable courses. At last count, Robinson had about 120 courses to his credit, including one layout in New Mexico that was named among the top 25 resort courses in America and another in Dallas that made the top 50 list. Most recently, he teamed up with golfer and aspiring architect Greg Norman for several projects overseas. So when Robinson agrees to rearrange the landscape, especially one in a bean field, you take notice. And then you check his temperature for fever.

But guess what? He did it.

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That same flat farmland now has more contours than you can shake a three-iron at. You actually could use a topography map here now, what with the rolling hills and steeply pitched pot bunkers. And all it took was Robinson’s drawing pad and 2 million yards of displaced earth.

It’s not often that corporate America (the Irvine Co.) and local government (the city of Tustin) can take bows for a project well done, but in this case, a standing ovation might be in order. Tustin Ranch Golf Club, the newly christened name of the par-72 layout, is cozy, golfer-friendly and better yet, open to the public beginning Monday. Even with the somewhat stiff greens fees--$45 Monday-Thursday, $60 Friday-Sunday--Tustin Ranch is a welcome addition to an area starved for quality public courses.

According to National Golf Foundation figures, the number of golfers has increased from 17.5 million in 1985 to 21.7 million in January of 1988. At times, it seems all 21 million or so of them are trying to get tee off times in Orange County.

Ever call a public course here for a starting time? You need an act of Congress or an extortion note to secure a time later than 5:50 a.m. Golf gridlock has hit America, so much so that experts contend that one new course per day is needed during the next decade to meet demand. Nowhere is the crunch more noticeable than in Orange County, where five-hour rounds and too few courses are the miserable norm.

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Tustin Ranch Golf Club, in its own little way, helps ease the pain.

“This isn’t a typical public course,” Robinson said after a sneak preview of his finished work Friday morning. “Just because you play a public course doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting and have character. I built it the same way I build the resort courses. I mean, just because they’re public doesn’t mean they’re second-class citizens.”

In essence, Robinson has duplicated his work from his desert experiences, mainly make something out of nothing. Bermuda-grass fairways and bent grass greens have replaced the flatlands. Small lakes and cascading waterfalls (Robinson’s signature piece) add a lush, plush feel to the course. Even the ultra-demanding Robinson, who hadn’t seen the layout in four months, admired the way the infant course had grown.

“You get a feeling about these things,” he said. “I felt good about it. I feel very good about it now. It accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish.”

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Robinson said anyone can build the country’s most difficult and unplayable course. The trick is to find a happy medium, the course both the low handicapper and high handicapper can enjoy. Early indications are that he has found the elusive compromise. And not a railroad tie in sight or rough up to your knees. Tustin Ranch is forgiving, but it also has some bite to it.

Enough bite that PGA golf professional Jim Colbert, whose Las Vegas-based company will manage the course, is trying to position Tustin Ranch for a future Seniors or PGA Tour event. “I’d love to get some type of tournament here,” he said.

One possibility, however remote, is the PGA’s Nabisco Golf Championship, which is committed to sites for this year and next, but could be available for 1991. Colbert said he has made several very preliminary inquiries about the Nabisco, but nothing more. Still, Colbert’s ambition reflects his confidence in the new course, which is comforting.

“If this wouldn’t qualify as public golf course of the year, I don’t know what would,” he said.

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Time will tell, but for the moment, everyone concerned--Tustin, the Irvine Co., Robinson and Colbert--can spend time patting themselves on the back. And Orange County golfers, in desperate need for a course like this, can enjoy themselves on a former bean field.


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