Willowick Golf Course: Eat While You Can

Willowick Golf Course has long been a marvel: The oldest 18-hole public golf course in Orange County, it's a place where any working-class stiff or retiree can enjoy a round in the middle of the barrio. And it's also endangered. For years, the cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove (which owns its 100 acres) have drafted various plans to level the greens and replace it with . . . something. A water park. More housing and shopping. A terminus for a proposed light-rail system.

Elitist bastards. Go to Willowick's clubhouse restaurant on a Monday morning, and you see all the culture a city needs. Vietnam and Korean vets chiding the Desert Storm and Iraq War young guns in their group. Middle-class Chicanos getting in a quick game before going off to bigger and better courses later in the week with their gabacho bosses; ladies in their LPGA best. The Budweiser and Jameson flow freely, even at 8 in the morn. And everyone enjoys as honest and cheap a breakfast as there is left in this ever-gentrifying county.

It's Norms for duffers: pancakes, omelets, breakfast sandwiches, even a great breakfast burrito. A whiteboard offers the daily specials—sometimes, it might be Spam and eggs your way; other days, it's a “pancake sandwich,” which is really nothing more than two pancakes over eggs and your choice of meat, with crunchy hash browns on the side. Lunch brings salads, fat sandwiches and one of the better tri-tips around. The burger is probably the best thing here, a steamed ham of glory.

Yeah, this is simple food. But it's a place that brought back my pal from the grips of stage-four cancer, a man we know as the Butcher because he has practiced the craft for 35 years. He loves hipster food, knows his Jason Quinns from Carlos Salgados. But this is where the Butcher is at peace, complementing a changing city and fearing what will happen to his beloved Willowick: If it's good enough for him, it's great for the rest of us. In the meanwhile, all we can do is grub and drink—and you should, too, while you can.

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