When it comes to finding a destination to host sporting events, Irvine, California, needs to be at the top of the list.
At the center of Orange County, the area averages more than 280 sunny days a year, with annual high temperatures around 73 degrees. “We have no ‘off-season’ here,” says Dave Lucey, the director of sports sales for Destination Irvine. “The weather here is just perfect, year-round.”
But in addition to the excellent weather, Irvine has top-notch sports facilities — new, modern and well-maintained. Importantly, the city continues to grow and invest in its sports venues.
Orange County Great Park Sports Park
The crown jewel for field sports in Irvine, and in fact, the central location for Southern California sports and fitness activities, is the massive Orange County Great Park Sports Complex, which opened phase one in August 2017. Designed to accommodate the local demands of the sports community, while attracting high-level, regional and national sports programs, the 194-acre Sports Complex has space for up to 24 (120- by 75-yard) grass soccer fields, six with lights.
A “flex” field area can accommodate another four natural grass full-size soccer fields and an additional six synthetic turf fields, suitable for lacrosse, field hockey and other sports, too. There is also a 30-acre South Lawn with two natural grass and two artificial turf, tournament-quality lighted fields, with spectator viewing areas.
The Championship Soccer Stadium features seating for 2,500 spectators, locker rooms and training facilities, a box office, concession areas, an upper-level viewing deck and berm seating areas. The Stadium is where the professional Orange County Soccer Club plays its home games.
This summer saw the opening at Great Park of more fields, along with five sand volleyball courts, and 12 baseball/softball diamonds are slated to open this fall. A new tennis center with 25 lighted courts, including a championship court with seating for more than 130 spectators, opened last summer. Adjacent to the Tennis Center are a conference room, concession area and restrooms. The facility also is home to the Brymer Lewis Tennis Academy, with acclaimed coaches Chris Lewis (a former Wimbledon finalist) and Chuck Brymer. The five lighted sand volleyball courts at the Great Park complex include a championship court with seating for 178 spectators.
“We already had a lot of fields and facilities in Irvine prior to building the Great Park complex, but now, we’ve taken it to a whole new level,” Lucey says. “There is so much going on in terms of sports facility development here. We can host all types and sizes of tournaments and never have to be concerned about running out of space.”
New Ice Facility
Irvine’s investment in sports certainly is not coming to an end any time soon. In 2016, the Irvine City Council approved a public-private partnership with the Irvine Ice Foundation to build a $100 million ice facility, to be operated and maintained by the foundation. So later this year, one of the nation’s largest public ice facilities is expected to open at Orange County Great Park.
The 270,000-square-foot facility will have four sheets of ice (three NHL size and one Olympic size) and serve up sports-related activities that include youth and adult hockey programs, regional and national tournaments, figure skating, speed skating and curling. The NHL’s Anaheim Ducks will practice at the new facility on occasion, too. The primary rink will have seating for 2,500. The complex also will include administrative offices, dressing rooms, training facilities, retail space and concession space.
“We already have had a lot of interest from event organizers in booking the space, since it will be such a unique sports venue for this part of country,” Lucey notes. “It will be the largest ice facility in California.”
The City of Irvine operates two unique aquatics facilities, including the world-renowned William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center, which provides a world-class venue for local, regional and national competitive events. The Woollett Center features two 50-meter pools and a 25-yard instruction pool.
During the 1984 Summer Olympics, the Woollett Center hosted the swimming portion of the modern pentathlon event. The center was rebuilt in 2003 and has since hosted events such as the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, the 2014 USA National Swimming Championships and the 2015 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics. This past July, it hosted the 2018 Phillips 66 USA National Swimming Championships.
The city also operates the Northwood Aquatics Center, which features a 50-meter pool. Aquatics activities are big in Irvine, with instructional, educational, recreational and competitive programs offered by the city and a number of local nonprofit aquatic organizations. The city’s Learn to Swim program is one of the largest municipal swimming programs in Southern California.
Indoor Sports and Activities
Irvine also is home to the privately owned Momentous Sports Center, a large indoor facility that features space for 15 regulation high school basketball courts, 22 regulation volleyball courts and 15 regulation futsal courts. The facility has low-impact HARO floors throughout. Each court has its own 3- by 10-foot electronic scoreboard, viewable from anywhere in the facility. There are bleacher seats for each court, along with scorekeeper tables.
Momentous Sports Center also has an onsite restaurant with two full-time chefs, a dining room that can seat 500, private tournament director rooms and high-speed public Wi-Fi throughout the facility. Meeting rooms for up to 150 people are available. For tournament crowds, one large entrance controls admissions and keeps traffic flowing smoothly. Parking is available for 1,500 vehicles.
Stay and Play
With a population estimated to be about 275,000, Irvine has been named “America’s Safest Big City” by the FBI since 2005.
“We have great big-city amenities, but with that small-town atmosphere and safety that visitors will enjoy,” says Lucey. The city is well-planned and laid-out, with modern amenities coupled with wide-open spaces. “We have more than 16,000 acres of parks, sports fields and dedicated open space — offering miles of trails for residents and visitors.”
To accommodate athletes, families and fans, Irvine offers 21 hotels ranging from full-service to extended stay, with more than 4,700 rooms available to suit all budgets. (While hotel and resort room taxes in other areas of Orange County are 17 percent, the tax in Irvine is just 10 percent.)
The city’s hotels are easily accessible by car via I-5 and I-405, and the majority of the hotels are within five miles of John Wayne/Orange County Airport. The largest hotel is the 536-room Hotel Irvine, which offers a large Grand Ballroom and meeting rooms of various sizes.
When not competing, athletes, families and visitors will find plenty to do in Irvine and Orange County. In fact, Great Park not only has the Sports Complex, but it also features the Great Park Balloon, a 118-foot-high helium balloon that soars to 400 feet with views up to 40 miles. There’s also the Great Park Carousel, Farm + Food Lab, Kids Rock Playground and Palm Court Arts Complex.
The Irvine Spectrum Center is one of Southern California’s most popular shopping, entertainment and dining destinations and has two of Irvine’s most popular attractions: the 108-foot-tall Giant Wheel featuring over 50,000 LED lights and the carousel with antique-designed horses and a menagerie of animals.
The Pretend City Children’s Museum is a hands-on “Exploratorium” with interactive exhibits, purposeful play, role playing, educational programming and hands-on learning experiences. For art lovers, the city offers the free Irvine Museum, featuring the masters of California’s turn-of-the-century impressionist movement. Plus, there is biking, hiking, horseback riding, paddle boat rentals, pony rides, a nature center, the Irvine Park Railroad and the Orange County Zoo.
Destination Irvine offers many services to tourney organizers and owners, including assistance with planning events, site visits and negotiations, off-site venue recommendations, restaurant and hotel assistance, an incentive program and much more.
“From the planning, sports venues, accommodations, restaurants, attractions and more, we offer everything tournament organizers, athletes, families and fans need to make their visit to Irvine an unforgettable experience,” Lucey says. SDM
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