Last Update :1/4/2007

Fairways and Greens- Dec. / Jan. 2007


The West's Best: "Z" is for Pascuzzo

#19 Non-Resort Course and FG's "Best New Course in the West"

by FG Staff and Contributors Reno, NV

We're making an alphabetic stretch here, and why not: With the opening of Monarch Dunes early this year, Sacramento-based architect Damian Pascuzzo (emphasis on the Z) gave the Central Coast his inspired treatment and instantly turned an oft-overlooked swatch of Golden State into a golf destination. Together with nearby Cypress Ridge ó a Peter Jacobsen-Jim Hardy product that opened nearly five years ago ó it cements this region between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo as a worthy option to Monterey.

Monarch Dunesí look and feel is something completely new for the Central Coast, though somehow ancient. Pascuzzoís cagey, curvaceous lass works amazingly well in the modern housing project mold. He keeps homesites well away from or above playing areas, and the few completed houses never impinge on the courseís ability to rouse sharp emotions with every teebox or greenside view. Still, Monarch Dunesí soul is rooted in the links and heathland courses of Scotland and Ireland.

ďThe site itself really dictated that it had to be links style,Ē Pascuzzo says. ďThe soil is pure sand. If you look across Highway 1, you see all the dunes, then the ocean. We had to do that style of golf course; it would be a shame to do anything else.Ē

PGA Tour player Steve Pate came on board with some further design ideas that, Pascuzzo says, added ďa very welcome dimension. Steveís perspectives were very interesting; it was fun to talk about strategy. I could say, ĎHereís how Iím defending this hole, how would you attack it?í It turns out I wasnít defending some of them enough for the better player. To Steveís credit, being an elite player, heís pretty tuned in to the average guy, and being a 12-handicapper, Iím really tuned in to the average guy. I think we did a pretty good job keeping it interesting for good players but not overwhelming for mid- to high-handicappers.Ē

They also excelled at nailing Alister MacKenzieís No. 1 criterion for great golf design: Variety. When standing on the No. 1 tee, you think itís going to be all water and modern-feeling vibe, but by No. 5 ó a little ďpostage stampĒ par 3 surrounded by fescue-bearded dunes that creates visions of No. 12 at Royal Liverpool ó you find this ainít no basic residential track.

In fact, holes 6 through 8 comprise the finest three-hole stretch on the Central Coast. No. 6 is the best of those, 560 yards from the tips. The drive must clear tufts of devilís grass, then a big ridge that bisects several holes, then barrel to the bottom of a hill, just short of a lake, if thereís any chance of getting back up to the severely elevated, mega-deep, double-tiered green in two. Itís not just a good hole, itís a great one; draped in tall eucalyptus with comely curves, it harkens to Bandon Trails and elicits a giddy feeling when you first see it.

ďThe one thing golfers have to realize is that thereís a little bit of mystery in Monarch Dunes,Ē Pascuzzo says. ďYou play it a second time and youíll be a lot more comfortable; a third time, youíll feel like youíve known it a long time.Ē

As for Cypress Ridge, itís no pushover. At 6,803 near-sea-level yards from the tips, itís a stout test. Elevation changes make club selection difficult for first-timers, but most folks get the hang of it by the turn. Jacobsen and Hardy are also careful to reward accurate tee shots (the former has long been one of the PGA Tourís best drivers), and while the aforementioned recovery is possible from the grass or trees, thereís seldom a clear entry to the green.

While many of Cypress Ridgeís 4-pars ó such as the uphill, dogleg-right No. 8  ó have sharp teeth and challenging length, the design allows ample opportunity to take advantage of shorter holes. Nos. 5 and 7 ó at 330 and 300 yards, both drivable for big bombers ó can yield early birdies, if not eagles, for the aggressive player.

While Monarch Dunes and Cypress Ridge would be great golf courses anywhere in the United States, playing them in the year-round pleasant Central Coast weather only sweetens the experience.

And thatís ďZĒ truth. FG

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