Last Update :3/2/2006
March 2006- Golf Today Magazine by Dan Hruby
Monarch Dunes Opens on California's Central Coast
by Dan Hruby
Famed golf architect Donald Ross always knew what a course should be for the players. It should be, he said, “the fairest, yet most exacting test for their game.”Well, the esteemed Mr. Ross is no longer with us. But Monarch Dunes, the newest course to open on California’s Central Coast, fits his idea to a tee. And a fairway. And a green. And all the other amenities that mark an exciting addition to this coast-side landscape.
Monarch Dunes was carved out of a forest of eucalyptus trees that colonized this sandhill country a century ago. And it provided architect Damian Pascuzzo and the developer with the terrain to sculp a links-style course that would make a Scotsman proud. Not only are there links-type holes, but there’s also a touch of the Highlands to boot.
I am always skeptical when some new courses boast of their “links-style” look, which often means only there are 18 holes with ragged bunkers, gorse-like shrubs, a puzzling set of hazards, and an abstinence of visual definition. But after playing Monarch Dunes twice and having challenged such layouts as St. Andrews, Muirfield and Glen Eagles in Scotland, I can testify the Pascuzzo design is the real deal.
And there is more to come.
Monarch Dunes’ first offering is called “The Old Course,” a tribute to St. Andrews and a game that legend says ancient Scots conceived. But it is only the first of 45 holes that will be found at The Woodlands by Trilogy Central Coast, a planned community that will include a second 18-hole course and a nine-hole executive track. They will be the focus of a development of 1,300 homes, a 200-to-500 room resort facility, a business park and a shopping center--all to be erected over the next 15 years.
Monarch Dunes is open to the public, although its official “grand opening” is scheduled for mid-April when nationally known media types and golf VIP’s will check it out.
The development is located in a rather remote area abutting State Highway 1 two miles west of downtown Nipomo and 70 miles north of Santa Barbara. Like the celebrated Shinnecock Hills course on Long Island, N.Y., Monarch Dunes lies two miles from the Pacific Ocean. That means it is susceptible to capricious winds and invasive wisps of fog that characterize marine settings. But unlike at Shinnecock, I could see the blue waters of the sea from the course, especially from the par-3 11th hole. And a seascape artist like Claude Monet would drool at the chance to capture these sunsets.
I was impressed how the dunes pop up all over the course, especially the intimidating holes along Highway 1. But according to Pascuzzo, a partner in Graves & Pascuzzo of El Dorado Hills, CA, they weren’t exactly of Mother Nature’s doing.
“Our big challenge was to create the dunes,” Pascuzzo said. “We built them from what we saw between the highway and the ocean. We put the most dunes along the highway and then decreased them as we moved to the east. Since this area was all sand, we had to do a dunes-type course. A parkland course on this site would have been out of place.”
The “Monarch” part of the title was a no-brainer. Beautiful monarch butterflies swarm around the area at various times of the year.
Not since my first round at Pebble Beach in the 1950s have I played a course that made me replay every hole in my mind for days afterward. With the blend of links-style holes (notably Nos. 5, 13, 14, and 15) and headlands creations, you never know what is coming up next. There are 35 bunkers filled with cake-type sand that is mined locally. Six lakes are strategically placed to force players to think about every shot.
Shorter hitters will find lay-up options whenever a scary across-the-water challenge confronts them. The risk-reward possibilities are frequent and never more so than on the par-4 No. 10. Pascuzzo sketched the hole with a split fairway. You can risk aiming your drive left to a narrow fairway. Or you can shoot for the more spacious right side of the dunes that divide the fairway, although this is 35 yards longer. Naturally, I had to risk it. My first attempt led to a par but, alas, my second effort found me trudging through the sandy hillocks en route to a triple bogey.
Monarch Dunes (35-36--71) features five par 3s, four par 5s and nine par 4s. Five sets of tees give players many choices, from the longest at 6,810 yards to the shortest at 4,702. The greens vary from 3,000 square feet to 12,000. On the latter green (the par-5 No. 17) it is possible to make a 90-foot putt. Or four-putt for that matter. Players who prefer flat greens need to go elsewhere. These are mostly undulating with subtle breaks that take some learning to master.
The turf is a velvet bent, a slick and fast grass best known in the northeast corner of the U.S.
“This might be the first course out west to feature the velvet,” Pascuzzo said. “People who have played the greens says their really like it.”
The result is an amazingly true ball roll. Once you know the line, there is no excuse for missing a putt. Well, if your really work at it, you can find a couple. And if you like quick greens, we’re talking 11-plus speed on the stimpmeter.
Matt Kalbak, general manager and director of operations for the Kemper Sports Management group, said challenging greens were always the plan.
“Instead of having greens that are soft, spongy pillows, ours are designed to accept shots from different angles,” he explained. “In bringing back some of the lost traditions of the game, we feature the bump and run, the rub of the green. The way the greens open up, the fescue fairways give players many options. They can approach with a bump and run, putt with a fairway wood out of the rough or, if your nerves are good enough, they can flop a wedge up there.”
Touring professional Steve Pate of Santa Barbara was a project consultant, working with Pascuzzo.
“People ask me how a pro can identify with average golfers,” Pate said. “But I play with golfers of all levels, all handicaps. Even higher handicaps have a chance at Monarch Dunes. There are a few difficult holes, but also some short holes where you can make birdies. The course really does remind you of Scotland, where you let the ball roll. And the sand base makes the course playable any time of year.”
There are some holes that can scare the cockiest of players. As Scottish pro Tommy Armour once said, “No single factor affects more golf shots than fear.” Armour would put that stamp on Nos. 6, 8 and 16 for starters.
The course is walkable, but there are several elevation changes that can test the strongest legs. And you have to add the 700 yards of acreage between the greens and tees. There are homes sprinkled around the course, but I noted only three holes (14, 16 and 18) where a wild hook or slice could find a rooftop.
“We tried to arrange it so most homes are set back from the fairways,” Pascuzzo said with a chuckle, “but I don’t think every home is completely safe. That’s the risk you take when you buy on a golf course.”
Monarch officials said they want to make the course affordable for most players and in line with the fees of neighboring courses. So far it is happening. The Monday-Friday rate to 1 p.m. is $42 for walkers or $59 to ride. That goes to $52 and $69 on weekends. Times can be arranged by calling (805) 343-9459. The pro shop, under the watchful eye of assistant pro Jensen Lardizabal, is well stocked. And the adjacent restaurant is serving full breakfasts and lunches, with plans for dinners later.
The quality of the course conjures up thoughts of major tournaments. But since the routing was done more than six years ago, the increase in golf technology and equipment since then threatens newer courses with limited space. Pascuzzo said the nine-hole executive course is next on the construction agenda and it has two par 4’s that could be blended in with 16 from The Old Course to create a longer test for tournament entrants.
Representatives from 14 public-fee courses in San Luis Obispo County met on Jan. 12 to discuss increasing promotions of their area, with the goal of attracting players from Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Central Valley. Since the mid-1990s, 116 new golf holes have been added in the county. This has led to the formation of a County Golf Trail, which will include Hunter Ranch, Cypress Ridge, Avila Beach, Black Lake and Morro Bay..
“We figure to get 50 percent of our play from locals, 30 percent from tournaments and 20 from visitors,” said Krystal Bough, Monarch Dunes sales and marketing director. “We will be publicizing the course in major communities and counting, of course, on word of mouth advertising.”
Being new has its advantages, Kalbak said.
“Because we are starting up, we can decide what we want to be,” he said. “It’s not like we inherited our position. We definitely want to be the best class and golf experience on the Central Coast.”
That’s a lofty goal. But Monarch Dunes is well on its way to transforming that dream into reality.
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