Last Update :8/28/2006
Central Coast Magazine-June 2006
Monarch Dunes, the much-anticipated 18-hole golf centerpiece at The Woodlands in Nipomo, has opened for birdies and bogeys and butterfly sightings, and the early reviews can be summed up in one word: Outstanding. “The number one comment I hear from people is that it’s unlike any other golf course they’ve played in the Southern California region,” PGA Professional and General Manager Matt Kalbak told CCM over coffees on a Saturday morning in April. “And this is no bull, they say the greens are the finest putting surfaces they’ve ever experienced.”
That has to be gratifying to the man behind Monarch Dunes, course architect Damian Pascuzzo, now in his 14th year of involvement with the extraordinary Woodlands project. He took a chance and introduced velvet bentgrass, a thin-bladed strain found mostly on courses in the Northeast, to create a putting surface on which the ball rolls not only swiftly but true to the line a golfer selects.
“The greens are meant to have a starved, natural look, because we don’t want thatch to build up,” Kalbak said. “And by keeping it that way, it will make it harder for the poa annua (wind-borne scourge of all West Coast greenskeepers) to take hold.
Monarch Dunes, like The Links at Spanish Bay, one of the golf jewels on the Monterey Peninsula, is designed to emulate the rolling, seaside courses in Scotland, England and Ireland. The grass on the fairways is fescue, a type that lends itself to creation of a track that, in course superintendent Tom Elliot’s words, will play “fast and firm.” That means a player often will have an option to “run” the ball rather than being forced to carry it in the air, a useful skill especially when the afternoon wind kicks up on the Nipomo Mesa.
“The thing we want people to know is that this will be a unique golf experience . . . They’re not going to feel like they’re playing golf in California. They’ll feel like they’re overseas – without the airfare,” Kalbak said.
On the scorecard, the new Monarch Dunes layout is labeled “The Old Course,” and it indeed will be the old course after another 27 holes eventually are built on the property. “The Challenge,” a nine-hole course with seven par 3s and two par 4s, is scheduled for a Summer 2007 debut. “This will bring in a different scope of golfers, such as older players who can’t handle 18 holes anymore,” Kalbak said. “And we’ll see parents bring children to learn the game, we’ll see the weekend ‘business getaway’ groups and we’ll see the ‘quick-nine’ weekday players.” Another as-yet-unnamed 18-hole course is on the blueprints for the southwest section of the property later this decade.
In Monarch Dunes’ early weeks, veteran PGA Tour pro Steve Pate – who collaborated with Pascuzzo by suggesting “shot values” from various positions on the course – and Central Coast teaching pro Billy Gibbs each shot scores of 4-under-par 67 to establish the course record from the 6,810-yard Black tees, the most difficult of five tee boxes. Players of less-than pro caliber can ensure their enjoyment by playing from the other yardages, ranging down to 4,702.
In mid-May, Monarch Dunes scheduled a gala Grand Opening, hosting the golf industry’s “rankers and raters,” representatives of local and national golf associations, magazines and professional organizations. If “location, location, location” is the mantra in real estate, “exposure, exposure, exposure” is the mantra when opening a new golf course. Monarch Dunes will be shooting for inclusion next year on lists of “best new daily-fee courses of 2006.” More ambitiously, by 2008, the hope is that the course can break into the “top 100 best daily-fee courses in the U.S.,” Kalbak said.
Knowledge of golf is a learned thing, of course, and Kalbak certainly qualifies. He has had a long career in golf, including several years as a playing professional. Along the way he witnessed two of the most famous shots in the history of the Royal and Ancient game. The first, when he was a high-school sophomore, was at the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Jack Nicklaus rifled a 1-iron shot 200 yards into a 20-knot headwind, the ball ticking the flagstick at the 17th green and stopping inches from the hole for a tap-in that secured victory. At the 1992 U.S. Open, also at Pebble, Kalbak saw winner Tom Kite, fighting to stand straight in 40-knot winds off the water, chip in from the rough to lock up his first major title. Kalbak is not saying that Monarch Dunes’ hoped-for ascendancy to national stature is a slam dunk like Kite’s shot, but he is very confident. “In my humble opinion,” he said, “Monarch Dunes is the best layout in central California and one of the best layouts in the state.”
Monarch Dunes is open daily from 7:30 a.m. till twilight. Green fees range from $43-$70 weekdays and $55-$85 weekends, depending upon use of a cart. Weekday rates for seniors (60 and over) are $40-$57. Twilight (2 p.m.) rates are $30-$47 weekdays and $40-$57 weekends. The Royal Reward Card package ($129 a year) includes one dozen Titleist Pro V1 balls; Southern California Golf Association membership and handicap; discounts on green fees, and six tournaments a year. Information and reservations: (805) 343-9459; www.monarchdunes.com.
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