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 — a Peter Jacobsen-Jim Hardy product that opened nearly five years ago — it cements this region between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo as a worthy option to Monterey.
Monarch Dunes’ look and feel is something completely new for the Central Coast, though somehow ancient. Pascuzzo’s 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 course’s ability to rouse sharp emotions with every teebox or greenside view. Still, Monarch Dunes’ soul is rooted in the links and heathland courses of Scotland and Ireland.
“The site itself really dictated that it had to be links style,” Pascuzzo says. “The 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.”
PGA Tour player Steve Pate came on board with some further design ideas that, Pascuzzo says, added “a very welcome dimension. Steve’s perspectives were very interesting; it was fun to talk about strategy. I could say, ‘Here’s how I’m defending this hole, how would you attack it?’ It turns out I wasn’t defending some of them enough for the better player. To Steve’s credit, being an elite player, he’s pretty tuned in to the average guy, and being a 12-handicapper, I’m 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.”
They also excelled at nailing Alister MacKenzie’s No. 1 criterion for great golf design: Variety. When standing on the No. 1 tee, you think it’s going to be all water and modern-feeling vibe, but by No. 5 — a little “postage stamp” par 3 surrounded by fescue-bearded dunes that creates visions of No. 12 at Royal Liverpool — you find this ain’t 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 devil’s grass, then a big ridge that bisects several holes, then barrel to the bottom of a hill, just short of a lake, if there’s any chance of getting back up to the severely elevated, mega-deep, double-tiered green in two. It’s not just a good hole, it’s 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.
“The one thing golfers have to realize is that there’s a little bit of mystery in Monarch Dunes,” Pascuzzo says. “You play it a second time and you’ll be a lot more comfortable; a third time, you’ll feel like you’ve known it a long time.”
As for Cypress Ridge, it’s no pushover. At 6,803 near-sea-level yards from the tips, it’s 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 Tour’s best drivers), and while the aforementioned recovery is possible from the grass or trees, there’s seldom a clear entry to the green.
While many of Cypress Ridge’s 4-pars — such as the uphill, dogleg-right No. 8 — have sharp teeth and challenging length, the design allows ample opportunity to take advantage of shorter holes. Nos. 5 and 7 — at 330 and 300 yards, both drivable for big bombers — 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 that’s “Z” truth. FG
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