Courses at Monarch Dunes a Good Start for Grand Plan

By: Steve Habel

The central California coast has scads of great golf courses and some of the world's most scenic shorefront communities. Smack dab in the middle of the region - which stretches from Monterrey to Point Conception - is Nipomo, a town near San Luis Obispo.

The Old Course at Monarch Dunes

In Nipomo is The Woodlands, a new master-planned resort and residential community surrounded by windswept dunes, eucalyptus trees, coastal vistas and amber-colored hillsides. Within the community - right next to fields bursting with crops of lettuce, strawberries and artichokes - is Monarch Dunes Golf Club, which contains two sublime golf courses that serve as the centerpiece of the community and are the first steps toward a plan to transform the property into a world-class resort destination.

The courses - the 18-hole Old Course and 12-hole, par-3 Challenge Course - were both designed by architect Damian Pascuzzo and PGA Tour pro Steve Pate. Pascuzzo worked more than 14 years on the project before seeing a golfer put a tee in the ground, a timeframe and process that allowed him and Pate to create two high-quality tracks that are fun to play and well-integrated into the overall development.

"Our intent was to provide central coast golfers with a different kind of golf experience, and I believe we achieved that," Pascuzzo said. "We drew our inspiration from the seaside courses of Scotland and Ireland and from the natural dunes that are formed along the ocean just west of the project."

Monarch Dunes' Old Course (photo by Aidan Bradley)

Unlike many golf-related developments, Monarch Dunes does not have houses bordering every fairway. In fact, the clubhouse, practice range and several holes were intentionally situated next to the village center, creating a focused area of activity.

The two courses were built atop sand native to the site, allowing the designers to shape natural-looking features and create fun green and bunker complexes.

"We planted the golf course with a blend of fescue grasses that are particularly adapted to the region," Pascuzzo said. "In the fairways, these grasses provide firm and fast playing conditions. Out in the roughs, where the fescue grass is allowed to grow longer, there are different colors and textures that will contrast with the fairways."

A Little Bit of Everything on the Old Course

The Old Course at Monarch Dunes opened on January 1, 2006. The par-71 track plays at 6,810 yards from its back set of five tees and winds up and down hills and rolling terrain. The site contains six ponds to provide irrigation and impede play.

The front nine features the right-to-left 423-yard, par-4 opener and the 432-yard par-4 ninth, with a fairway that narrows as the player gets deeper into the landing area and a raised, left-sloping green fronted and flanked by water.

In between these holes, there are good scoring chances on three progressively longer and tougher par-3s (the 121-yard third, 140-yard fifth and 200-yard eighth, which all have a forced carry), two par-5s that require accuracy on the approach (be it with the second or third shot), and two short par-4s, the best of which is the 350-yard seventh.

The inward half starts with perhaps Old Course's best hole, the 437-yard par-4 10th, which has a fairway split by dunes. The left side is narrower than the right but is approximately 35 yards shorter to the hole. The putting surface is uphill and guarded by sand at the front-right.

On the 550-yard par-5 12th, the tee shot is slightly uphill to a plateau pinched by tall eucalyptus trees. If the drive is struck well, the player will be looking downhill at a second shot framed by large dunes left and uneven terrain right. No. 13 (a 423-yard par-4) might take driver out of the player's hand as it's split by a hillside as it ends and drops some 20 feet down to another level with a large dune in mid-fairway about 40 yards before the green.

10th Green on Old Course (photo by Aidan Bradley)

The 255-yard 15th, the longest one-shotter on the Old Course, has water along the right and a ridge of dunes along the left. Players can end the round with a flourish on the 490-yard par-5 17th and the 397-yard par-4 closer, two offerings where birdies can be procured with well-struck shots.

On the penultimate hole, the drive is framed by a lake to the right and eucalyptus trees left, and the approach is uphill to the largest putting surface on the course (more than 12,000 square feet). The 18th runs downhill with the prevailing wind behind and ends with a large, multi-tiered green that makes accuracy paramount.

The Old Course offers a little bit of everything and demands a lot of your game, but that's the whole reason to play the game, right? It was selected by Golf Digest as one of America's "Top-50 Golf Courses for Women," and that publication also recognized it as one of its "Best New Courses" in its January 2008 issue. Golf Magazine lauded the Old Course at Monarch Dunes as one of its "Top 10 New Courses You Can Play" for 2007.

The 11th Green on the Challenge Course
(photo by Aidan Bradley)

Challenge Course

Pascuzzo and Pate's Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes is a collection of par-3s that appeal to veterans and newcomers. The holes range in length from 65 to 205 yards, and each has tees arranged that vary the angle of attack. Players hitting off from the tips will face the most difficult shots, while those playing from the front tees will have an easier line to the green.

All holes on the Challenge Course have at least 5,000 square feet of tee space and three sets of tees. "Our goal as designers was to create a golf experience that would complement the Old Course," Pascuzzo said. "It's a great place to get in a little more golf after you have played the Old Course, or when you are short on time and just want a taste of golf.

"We like the fact that 12 holes can be divided into so many subsets (i.e. two six-hole groups, four three-hole groups, etc.) because it makes for lots of interesting matches and games between players," Pascuzzo added.

See a more detailed review of the Monarch Dunes' Challenge Course at

The Monarch Club

Other Attributes

Monarch Dunes Golf Club, managed by KemperSports, includes a practice facility, clubhouse and the Butterfly Grille, a full-service restaurant featuring the latest culinary trends of Central California. There are plans for a third course at the site as well as resort facilities.

The neighboring 30,000-square-foot Monarch Club provides additional amenities, including the Avila Room Event Center, the Sandalwood Spa, Market Place and Adelina's Bistro, which features a hand-picked selection of Central Coast wines.

For more information about Monarch Dunes, visit