Last Update :1/4/2006

December 31, 2005 - The Tribune

Special features on new course

By Larry Mauter
The Tribune

Seventeen years in the making, the first 18 holes of the 957-acre Woodlands development on the Nipomo Mesa comes to life Sunday morning. The New Year's Day opening may be soggy, but Matt Kalbak, general manager of Monarch Dunes, is hoping the 80 people who have reserved tee times for the day will be able to play.

"Rain or shine we will be open, and the weather will dictate our policy whether we get open or not," Kalbak said. "Obviously if we have standing water on our putting surfaces and the course is unplayable, that's something we can't control. But we're going to be here for our customers this weekend, and we just hope Mother Nature is nice to us."

The Old Course at Monarch Dunes features a Scottish links-like setting highlighted by large greens, 35 lace-edged bunkers, water features, clumps of veldt grass and miscanthus, eucalyptus woodland and undulating dunes. A bump-and-run game is a must for successful scoring on fairways that are planted with fescue --the same variety used at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. Putting surfaces, many with undulations and sideboards for strategy options, feature velvet bent grass. Putting surfaces average a generous 6,500 square feet -- oftentimes they are multitiered.

Under construction since August 2003, the Old Course was designed by Damian Pascuzzo, with input from PGA Tour pro Steve Pate. Pazcuzzo, a Cal Poly graduate who is a principal with Graves and Pazcuzzo, shaped the course to mimic the nearby Guadalupe dunes.

The layout includes five sets of tees -- tournament tees are just more than 6,800 yards -- and ocean views on several holes. Playing the green tees whittles the par 35-36--71 challenge to just 4,700 yards. There are five par 3s and four par 5s. The property's five lakes come into play on about a third of the holes. Monarch Dunes, just east of Highway 1, is close to the 27 holes at Blacklake Golf Resort and 18 holes at Cypress Ridge.

Green fees are $59 for weekdays and $69 on weekends. Those prices include carts. Walkers play for $17 less.

The overall development includes 1,300 homes, two 18-hole golf courses along with a nine-hole executive course, a shopping center, business park and 500-room full-service resort. It was approved by county supervisors in December 2002 and will take another 15 years to complete.

Tree removal for a second course, the nine-hole executive layout with two par 4s, has just started. A target date for that course's opening is October 2007. Pazcuzzo is also the architect for that course.

The Old Course will be rated by the Southern California Golf Association on Jan. 18. At that time 700 sprinkler heads around the course will include yardages.

A $1.3 million clubhouse includes a restaurant that offers breakfast and lunch options. It has been open since November.

A grand opening is planned for the course in April, according to Krystal Bough, sales and marketing director for Monarch Dunes. She said the course also is offering a "Royal Rewards" program, giving players discounts on green fees, early access to twilight rates, reduced cart rates and a dozen

Titlist golf balls with logos. The 12-month card costs $129 a year.

The facility is being managed by Kemper Sports, a Chicago-based firm that owns or operates 75 courses across the nation. Their properties include managing Harding

Park in San Francisco and Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast, according to Bough. Don't worry about the homes impeding on your play. Buffers between them and the course are significant.

"We're not going to get that feeling like when you play golf in the desert where you're hitting it down a tunnel of houses," Kalbak said.

The Old Course uses about 135 acres, he said, almost 30 acres more than the average golf course in California.

Workers on Friday, including greenskeepers, electricians and others, were busy preparing the property for Sunday's opening. The course will initially employ about 45 people, 16 of them involved in manicuring the course.

For the first three months, play will be limited to 80 people a day. Tee times will be at 15-minute intervals. Kalbak said players are being urged to play "lift, clean and place" because of the youthful turf and weather conditions.

"We're going to encourage people to play winter rules because of the maturity of the fairways," he said. "If they don't want to, they don't have to."

The course's driving range, which will not be ready for full-time use until April, will feature 20 stations. There is room for 30 stations on natural turf. Initially, the range will be limited to registered players.

Kalbak said course superintendent Tom Elliot had the final word on whether the course was ready to open. The final two holes were planted in mid-October. Elliot started in April at Monarch Dunes, after eight years as superintendent at nearby Blacklake.

"The fairway on 4 is very young as are the putting surfaces on 3 and 4," Kalbak said. "But we were on them (Thursday) and also the putting surfaces at 11 and 12 and even at their young state of maturity, they're as good quality putting surfaces as there are anywhere on the Central Coast. They'r

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