Last Update :1/9/2006

January 8, 2006 - The Tribune

When 'Old' is new

A look at Nipomo's new golf course

Design of the Monarch Dunes' Old Course mimics nearby Guadalupe Dunes

Larry Mauter
The Tribune

A panorama of Scottish-like dunes and a wee bit of the Highlands has been baptized in Nipomo.

The Old Course at Monarch Dunes -- 18 holes of golf that is part of the Woodlands development -- opened Wednesday.

A planned Jan. 1 opening was delayed three days by an energy-packed storm that brought more than 6 inches of rain to Nipomo.

"It was tested right out of the box," said course architect Damian Pascuzzo Tuesday, who added that project engineers were breathing a sigh of relief after the big storm. The course's five lakes swelled during the two days of rain, inundating some fairways, but there was no structural damage.

About a half-dozen eucalyptus trees fell and there was plenty of debris to be picked up following the storm, but "the golf course was fine," Tom Elliot, superintendent at Monarch Dunes, said Wednesday afternoon.

Monarch Dunes is the first of 45 holes being built at the Woodlands. A nine-hole executive course is in the early construction phase.

The overall development includes 1,300 homes, a shopping center, business park and a 500-room full-service resort. It will be built out during the next 15 years.

PGA Tour player Steve Pate joined Pascuzzo -- also overseeing another nine holes at the Woodlands -- on the Old Course project in 2004.

"It was a really perfect time for him to come aboard because we hadn't done any fairway shaping," Pascuzzo said.

Pate's role, Pascuzzo explained, included being a "sounding board" on how a golfer might attack a hole and also how to shape the risk-reward options.

What has been captured in the design is a landscape that complements nearby Guadalupe Dunes. Former dense eucalyptus groves have given way to a links layout that includes a variety of risk-reward shots, water features and 35 bunkers. Putting surfaces are firm velvet bent grass greens. They average more than 6,000 square feet.

"We want that bounce and roll back into the game of golf," said Matt Kalbak, general manager at Monarch Dunes who arrived on site in early October.

The course features fescue fairways and 2-inch roughs and five tee boxes, stretching to 6,800 yards. That layout can be tricked up to 7,200 yards for future tournament play, said Pascuzzo, by incorporating two of the executive course nine holes into an alternative layout.

"We've rolled the dice a little by creating this Dunes style of golf course rather than a parklands style," said Pascuzzo, a Cal Poly graduate. "I'm very pleased with it. It's a fun place to play. It's got enough mystery and challenge to get people to come back."

The putting surfaces provide ample opportunity for three putts on the undulating and sometimes multi-leveled surfaces.

The extremes include a

3,000 square-foot target on the par-3 No. 3, an 8,500 square-foot green at the par-5 No. 12 and a 12,000 square-foot jigsaw puzzle on No. 17, also a par 5.

The five sets of tees mean there is a scoring opportunity for every level of player. The green tees - the shortest -- are just 4,700 yards.

"I think the ladies will love it from the green tees," said Kalbak who added that with the bump and run style built into the golf course, there are "few forced carries" for the short hitters.

Kalbak figures the gold tees (6,337 yards) will be the most popular of the options.

Though the layout is surrounded with new homes, it does not appear hemmed in, a factor that Kalbak credits to the long involvement between Pascuzzo and the developers.

"He was able to sit down with the developers and tell them how much land he needed to build a quality golf course, rather than the developers going in, doing a development plan and saying 'Here's your leftover 95 acres, put a golf course on there.' " Kalbak said. "Average golf courses in California run anywhere from 95 to 115 acres. This first golf course is 135 acres."

Pazcuzzo, who is a partner in Graves & Pascuzzo of El Dorado Hills, said all the materials needed to build the course - including the sand for the laced-edged bunkers -- came from the site.

Kalbak described the bunkers as fine sand with a cake-mix like texture. Pascuzzo noted Pate, a six-time PGA Tour winner, was "very happy with its playability."

"It's got excellent texture. It's a little golden in color and the ball plays well out of it," Pascuzzo said. "The ball seems to sit up reasonably well in it."

Cart paths do not fully stretch around the course and riders will be coached in the coming weeks on what areas to avoid as several fairways and greens fill in to maturity.

Walkers, meanwhile, can save $17 on green fees or can rent pull carts for their walk at $7.

Pascuzzo, who has walked the course with a full bag, described The Old Course as "a very walkable course."

"On a scale of 1 to 10 with

1 being flat, I would say it is a 4, or a 5 maybe," said Pascuzzo, Whose firm's California portfolio includes Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, La Purisima in Lompoc and La Quinta Country Club.

Most tees and greens are paired closely, but seven holes include a jaunt to the next tees. According to Kalbak, that can add another 700 yards to the day's walk.

The risk-reward theme of Pascuzzo and Pate's design stands out clearly at No. 6, one of the course's four par 5s.

"The sixth hole was designed to make it risky to reach the green in two shots," Pascuzzo wrote for the Web site. "It has a small two-level green with lots of trouble around it. The tee shot has to clear the crest of the hill and be down by the lake to give the player any though of going for the green."

A similar issue greets players starting the second nine.

At the par-4 No. 10, a dune splits the fairway, offering a safer tee shot but more difficult second shot. By going left off the tee there is a better angle to the green and the distance is shorter, but the left fairway is also just 22 yards wide.

Both Pascuzzo and Kalbak called No. 10 the toughest handicap hole on the backside.

On the front, they mixed and matched.

"It could be 9. It could be

No. 4 because of its length," said Pascuzzo, adding that the lake on the right at No. 4 and the 540 yards from the tips will cause some angst.

Kalbak, a Class-A PGA professional, thinks that No. 1, a 453-yard par 4, or No. 4 will be rated the toughest stroke holes once a crew from the Southern California Golf Association has a look at the course later this month.

There is eye-popping scenery on No. 11 and 12, including ocean, dunes and Oso Flaco farming plots and wetlands.

A couple par 4s on the backside, No. 13 and 16, are the top qualifiers as the course's signature hole, according to Kalbak.

While the links-style dune holes dominate, Kalbak said there is a Scottish Highlands feel to at least four holes on the front (1, 6, 7 and 9), where eucalyptus woodlots and water hazards lurk. No. 17, with elevation changes and lakes in play, also fits a Highlands style.

With some seeding on the course happening as recent as mid-October, there are several holes, including No. 4 and greens at Nos. 3, 4, 11 and

12 that are still maturing. But overall, management has decided to go ahead with limited play, a maximum of 80 people a day.

Until April, there will be

15-minute intervals for tee times. Winter rules will be encouraged.

A few amenities are still in the works.

Permanent restrooms on the course are still under construction.

A more than 12,000 square foot practice putting area beneath the clubhouse was recently seeded and should be ready for use by April. There is a practice putting area near the 18th green. It will be ready in about two weeks.

Also the driving range -- that includes a 20-station artificial hitting turf and room for 30 10-foot stations on natural turf -- will see limited use until spring. The range itself is more than 300 yards deep, has a nice background and will include a half-dozen target greens. It will be handpicked until April, with natural turf stations open only during weekends.

The Nipomo Rotary Club will sponsor the first tournament at Monarch Dunes. It is scheduled for May 12.

After postponing an opening for three days, 40 golfers played the course Wednesday, Kalbak said.

Another 70 played Thursday and Kalbak expected weekend play to reach the 80-golfer limit.

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