Last Update :1/9/2006

January 8, 2006 - The Tribune

Monarch Dunes seeking tourists and local players to fill fairways

Monarch Dunes must find its niche as the seventh new golf course to open here in the past 12 years

Larry Mauter
The Tribune

Monarch Dunes management has lofty goals for "The Old Course." It is hoping that a level of service on a championship links layout will gain it distinction and market share.

The climb will be uphill.

San Luis Obispo County has added 116 new golf holes since the start of 1994, more than doubling the golf holes open to the public.

Monarch Dunes must find its niche as the seventh new golf course to open here in the past 12 years.

While the county's population has increased, golf course operators have come to realize that substantial tourist-generated dollars are needed to keep the local businesses healthy. Since 1990, the county's population has grown at an average rate of only 1.14 percent, according to the UCSB Economic Forecast.

San Luis Obispo County residents are half of the hoped-for 40,000 rounds in the course's first year, said Matt Kalbak, general manager and director of operations at Monarch Dunes.

"We actually see about 50 percent of our business coming from the local market. We see about 30 percent of our business being tournament play and we see about 20 percent of our business as being the weekend wine country visitors from the San Francisco Bay and the Los Angeles area," Kalbak said.

Monarch Dunes faces another challenge, the proximity of two other upscale public golf courses.

Nipomo Mesa residents and visitors now have a cluster of golf choices. When the Woodlands project is built out, there will be 90 holes within a couple miles, including Blacklake Golf Resort and Cypress Ridge Golf Course.

While acknowledging the business competition issues among Blacklake, Cypress Ridge and his course, Kalbak also is hoping to see cooperative benefits from the close cluster of courses.

"We would hope that Cypress Ridge and Blacklake, on days when they have tournaments, or were full, that they could feel comfortable with calling our golf facility and sending golfers our way," he said.

"On days we have large events and tournaments and we're not able to accommodate, then we'll make every opportunity for potential customers and guests here to try to accommodate them at those facilities if we can't get them on our golf course.

"I see that we're another piece of the San Luis Obispo Golf Trail, another opportunity for people to play."

Kalbak has worked in golf course management for the past decade in Georgia, Florida and California. He arrived in Nipomo on Oct. 3 and saw a lot of sand and a six-part module that would become a $1.3 million pro shop and restaurant.

The course and clubhouse rounded into form.

A restaurant -- no name yet -- opened Nov. 19. It is operated by Michael Rinehart, a former executive chef at Pelican Point in southern Orange County. There are 18 tables for breakfasts and lunches. Capacity is 86 people. Rinehart's chowder is a past

Pismo Clam Festival champion.

Jensen Lardizabal is the course's first assistant professional and golf shop manager. The overall restaurant and pro shop are 4,100 square feet.

Kalbak, recognizes the need for tourism and says a top-notch golf experience is the key to success at Monarch Dunes.

"What we want do is provide a 'best-in class' golf experience here on the Central Coast. We want to be the shining star, if you will, in our experience for golfers here, from the time they come to the club and look at the views, to the quality of the breakfast or lunch they receive at our restaurant."

Krystal Bough, director of sales and marketing at Monarch Dunes, said marketing is aimed at county residents -- including those north of the Grade -- as well as out-of-area tourists.

"Our clientele is somebody who enjoys a really great golf game," she said.

"Of course we want to capture the local market but being that there are other golf courses in the area, that it's a competitive local market, we're going to try to pull from other areas -- make it a real destination point as far as a very unique and challenging golf course."

The local marketing strategies include preview rates good through April, a "Royal Rewards" program that offers discounts and merchandise as well as advertising.

Marketing of the course at a nationwide level will take place in April, during a grand opening planned for the week following The Masters.

Invitations will be extended, Kalbak said, to major golf magazines and reviewers. He hopes that experience will propel Monarch Dunes into national recognition.

"I feel that going into springtime when we do our grand opening, when we get all the raters and rankers here from around the country, I have a very strong feeling that this first golf course is going to make the (Golf Digest) top 100 best in the United States, he said. "That's my feeling, I'm not saying for sure, but I think this golf course is unbelievable," he said.

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