Last Update :10/24/2006

Central Coast Showcases a Beauty- Golf Today

Cover Story: Central Coast Showcases a Beauty at Monarch Dunes

By Bob Weisgerber

What does it take to develop a special, even spectacular, golf course? Well, many things, of course, but importantly it takes vision on the part of the developer and a combination of aesthetic sensibility and technical competence on the part of the architect. It also takes a property that affords the possibility of realizing the goals set by the owner and the designer. All of this has happened at Monarch Dunes, the new 18-hole beauty at The Woodlands Resort in Nipomo, along the Central Coast of California. Opened in May of 2006, Monarch Dunes was acclaimed by the guests and writers who attended that day. As it matures, it has only gotten better. But first, we need to consider the three keys to its success.

Leadership--Course Design Talent-- and Superb Terrain for golf.

The result is a challenging course that is never repetitive, always fair, and just plain fun. Did I mention beautiful?LeadershipWhen outstanding things happen in golf course openings, and visitors start heaping praise, much of the time they direct it toward the golf course architect. And this is certainly fair, because if the architect "bombs" (rather than succeeds) with his design, he certainly catches plenty of flak. But the simple fact is, the man who conceives the idea for the course, spearheads its development, selects the architect, and conveys his vision clearly so that the architect can implement those ideas, then funds the project, is the guy who really makes it happen--and in that sense he deserves full attention and full credit. At Monarch Dunes that man is John Scardino, Principal of The Woodlands, a 956-acre project above the coast in Nipomo, San Luis Obispo County.This article is not the place to detail Mr. Scardino’s extensive background in the law and property development in Texas and California (over 1.2 billion dollars worth), including his current development at The Woodlands. Rather, we need to assess him in terms of his golf instincts and his preferences for course characteristics born from his experiences on much-admired golf links. These include two extraordinary Southern California courses, Sherwood (Thousand Oaks) and Bighorn (Palm Desert), both of which regularly appear on televised shows.The first thing we can assume is that John Scardino loves the game of golf. He is relative newcomer to the game and a mid-handicapper, and like so many of us he’s a fan of Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, time constraints most often restrict him to playing nine holes, but at "The Old Course" at Monarch Dunes that seems like sacrilege.His bias is toward golf that looks like it is a natural part of the environment. That includes uneven landing zones that occasionally lead to unpredictable bounces and raw, ragged bunkers, fringed with fescue, similar to those often found "across the pond." Scardino is most impressed with St. Andrews Golf Links, not only because of its history, but also because of the links character and because it appears to be so random--which it actually is in many ways.John Scardino’s golf course development efforts are gathering momentum. Expect more in the future, both in the USA and overseas--all of championship level, of course.Course Design TalentWhen John Scardino chose Damian Pascuzzo as his architect he selected a man who learned his architectural skills as an Associate of Robert (Bob) Graves--whose reputation in golf design was not only broad but also centered on the communication of his knowledge to hundreds of others through his seminars on the nuances of golf course design. When this grand master of the field passed away, Damian Pascuzzo took his place and never looked back, serving as President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 2001-2002 and frequently lecturing on the subject to USGA, PGA and other groups.Damian has led in the design of a number of courses, ranging from Massachusetts to Washington, Nevada, and California, where he maintains offices in El Dorado Hills, CA. He has remodeled other well-known courses from Japan to Canada, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and, of course, California. At The Woodlands, Pascuzzo was afforded the rarest of opportunities--the chance to design a complex of three golf courses abutting the Pacific Ocean in Central California, where permitting is indeed rare. In addition to the existing "Old Course," the second course that is planned will have 12 holes (not a misprint) with the idea that it can be played in 1½ hour; an executive course. The third course will again be 18 holes in length. All will be built on land that is primarily sand-based. The bonus is in the nature of the land that Pascuzzo was given to work with, for it is truly outstanding. Steve Pate consulted with Damian Pascuzzo on the design and, in the words of John Scardino, was like an "editor"--a term that I had not previously encountered in golf design--though it might safely be said that a second pair of eyes from a pro can only help. During grow-in, a critical part of the process, Dan Garson has been instrumental in maintenance and management of the course.Superb Terrain for GolfThe topography is varied--at times it is rolling, at other times it is nearly level, but it is endlessly interesting. As indicated above, the soil beneath this new gem, Monarch Dunes, is sandy, not unlike the courses in Great Britain and Ireland that drain so well they can be played during driving rain. Happily, Pascuzzo’s inclinations in design are consistent with the styles of the leading architects of the Golden Age of Golf, in particular Dr. Alister MacKenzie. Which brings us to the Design of Monarch DunesThe very beginning of these exciting 18 holes tells you that you are for something special. On this par 4, 440-yard first hole, your drive and your second shot must skirt the right side of a beautiful manmade lake. The approach shot to the green must avoid a grove of eucalyptus trees on the right that appear to be reaching for the sky. Then, if you are lucky enough to land on the green, you have to figure the breaks, and they’re anything but obvious.The par 5 sixth provides a challenge calling for 550 yards over a hill, and if you don’t hit a solid drive you’ll be faced with a choice--lay up or attempt a second shot over water to a green that is nested in mounds. It’s a gorgeous and demanding hole. The back nine starts with a split fairway, so pick your poison on the tee shot. Well, not poison, really, but either route on this 407-yard hole will make you work for par. It’s a case of broader landing area versus tougher approach shot. Then you get a beautiful "breather" at the 11th hole. Downhill and 180 yards long, it offers a direct view of the Pacific Ocean--that is, unless the fog is in. Or the sunset is in your eyes. What a place to score your hole-in-one! The 13th hole reminds one of Irish golf; a tumbling fairway with random rough, with a dune roughly 30-40 yards in front of the green. High, wild, fescue grasses are one of the features that John Scardino favors, and you’ll find them here.The 14thThe 17th is nothing if not demanding. At 480 yards and a par 5, you shouldn’t underestimate this hole. There are lakes to traverse and there is an uphill approach shot that can result, maddeningly, in the ball spinning back off the green and down in your direction. But it is a very big green and you aren’t going to be done until you finally find the cup. Easy, right?The 18th hole is one hole that received significant input from Steve Pate. It is also is very tricky because the incoming shot to the green, depending on where it lands, can scoot off in various directions. Good luck! (And maybe you should have a drink on Steve Pate at the 19th hole.)There are a number of things that make Monarch Dunes an outstanding design and a lot of fun to play. Several that stand out, at least to me, are a) variety in the holes, b) memorable design features and challenges, c) a blend of shot values that appeal to a wide range of golfer’s skill levels, d) beauty in the ambiance of the holes and the course overall, e) the feeling that you want to come back and play Monarch Dune over and over again.Monarch Dunes is a tribute to the truest traditions of golf and the pleasures that can be provided by a beautiful, challenging golf course.     

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