Dana Point’s St. Regis Monarch Beach regally combines course and resort.
Colorado certainly has its share of impressive five-star hotels and resorts; indeed, some of them rank among the nation’s best. And when it comes to beautiful golf courses, it’s as good as it gets for a thousand miles or more in every direction. One area in which it doesn’t fare very well—through no fault of its own—is private beachfront on the ocean.
One place you will find all three is the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, California, about 60 miles south of Los Angeles and 65 north of San Diego. The magnificent hotel and resort opened in 2001, by which time the golf course had existed for 18 years—at least nine holes of it.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed those first nine holes, which opened in 1983, when there was comparatively little development in the area. His client, Avco Community Builders, one of several developers that at one time or another owned this valuable stretch of land, sought to build homes and a large, luxury hotel as the centerpiece of a high-end golf resort, supposed to rival Pebble Beach.
Government bureaucracy and the California Coastal Commission’s insistence golf be kept away from the coastline hampered such plans, however, and it was only after lengthy negotiations that Jones persuaded the CCC that golf was worthy addition to the Orange County coast.
Avco, which had always intended to create an 18-hole course, altered its proposals and limited Jones to nine inland holes that did at least offer views of the ocean and featured a number of arroyos. Jones would return nine years later to complete the full 18, diverting the Pacific Coastal Highway briefly to complete the two oceanfront holes for which the course is best known.
Truth be told though, the fun, short, par-4 3rd (top photo) is the only genuine ocean hole, but even it doesn’t involve an exciting water carry over churning, foaming surf. The tee shot plays downhill toward the beach, and the hole then turns sharply left, leaving a sand wedge to a heavily-contoured green.
The par-3 4th (shown here) turns inland. Unless you play it with your head turned 180 degrees to where it should be facing—i.e. forwards—you won’t actually see the ocean.
Of course, the 3rd gets top billing and features heavily in all the course’s promotional material. And while it is a terrific hole, it is the only one of its kind here. After the 4th, the course heads back under the highway and moves inland. And though the thrill of driving toward the ocean off the 3rd tee is never quite repeated, don’t for a second assume the experience becomes bland.
Remember: Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed these holes. As well as being environmentally sound (Jones worked closely with the CCC), they are at times attention-grabbing and thought-provoking, fun and challenging. There are a number of terrific moments, most notably at the par-5 7th (below) where you have to decide when to cross Salt Creek which divides the fairway left and right.
The green at the 8th is surrounded by a mass of bunkers, and the par 5 9th is another fabulous three-shotter. On the back, the uphill par 4 11th, left-sweeping par 5 12th, short, downhill 13th, and drive and pitch 18th with the approach over water, are the highlights. But really, Monarch Beach has no weakness. Yes, houses surround many of back nine holes, but not in a sinister way. And because this is Orange County, you can always have a fun game of “Which of those mad ‘housewives’ lives in that one?”
It’s really no surprise Monarch Beach records a whopping 47,000 rounds a year, split evenly between members, groups, and resort guests.
But again, don’t assume the greens suffer with the traffic. Monarch’s bent/poa surfaces putt beautifully and will only get better under the stewardship of new superintendent Daniel Miller who arrived at Monarch Beach last month after seven years at Riviera Country Club, where he worked alongside the PGA Tour in preparing Hogan’s Alley for the Northern Trust Open.
Guests staying at the St. Regis—one of only 12 St. Regis properties in the U.S. and 34 worldwide (22 more are currently under construction or being planned)—not only get the benefits of this superb golf course, but also a recent $30-million renovation to the hotel’s 400 guest rooms (more renovations are on the way to the lobby and other public areas, but guests will be inconvenienced as little as possible).
Guests also have access to a private six-acre beach, three swimming pools (one with fully-outfitted cabanas), the award-winning Spa Gaucin, the Sandcastle Kids Club, and six ocean-view restaurants of which Chef Michael Mina’s exceptional Stonehill Tavern stands tall above the others.
Tony Dear is a regular contributor to Colorado AvidGolfer. His most recent book is The Story of Golf in Fifty Holes.