Golf is better than good at the Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes G.C. in Nipomo

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

NIPOMO, Calif. - As you leave the golf shop, the attendant behind the counter adds, "Oh, and the pin position today is No. 5."

Monarch Dunes Golf Club - Challenge Course - hole 12
By the time you get to no. 12 at Monarch Dunes Challenge Course you'll definitely feel like you've been challenged.
Monarch Dunes Golf Club - Challenge Course - hole 12Monarch Dunes - Challenge golf course - hole 1Monarch Dunes Golf Club - Challenge Course - 5thMonarch Dunes G.C. - Challenge Course - hole 7California sunset
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The Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes Golf Club

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1606 Trilogy Pkwy
Nipomo, California 93444
San Luis Obispo County
Phone(s): (805) 343-9459
12 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 36 | 1775 yards | ... details »

That's not something you ordinarily hear right before you play a par-3 golf course. Then again, the Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes Golf Club isn't like most par-3 golf courses.

There are actually six pin positions available on the Challenge Course's 12 holes. Its gigantic greens are just one of the attributes that make this Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate design unique to so-called short courses.

First of all, it's 12 holes, not nine or 18. Secondly, even though the holes are all par 3s, the variety of length and features bring every shot that you find on a regulation course and then some. In fact, if you don't hit it particularly long, you might be pulling 3-wood or driver on a couple longer holes if you're playing from the back set of three tees.

On the fifth hole, for example, which can play 239 yards, many players would be advised to lay up with all the water down the right side and in front of the green. Hitting a pair of precise wedges would certainly be easier than pinpointing a 3-wood or long iron.

"It's phenomenal," said Monarch Dunes First Assistant Ben Smithers of the Challenge. "It's not your typical pitch and putt."

You can play it alone or bring a group. It's a great warm-up to the feature course, the Old Course at Monarch Dunes, a beast of a golf course that will test all your golf skills, especially the short game.

Building the Challenge course: Best-laid plans turn out even better

Monarch Dunes Golf Club is located along the Central California Coast, just south of San Luis Obispo. Both golf courses were designed by Pascuzzo and Pate. It's part of The Woodlands, a master-planned resort, and the Trilogy residential community, which is surrounded by windswept dunes, eucalyptus trees, coastal vistas and amber-colored hillsides.

The original plan at Monarch Dunes was to build an executive course with a couple of par 4s. But as it turned out there were routing problems, getting to close to some of the homes, so officials decided to go with a par 3.

It turned out to be a stroke of luck.

Making it a par 3 gave Pascuzzo a lot more freedom to design a great variety of holes. They range from around 50 yards from the shortest tees to well over 200. Get a little wind, and it's anything but easy.

The holes have a great variety of looks as well. Five of them play around or over significant water hazards. Many of the holes feature large, deep, weathered-looking bunkers. And the velvet bentgrass greens average around 8,000 square feet.

No additional dirt was brought in to construct any part of the golf course, including the greens, which were constructed entirely from land on the property. The dunes give the course, located just a mile or so from the Pacific, a great seaside links look.

The Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes: The verdict

I've long been an advocate of quality short courses for the growth of the game, and the Challenge Course at Monarch Dunes is one of the best examples of that I've ever seen.

It addresses golf's inherent problems in several ways. The game often takes too long to play, but you can get through the Challenge Course in less than two hours easily.

It's also a perfect place for novice golfers - if they play the right tees. While the course is no pushover from the tips, the forward tees not only make the course shorter but the approach from those tees is easier as well. Most importantly, it's not nearly as intimidating as most so-called championship courses.

The beauty of the Challenge Course, however, is that it becomes more challenging as you move back on the tees.

This is a golf course where you can bring a group and get serious about playing skins or Nassaus or any kind of junk you'd play on the big course. It's more intriguing than a lot of regulation courses, and the fun only begins on the tees. Even when you get to these huge undulating greens, there's still a lot of work left. The putts will will get your attention.

And while the course has merit as a great practice course, it also shares a large driving range with the Old Course as well as a pair of practice greens. Combine a little time on the range with a quick loop on the Challenge, and you'll probably do your game some good.

Getting to and staying near Monarch Dunes Golf Club

In terms of major airports, there really isn't one that is close. Nipomo is about 200 miles north of the Los Angeles area and 200 miles south of Oakland/San Jose off State Highway 101.

Once you get to the San Luis Obispo area, there are plenty of hotel options. In Pismo Beach, for example, you can stay at The Cliffs Resort, which showcases postcard views of the Pacific Ocean. Sunsets are especially spectacular. The resort features suites, a restaurant and a full-service spa.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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