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The Summer of Golf examines the sport’s post-pandemic popularity boom at local courses in South Orange County and showcases the play of each course through the eyes of our resident normal, below-average new golfer. Click here to read previous entries in this series.

By Zach Cavanagh

Every golf course has its signature hole.

Hole No. 3 at Monarch Beach Golf Links might be the signature hole of all South Orange County golf, and Monarch Beach may be the signature course of South Orange County golf.

The dogleg left par four of hole No. 3 curls up against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, with the green placed up on a bluff overlooking Salt Creek Beach. It’s the portrait of Southern California golf with perfectly manicured greens and fairways framed by sand and the cool blue of the ocean waves.

Ocean views on Hole No. 3 at Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point. Photo: Zach Cavanagh

It’s one of the selling points that’s made Monarch Beach Golf Links a popular golf spot no matter the circumstance, and during the early throws of pandemic restrictions, the course was an inundated with plenty more people coming out to enjoy this splendid track.

“There were no available tee times. Any day, any time,” Monarch Beach Golf Links General Manager Eric Lohman said. “Now, there’s some availability. We’re about some level of normal. We’re not as chaotic.”

Lohman said that there has still been plenty of increase with more interest in beginner golf and from golfers who had given it up and come back. Pricing at Monarch Beach was “still very equitable for the consumer” at the beginning of the pandemic, Lohman said.

Price is usually what the average golfer will come back to when discussing Monarch Beach Golf Links, as it is the most expensive of the public courses being reviewed in this series. Lohman said part of the small subsiding of demand since those early pandemic highs are because of the course trying to become more exclusive.

That’s not to lead into a claim of calling Monarch Beach Golf Links overpriced or elitist.

Playing Monarch Beach Golf Links was simply a pleasure.

The course provides a private club experience with public access. The amenities provided at the course are second to none, and the course is tough, but enjoyable and magnificently maintained.

As soon as you arrive, you’re welcomed with complimentary valet and bag service straight to the cart. There are hitting bays and a practice area to enjoy before your round. There is complimentary water bottles and towels to load into your cart, which comes with an attached cooler already filled with ice. The carts themselves come equipped with a state-of-the-art screen, which includes GPS hole information, green readings, Bluetooth connection for music and the ability (and friendly reminders) to order food ahead of time from the on-course café.

While there is a myriad of real-world factors for anyone to consider what price is “worth it,” the experience you’ll receive at Monarch Beach Golf Links will be worth what you pay for it. There are also daily deals available on their website, and the 9FORE9 option, which makes front or back nine play more accessible.

If you can find your way in or find your way to swing a round, it’s a recommendation here to give it a go and not regret a second of it.

Now, enough with the material platitudes. How does Monarch Beach Golf Links play for the normal, below-average golfer?

The Round

This entire story was about two feet away from being structured completely different.

Readers, I nearly hit a hole-in-one on the par three No. 17.

From the gold tees (the equivalent of the white tees at other courses) from 128 yards out, I hit a driver on the left side of this plateau green (and yes, driver. I know, I need help). The ball then rolled to the right and kept rolling. It looked as if it had the pace to head right to the pin, but it slid behind the flag and just past the hole.

While there was still every chance for this to be a sad story, I summoned my composure to knock in the short put and claim my first birdie in this Summer of Golf series. Thank you, but please, hold all applause until the end.

Aside from my near superhuman feat, the course at Monarch Beach Golf Links is a blast.

I can’t overstate the views of the place, even just from the clubhouse overlooking the first, second and fifth holes. With water features, a variety of fairways and complex greens, it is a visually interesting course that, as mentioned, is incredibly maintained. Just how manicured the grass was on the opening tee box and fairways is a noticeable step up from other courses.

And hole No. 3. The photos don’t do it justice. It’s something every South Orange County golfer should take in at least once.

All that said, the course is also a tough one, especially for a newer golfer. It’s tougher than every other course in this series for one reason alone—sand.

Yes, when we talk about hole No. 3 and beach golf, some sand is to be expected, but the amount of time I spent hitting out of the sand was tragic. Monarch Beach Golf Links is lined with fairway bunkers on nearly every hole, with a handful of greens defended by an armada of bunkers.

Hitting out of the sand is just tough for a beginner golfer. It requires such a different plan of attack and every golfer you know has their own set of personal tips on how to place your feet, where to strike, how to hold the club face, how to finish and just get the dang ball back on hard ground.

I had 10 sand shots over the course of 18 holes—some successful, some not.

That’s not an indictment of the course, because you can certainly play through it. Just look at my score.

Overall, it’s not far off from what we’ve seen so far with a 46-over-par 116, but the beauty and real fun of my round is in the details. I shot 28-over-par on the front nine (par 36) and only 18-over-par on the back nine (par 34), despite splitting my sand shots—five and five—over each. Sometimes, golf is truly a sport about sticking with it, and if you do, you might see something incredible.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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