Holes No. 3 and 4, the ocean holes at Monarch Beach in Dana Point, are the highlight of any round at this Ritz-Carlton resort course, and deservedly so.
Both holes – the short dogleg par-4 played toward the ocean, followed by a mid-length par-3 away – make wonderful and memorable use of the landscape to provide the epitome of the ocean-side golf experience. Standing on the tee at No. 3, you can see the ocean and nearly hear the waves crashing to provide the sort of spine-tingling golf experience only a select group of California courses can deliver.
They’re relatively easy holes (the Nos. 17 and 15 handicap, respectively), but that’s no criticism because going double-double here would be kind of a buzzkill.
What follows is a long par-3 that welcomes you back from your two-hole golf vacation with a rude reality check to kick off what I think is the toughest stretch of the course. Holes 5, 6 (par-4) and 7 (par-5) can send your scorecard up in flames and have you thumbing through camera phone photos of the ocean holes reminiscing about the good old days of your round before you even make the turn.
No. 5 plays 193 yards from the gold tees and 217 from the tips and has a beauty-and-the-beast complex.
First, the beauty. You’ve got Monarch’s palatial clubhouse as a backdrop and a pond with a fountain on the right. Sand traps frame the hole on the left (you’ll notice this one’s shaped liked a butterfly as many on the course are) and back right.
It’s a gorgeous golf hole and would likely be the signature hole on many other courses and possibly here were it not for the holes that precede it.
The course GPS tells you that Fred Couples regards this as one of his favorite par-3s, and one of the toughest.
Now, the beast. The length alone is a test, but if there’s wind, it’s likely to be at your back – although I’ve played it into the wind, which I’ll discuss in a bit – so wind isn’t a huge issue here. The green is.
The green is tiered and severely sloped. When the pin is front right, you’ve got to challenge the water to get close and then hope you don’t reach the top tier, because the putt downhill is like trying to stop a bullet train.
So a solid tee shot sometimes isn’t a guarantee of anything here. Placement is critical. And as you can imagine, chipping into this green is a risky proposition as well when the pin is near the pond.
I’ll always remember the first time I played this hole. I had just moved out and discovered Monarch by catching a glimpse of it from the PCH. Not knowing the quality of the course I stumbled into, I was blown away just standing in the pro shop.
I had a solid round, with my tee shot on No. 5 being the highlight. I fired safely at the left side of the green and watched the ball climb the slope, trail right across the top of the green and do a u-turn to gentle settle in 6 feet from the pin. I like to think of that has my Fred Couples moment.
My two return trips have mostly been successful here, but I’ve watched other golfers playing this hole for the first time blow-up, usually helplessly watching their tee shot drift right into the drink.
I played Monarch last November for my birthday and experienced it under windy conditions for the first time. It put some serious teeth into a few holes, especially the par-3s.
While warming up for my round, I noted the wind and deduced that No. 5 would be playing into it. Anticipating clubbing up one or even two, I took some warm-up swings with my 3-iron, and the practice paid off.
Monarch doesn’t have a range, but I suggest hitting a few into the net with your long irons to prepare you for No. 5 so you’ll hopefully have a pretty number on your scorecard to go along with those pretty pictures you just took of the ocean.