Updated: Jun 1, 2020
“I have found the game to be, in all factualness, a universal language wherever I traveled at home or abroad.” - Ben Hogan
Look, my wife travels a lot for work. It's a pro and con in many ways. We've been married seven plus years, still no kids, but we do have a six year old pup named Walter (more on him later). Every once in awhile, I'll take a Friday off, travel with her to wherever she's going, and we'll make a long weekend out of it. She had a conference in Orange County, California, this past January and it was ten degrees in Kansas. So, I packed my bags. I'd started mapping out where I wanted to play and narrowed it down to two places: Ben Browns Golf Course and Monarch Beach Golf Resort.
Laguna Beach sits just 53 miles south of Los Angeles. Nestled right along the Pacific Coast Highway, it has a charming, small town, vibe to it. Cocktails were reasonably priced and the food was fantastic. It was actually pretty quiet, but we were there in the "dead of the winter," as the locals would say.
I beat the sunrise, and my wife, out of bed that Friday morning, grabbed some coffee and headed out to Ben Brown's Golf Course, a short nine hole track located on the south side of Laguna. The course is situated in what they call "arguably the most serene and natural setting in Orange County." The nine hole, walking only course, is carved through the lush rock walls of the Aliso and Woods Canyons and while the course sets just a mile from the ocean, it couldn't feel further from the tides. On this day, the mountain walls were barely piercing through the dense, California fog.
The guys in the club house had it going on: the doors were open and the easy jams of California coastal music permeated though the air - This is my type of vibe - The guys running the show were prompt and overly kind. They also had a leisurely pace about them, which I always admire. I bought some merch, picked up my push cart, and headed to the first tee.
It was a pretty strange feeling. I'd read that this place was shorter, only playing to a par 32 and just 2221 yards. It reminded me a lot of a course called Pine Edge in Gossel, featured in an earlier post. The exception being that this course was tucked into the mountains of California. It was a perfect way to start the day.
The course is pretty straight forward:
$38.00 bucks to play 9 holes. Push cart included (walking only)
The more frequent these mornings become, the more I long for them. I haven't always traveled with my clubs. It's taken me the better part of six years to truly fall in love with the game. I still remember the first time I packed my gator case; the first time I played outside the state lines; it's that feeling of exhilaration stepping onto the first tee in a place that's unrecognizable that keeps me hauling my case everywhere I go now. Ben Brown's, or "The Ranch @ Laguna Beach" as it's also referred to, was another example of that. There's never really an "off-season" in California, so the fairways were lush, the greens were quick and undulating, and the coastal California air drifted through the canyon walls with a steady, calming, ease. I slapped a four iron off the elevated first tee, and it disappeared into the thick morning air...
On the card, five of the nine holes are reachable from the tee. The other four holes play right around 300 yards, which may be "get-able" for you big ballers out there. But, with a visibility of 200 yards, at best, the course's defenses were hidden. I swung blindly for the first few holes. The result: found bunkers and missed greens. As the morning sun burnt the fog from the mountains, the course shed part of its armor, revealing a more inviting look and the course's true defense: sand beach bunkers and small greens with plenty of angulation.
On this morning, the Ranch got the best of me. I continued to tote around my sand-wedge and rarely hit a green in regulation. I didn't much care though. I couldn't help but think about all those short, cold winter days that were waiting for me back in Kansas. By hole seven, the sun had breached the walls of Aliso and Woods Canyons and the entirety of the course was revealed. What a site it was... As I finished up the ninth, I contemplated taking another lap. I couldn't believe how quick the round went and thought about all the holes that were hidden so mysteriously in the mountains my first time around. Unfortunately I had to get going as I had another round scheduled at Monarch Beach Golf Course in an hour, luckily just a few miles south.
I'd been debating between a couple different courses for the afternoon round. There are some great places to play in Orange County, and if you're willing to take the beautiful, hour long drive south down Interstate 5, you could grab a tee time at Torrey Pines. Golf Digest ranked the South Course as #36 on the best 100 public golf courses in America while GOLF.com ranked it as #20 on the courses you can play list from 2017. If you're a resident of San Diego, you can grab a weekend tee time for just $78.00 (insane). Torrey was hosting the Farmers Open the following week so I figured the odds of getting on slim at best. It'll have to stay on the bucket list for now...
Just a few miles south of The Ranch lies Monarch Beach Golf Course, located in the coastal town of Dana Point. From the gold tees, Monarch plays a short, but very challenging, 6052 yards. The big dog tees are back another 500 yards. Par is 70, which would be a great score considering some of the tee shots this places demands.
Just by chance, there happened to be an old friend visiting the area at the same time. A couple phone calls to the clubhouse and some shuffling of bags later and we were all set. First, there's an obvious difference between Monarch and Ben Brown's. One is a nine hole course tucked into mountains. The other: an 18 hole, resort course with ocean views. The scale of the resort that the course sits on, in all its glitz and glamour, is imposing on the drive up to this place. That didn't bother me though. On this day, it was all about the golf and the company.
We waited in line for our tee time, and then were graciously ushered to the first tee and given the rules of the road. With forty plus golfers congregated around waiting around for their turn, I topped a 3-wood and dug for another ball while my buddy continued on. I guess the nine hole warm-up round that morning wasn't enough.
I left the camera in the bag except to photograph hole number three, Monarch Beach's signature hole. This 295 yard dogleg-left, par four, is one of the most beautiful holes I've had the chance to play. From the tee a decision has to be made. If you can hit driver 265 and are feeling adventurous, you can take on the bunker arrangement on the left side of the fairway to carry the corner. Anything hit too far has a chance to run through the sloped fairway and onto the beach below. If you pull it off, all that's left is a short pitch into a slightly elevated green. If you're like me and enjoy long walks along the beach, you can hit a 200 yard shot and split the fairway bunkers, leaving just a knock down wedge into the green. Helpful tip: take the long way; it gives you the best views. The sandy white beach and rippling ocean sits just a few yards from the hole. I'd played a few ocean holes, but never one that was seemingly level with the ocean like this. This hole is simply breathtaking.
And just like that, the day went just as quick as it came. I spent the rest of the weekend strolling the downtown streets of Laguna, sipping cocktails and day-dreaming about the next time I'd get to play golf in a place like this.
I usually don't write our stories; hell, this is my first attempt. I much prefer my partner's craftsmanship behind the keyboard. Stories, to me, are told through photographs. An image can take me right back to a previous time; I can still remember the rustling of the waves as they crashed into the rocks just feet below the third green at Monarch, or the eerie feeling of the dense fog and hidden mountains of Ben Brown's Golf Course... Writing this story helped me savor those memories and sear them into my mind.
While the Middle Pin has a very clear focus on golf in Kansas, that doesn't change the fact that we always want to showcase the golf around us. Most of the time, we play golf in Kansas because that's where we are. But every once in a while, those of us out here in the middle venture "Out to the Edge." And those stories are important to tell too. Who knows how often we'll post stuff like this but our goal here was to show that golf, this silly game with a bag full of sticks chasing down a dimpled ball, really is a huge part of who we are, whether that is at home or on the road. And if you've read this far, odds are, it is a pretty big part of who you are too. Until next time, as always...
We're glad you're here - tMP