DANA POINT, Calif. -- Looking for golf? The ocean? A romantic getaway? A family vacation?
Few California resorts deliver on all accounts as well as the St. Regis Monarch Beach in southern California's upscale Orange County. The luxurious Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond property caters to just about anybody, from the businessman to the bride. Golf Channel travel expert Matt Ginella named the St. Regis Monarch Beach one of the 10 best getaways for women golfers .
I took my family in May, and I'm not sure who had more fun: Me at the golf course; my children, who hit the beach and pool hard; or my wife, who disappeared into the award-winning Gaucin Spa. That's a vacation full of memories for all ages.
St. Regis Monarch Beach: The resort
All it takes is one look out your balcony to realize the reason why so many guests return to the 400-room resort once they get a taste. The views extend beyond the marble columns and Mediterranean architecture surrounding the open grass courtyard out to the swimming pools and the golf course, stretching across the blue horizon of the Pacific Ocean.
The butler service of the St. Regis brand brings that personal service and touch that high-end travelers crave. They are willing to pay extra to feel like they're welcome and surrounded by friends, not strangers. That has been the resort's calling card since opening in 2001.
As nice as everything is at the main resort -- the Stonehill Tavern and the recently refreshed rooms, come to mind -- it's the Monarch Bay Club that makes Monarch Beach one of California's coolest resorts. This private beach club, a shuttle ride away, is obviously a great way to spend a day at the beach. It becomes even more fantastic at dusk. The sands and sky start to glow pink as the sun goes down. Normally, the resort celebrates its daily ritual of "champagne sabering" on the Sunset Terrace at the Lobby Lounge, but we had our own private show outside the beach club. The sabering -- where a butler chops the top off of a bottle and then pours glasses for guests to drink -- has been a St. Regis tradition since 1904. We toasted the stunning sunset, and our good fortune, with the champagne. The dinner of fresh seafood that followed was just as exquisite as the setting.
Numerous vacation packages cater to specific groups -- golf buddies, couples and more. Ocean lovers can sign up for private lessons or guided excursions to go surfing, body-boarding, body-surfing, stand up paddle-boarding and ocean kayaking. A unique golf package takes advantage of the resort's proximity to the world headquarters of Titleist, TaylorMade and Callaway. A "Fit Fore VIPs" package includes limousine transfer to club fittings at any of the three equipment companies, along with a stay-and-play at the resort. Families can easily hit Disneyland in Anaheim or LEGOLAND California Resort in Carlsbad if they find it necessary to leave for a day excursion.
Monarch Beach Golf Links
There aren't many California golf courses that cozy up to the ocean. Real estate is too pricey to give away such prime land. The courses that deliver the Pacific Ocean to golfers -- such as those at Pebble Beach Resorts, Torrey Pines and Half Moon Bay -- are held in iconic status.
Monarch Beach Golf Links doesn't seem to get the same respect, although it's certainly quite good. The management and service provided by OB Sports is top-notch. The staff works hard to offset any deficiencies, like the lack of a range. During corporate outings and events, the first fairway can be converted into a range. Golf butlers, similar to forecaddies, are available for hire.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. didn't have much land at his disposal prior to the 1983 grand opening, so his unique routing of three par 5s and five par 3s plays as a tight, 6,645-yard par 70. The host of the 2001 Hyundai Team Matches featuring pros from the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours is entirely open to the public, not just for guests of the St. Regis or nearby Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
The round starts with a climb to the first green, only to crash back down again on the par-4 second hole -- a sharp, dogleg left. Deep bunkers with edges guard fairway doglegs and elevated greens. Ponds and hazards pinch eight holes, ready to pounce. The third hole swerves left through a maze of seven bunkers, finishing at a wild green overlooking the crashing surf. A sign above the greens reminds golfers this is one heck of a selfie spot.
Back at the clubhouse, a new chef has refreshed the menu at Club 19 with fantastic healthy choices. Even Brussels sprouts taste better when you're staring out at the ocean. That's the Monarch Beach difference right there.