St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa

Set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa, located in Dana Point 65 miles south of Los Angeles, has raised the bar for luxury lodging in Orange County. The $240-million, Tuscan-themed property, opened last July, boasts 400

Par-four third hole, Monarch Beach.

oversized rooms, most with ocean views and all with high-tech features, including data ports, wireless keyboards, high-speed Internet access, a 32-inch flat screen TV, and a DVD/CD player with access to a 300-title library. Beyond an enormous gurgling fountain and a formal garden courtyard framed by cypress trees is the revamped Monarch Beach Golf Links, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design circa 1984 that was significantly revised and strengthened to match the quality

of the hotel. Host to the Hyundai Team Matches last December, the 6,601-yard, par-70 layout is a beautifully groomed, well-strategized resort spread, its 98 bunkers filled with gleaming crushed white marble. The short, hairpin-shaped, par-four third brings players to the brink of the sea, while the gargantuan par-five seventh (612 yards from the tips) calls for a drive and approach over the tall, feathery pampas grass that grows in Salt Creek, which cuts diagonally across the fairway. The layout's five par threes, three of which are defended by ponds trimmed with tawny-colored rock, are excellent.

After the round, guests can unwind in Gaucin, a 30,000-square-foot spa with 25 treatment rooms; dine at one of six restaurants, including the Monarch Bay Club, its window-walled dining room a stone's throw from the beach; or wander the hotel's pastel-colored, art-decked public rooms. Sidetrips? The resort is convenient to the artist colony of Laguna Beach and the historic mission town of San Juan Capistrano. Rooms start at $355; golf packages are available. Reservations: 800-325-3589; www.stregismonarchbeach.com.

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