DIY Country Club Wedding with a View || Monterey, Ca

For months we’d been looking forward to Gavan and Ashley’s wedding with more excitement than usual.  We love to travel anywhere, but if it’s for a destination wedding in beautiful Monterey, California, count us in.  Even better—Gavan’s brother, Will, is one of our closest friends, and a handful of our favorite people would be there!  Will, along his wife, Bekka, and daughter, Evelyn were all in the wedding party. We drove up with our awesome friend, Natalie, who was helping with cake and cupcakes baked by our other awesome friend, Kristen.  What could be better?!  This wedding was poised to be a culmination of anticipation for us, but it was bound to be an even more resounding exclamation point for Gavan and Ashley.Laguna Beach, Orange County photographer, Laguna Beach weddings, creative engagement portraits, engagement session, Crescent Bay Beach, couple, beach pictures, piggy back ride, beach portraits, beach engagement session, posing

Ashley Merchak and Gavan Young met in college.  On the last day before summer break, they discovered that not only would they be returning to the same hometown, but that they had summer jobs at the same place!  Naturally, their school-year friendship blossomed into a hometown bond.  You might think that this would lead straight into a summertime romance.  And you’d be right… if you thought that the romance would begin three years later when Gavan asked Ashley out… and Ashley finally agreed.
Five years after that, they found themselves ring shopping on the day before Ashley’s birthday.  Ashley is the kind of woman that knows exactly what she likes and doesn’t like, so when she found a ring she liked, Gavan didn’t take any chances.  He managed buy the ring right then without her catching on.  He surprised her the next day with a birthday proposal, and a few months later, we were taking engagement photos of them along the shore in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.  We love their story, and have loved coming to call them friends.


Fast forward to April 22, 2017.

Ashley is a meticulous planner and pensive decision maker.  She slaved over every detail of her country club wedding and ballroom reception, and created a natural and simple, yet elegant affair with splashes of blush, maroon, navy, and gold. She designed a top-notch wedding website using, featuring full profiles of everyone involved, interactive details, and lots of photos.  Of course we’re always excited about any well-designed platform for our photography.  This wedding was to be a masterpiece of DIY coordination.  Ashley and her minions assembled scores of decorations and set up a fun homemade photo booth.  Gavan’s contractor-guru dad built a handful of pieces including the arbor, the dessert stand, and all the table numbers.  Will brewed the beer.

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We arrived at Corral de Tierra Country Club near Monterey, California the evening before, and we were delighted to discover a lush valley with majestic trees, bridges, and blankets of wildflowers.  The clubhouse featured a stunning vista of the course in the valley below.  Gavan’s childhood home was located conveniently right on the other side of the course.  There, he and the groomsmen learned to fold pocket squares, played pool, shared a toast, and laughed hysterically.  Meanwhile, the ladies were primping and prepping at another nearby vacation rental.  Like the boys, they shared a toast, but with mimosas rather than scotch and clad in matching bridesmaids robes rather than suits.  The scenery made for a nice backdrop, but Ashley stole the show.  She was equal parts feminine softness and sassy glamour in her Essence of Australia blush pink mermaid wedding gown with ruffles and flare.  We knew that when Gavan first saw his bride, he would find his heart full and his vocabulary empty.

Gavan awaited their first look in a picturesque tree-lined meadow.  Ashley tiptoed out to meet him, embracing him from behind, and when he turned to see her, it was as we suspected—he was speechless.  After a few moments oblivious to the the world, we took advantage of this year’s California “superbloom.”  A patch of wildflowers adds romance to any wedding portrait.  The setting only required some light manual upkeep, and Luke was happy to oblige, adding comedy to the romance, dragging away some unwanted fallen branches.  Gavan added even more romance (and maybe a little more comedy) lifting his bride and carrying her across the uneven ground.  But who can argue with the result?  The atmosphere of romantic fun was perfect.

So was the ceremony.  DIY signs and programs welcomed guests as they took their seats on a terrace overlooking the valley and awaited the big moment.  Fresh flower petals lined the aisle.  The arbor, built by Gavan’s dad, framed the landscape perfectly and featured a gleaming chandelier.  The bridal party filed in, followed by Evelyn, who had nailed her flower-girl dress rehearsal the day before, but needed a little extra assistance with so many eyes watching her.  Then all the eyes turned to Ashley, but there was only one onlooker whose eyes mattered.  The expression Gavan had worn during the first look returned to his face when he saw Ashley approaching with her dad.  Their ceremony was officiated by a friend, a reading was shared by Ashley’s sister, and loving affirmation was given by all.

The love and affirmation carried into the reception.  The evening was full of moments of high emotion, both tender and uproarious.  Ashley cherishes a special bond with her dad and siblings.  And as the oldest of four, she is especially close to her younger sister, Laura.  Those bonds were unmistakable during the traditional dances.  Ashley and her dad couldn’t help but sing along to every word of their father daughter dance as they made their way around the dance floor.  Then as Gavan took the floor with his mom, Laura joined Ashley at the sweetheart table.  The sisters shared an almost-secret moment of affection that only they will understand, holding each other close as everyone else watched the mother-son dance.

The generations dance is an oft-overlooked tradition that holds extra significance for us.  We love how it highlights life-long commitment!  Gavan’s maternal grandparents—married for 74 years—stayed on the floor for as long as they could as younger couples trickled away.  Eventually, however, they simply couldn’t dance any longer, and seceded the generation dance title to his paternal grandparents (soon to be celebrating their 62nd anniversary).  But after the song was over and all the other couples had been seated, everyone in the room stood once again to applaud the aged lovebirds and their 74 years of marriage.  Few things are more moving for us than seeing faithful marriage celebrated, and we hope Gavan and Ashley will treasure that memory as fuel for the longevity of their own marriage.

But no reception is complete without some craziness.  Will and the Groomsmen (sounds like a 60s rockabilly group) saw to that with a surprise… uh… performance.  They sat the “lucky” couple down in two chairs on the dance floor and proceeded to dance ludicrously to “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Suede, bellowing along with the words.  They certainly succeeded in their goal of causing embarrassment, though it’s unclear who ought to have been more embarrassed; bride and groom or dancing monkeys.  The performance was complete with air-guitar and air-trumpet, as well as each groomsman stepping out for his own solo moment.  It was a memorable end to a memorable night.

So we photographed a destination wedding, exploring new places with some fun people.  But the things we anticipated the most didn’t turn out to be the things we remember the most.  We’ll remember the loving moments shared between friends and family.  A sisterly embrace.  A goofy surprise.  A dance 74 years in the making.  A community full of love.  We hope that Ashley and Gavan can look back on their wedding and remember moments like these.  When the last song has been played and the last cupcake eaten and the last drop of beer consumed, these are the things that make a wedding memorable, and these are the things that make a marriage last.

Congratulations, Ashley and Gavan!


Wedding Vendors:

Cake & Cupcake Artist: Kristen Pluhar
Band/DJ: DC Events & Design Dominic (DJ Jonathan)
Makeup Artist  Trish from MAC
Hair Artist  Jessica Balesteri
Bridesmaid Dresses David’s Bridal
Wedding Dress: Essence of Australia
Officiant: Friend, Blake Strait
Rentals: First Impressions,  Suzi Rodriguez
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