By: Andrew Penner
A warm wind whips off the shimmering sea and the white flag – somewhat ironic, I’m thinking – snaps with the gusts. The thin green, 170 yards away, clings to the ragged cliffs; a thin oasis of turf that beckons the brave. The problem? Bravado is not really my forte. I make a quick, white-knuckled swing with my 7-iron and my ball soars into the infinite blue sky where the gulls and frigates fly. And, no surprise, it lands where the humpbacks and swordfish swim. Indeed, spending a week golfing in Los Cabos has been tough on my Titleist stash. But, while there have been losses, the gains have been substantial.
Situated at the far tip of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico, in a hot-and-dry region of saguaro-studded hills, never-ending seas, and beautiful white-sand beaches, Los Cabos is a playground with plenty of appeal. The string of high-end hotels, all-inclusive resorts, and luxurious homes that line the corridor between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are proof of that.
Los Cabos is known as “Land’s End”; the furthest point south on the Baja California Peninsula, marked with the famous natural rock arch, “El Arco,” that the sea chiseled out eons ago. Famous bars – Cabo Wabo and El Squid Roe immediately come to mind – world-renowned marlin fishing, and, of course, miles and miles of exquisite beaches, are other notable attractions.
And then, of course, there is the golf. There are now fourteen courses in the region. Due to the quantity and the quality, Los Cabos is widely considered the best golf destination in Mexico. And the courses keep coming. In fact, just in the past couple of years, five new courses, including Tiger’s first course design in North America, have been added. While other golf destinations are struggling to find their way, even losing courses, Los Cabos is in growth mode. And it’s really one of only a few golf destinations in the world that can claim this.
Leaving Calgary, Alberta on a Sunwing charter flight on a cold November day, the pull of pins tucked along the seashore, tacos at the turn, was bringing plenty of warmth to my swing-starved system. I had visited Los Cabos once before, eight long years ago, played Palmilla and the legendary Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, both Nicklaus courses of the finest order. I knew what I was getting into. But I was hungry for more. Thanks to an itinerary that included the new Nicklaus course at Quivira and Puerto Los Cabos, as well as other long-standing favorites in the area I had never seen, I was like a kid on my way to the candy store. A big candy store with row upon row of savory sweets on the shelves.
Regardless of where you play in the corridor, know this: the courses all have outstanding turf conditions, warm and friendly service done the Mexican way, and an overwhelming presence of the sea. For the most part, there isn’t a golf hole to play that doesn’t boast a magnificent view of the Pacific. And many of the courses, such as Cabo Real, Cabo del Sol, Diamante Dunes, and Puerto Los Cabos, feature holes right along the surf.
After settling into my all-inclusive resort, the sprawling Rui Palace, which is hard on the sea and just a short beach stroll from downtown Cabo San Lucas, I was whisked away to one of the new kids on the block, Puerto Los Cabos. A massive new development in San Jose del Cabo that hugs the yacht-filled marina and the arid hills that roll away from the sea, Puerto Los Cabos will eventually include an 18-hole course by Jack Nicklaus and an 18-hole course by Greg Norman. At present, play is on a composite course as each designer has completed 9 holes. While the uphill starts on both nines are not ideal, there are plenty of highlights. The Norman nine, for example, tumbles toward the sea on holes 6 and 7 and serves up a stirring introduction to golf in Los Cabos. The Nicklaus nine, much of which is located further inland, also includes a picturesque seaside par-3, the short 15th, that doesn’t disappoint.
What also won’t disappoint on your golf junket here are the all-inclusive comfort stations that are a catchy – and very tasty! – theme on many of the courses. Complete with bartenders who aren’t afraid of mean margaritas, cooks who have their taco game perfected, and rows of salty snacks, they put the beer and hot dog “game,” prominent at many of North America’s resort courses, to shame. For the most part, these services are included with your price to play golf. Tipping, of course, is encouraged.
Another tip, of sorts, is sorting out the ideal time to play. Without a doubt, my recommendation is early, before the courses heat up with gringos who want to linger around for their four and a half hour round. Sure, setting the alarm for six on your holiday may seem strange, but, trust me, the afternoon siesta at the beach will heal your wounds.
Both Cabo Real and Club Campestre San Jose also have plenty of merit. Cabo Real, which recently lost one hole along the sea (the land was sold to a developer for $28 million), features a stunning back nine that parades through a wild and rugged desert landscape that reaches far into the cacti-studded hills off the strip. It featured some of the most memorable – and toughest – holes on my trip.
Another 18-hole course that one can consider is the accessible Cabo San Lucas Country Club, which is also one of the courses offered through a golf vacation with Sunwing. It’s relatively flat but features plenty of bold shaping and a ton of water and sand in play.
Not surprisingly, given the rich-and-famous reputation that Los Cabos carries, there are a handful of private clubs that are getting plenty of buzz. Diamante, for example, features the heralded Dunes Course by Davis Love as well as Tiger’s new El Cardonal, in the same development. An interest in purchasing a time share here may serve you well in terms of getting access to the courses.
My “last hurrah” was the seaside roller-coaster ride around Quivira, another brand new facility that features a Jack Nicklaus course. Unquestionably, this is one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever seen. Quirky? Yes. Extremely challenging? Yes. Fun and visually amazing? Yes and yes. The seaside holes here are, without a doubt, some of the most spectacular in Cabo. Complete with an old lighthouse, a mile-long trip along the sea to get to the 5th tee, and, of course, comfort stations that are second-to-none, this is an experience you will remember. Just bring an extra sleeve, or three, of Titleists.
Andrew Penner is a golf writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can visit him at www.andrewpenner.com.
Sunwing Vacations flies out of 30 Canadian cities to numerous hot-weather destinations around the globe. They offer exceptional value, especially when you consider the current US conversion rates, and are known for providing unique and memorable vacations. For more information visit www.sunwing.ca.