Los Cabos, Mexico

By Brian McCallen

Mexico, specifically the Land’s End destination of Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, is hot. Not just the weather, which is reliably warm and sunny, but the golf scene. The old joke about Cabo is that tourists would head south of the border with a T-shirt and a $100 bill and not change either one in a week. All that has changed with the infusion of world-class golf built in and around the 20-mile coastal corridor stretching between San Jose del Cabo, a charming colonial town circa 1730; and Cabo San Lucas, a fishing mecca and party capital. Formerly a rustic port of call favored by retired pirates and outback writers like John Steinbeck, Los Cabos, in the span of 25 years, has reinvented itself as a top-shelf golf getaway.

Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Amigo, should take a bow. Nicklaus, who first visited Cabo in the mid-1960s to relax and troll for trophy marlin, put Los Cabos on the international golf map with his designs at Palmilla in 1992 and the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol two years later. He’s since returned to build four additional layouts, single-handedly catapulting Los Cabos into the golf vacation stratosphere.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way things have evolved in Los Cabos,” Nicklaus said. “I truly believe Cabo is not only a flagship destination for golf in Mexico, it’s as good as any golf destination in the world. It’s nice to have a legacy of spectacular courses in one of my long-time favorite places.”

Situated at the place where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, Los Cabos boasts a unique mountain-desert-ocean ecosystem that has inspired the game’s top designers to craft some of the world’s finest courses. Only here do verdant green fairways drop from cactus-studded foothills to golden beaches and the deep blue sea. With four venues on Golf Digest’s “World 100 Greatest Golf Courses” list, Los Cabos is the undisputed golf capital of Latin America. Looking ahead, Cabo has a handful of new projects underway that will further solidify its reputation as a must-play getaway within easy reach of most major North American cities.

Palmilla Golf Course

Led by stellar beachfront resorts and complemented by an array of land and sea adventures, Los Cabos has what everyone wants. Ideal weather. Splendid hotels. Superlative dining. Technicolor sunsets. Dawn-to-dusk nightlife. And the friendliest welcome in Mexico.

Here’s a review of Cabo’s leading resort and daily-fee courses.

The first Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Latin America, Palmilla set the stage for premier golf in Los Cabos when its Mountain and Arroyo nines opened. Chiseled into a box-shaped canyon framed by stark brown peaks, this versatile layout skirts cactus-covered hills, boulder-strewn arroyos and vast waste bunkers. Broad terraced fairways, generous bail-out areas and open-entry greens accommodate players of lesser attainment. The Ocean nine, added in 1999, features a 600-foot elevation change from the first tee to the sixth green, carrying players from the mountains to the sea. www.palmillagc.com

Cabo del Sol Ocean Course, Hole 6

Quite simply, the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol is a seaside masterpiece worth crossing a continent to play. Intent on producing the “Pebble Beach of the Baja,” Jack Nicklaus routed holes across gently sloping land creased by broad sandy arroyos. Seven holes touch a coastline rimmed by craggy granite outcrops and sun-drenched beaches. Like Pebble, the look is natural, unforced–earthworks were kept to a minimum. The finishing trio is epic. The par-4 16th hole plunges downhill to an infinity-edge green that appears to float on the ocean. From a clifftop tee at the par-3 17th, golfers fly their tees shots over a sandy beach to a pulpit green nestled among sea-blackened rocks. The grand par-4 18th traces the curve of the shore and leads to a well-protected green, a la the 18th hole at Pebble Beach in reverse.

Renowned for his masterful creations in desert environments, Tom Weiskopf laid out the Desert Course at Cabo del Sol high above the Ocean Course. Every hole offers a panoramic view of the glittering sea. A strategic gem that skirts canyon-like barrancas at several holes, this well-balanced layout takes golfers on a roller-coaster ride through rocky foothills and a thick desert forest. Large bunkers with dramatic capes and bays defend the greens, which feature long slopes, subtle rolls and distinctive tiers. www.cabodelsol.com.mx.

Grafted onto a jaw-dropping site marked by huge dunes, sheer cliffs and desert foothills, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Quivira Golf Club, opened to acclaim in 2014, has more oceanfront exposure than any other course in Cabo. Remember those fantasy golf calendars with far-fetched holes airbrushed onto vertical cliffs? Quivira has a few of those. It also has twisting arroyos, acres of cactus, lots of rocks…in sum, a little bit of everything Cabo has to offer. The drive to the fifth hole, which traces a switchback route up the side of a mountain, climbs to a vertigo-inducing tee perched 275 feet above the crashing surf. At under 300 yards from the forward tees, this downhill par 4 can be driven, but it’s ‘hasta la vista’ if you miss the rock-walled, cliff-hanging green. Arguably the most daring, eclectic course Jack has ever built, Quivira is an unforgettable test from any set of tees. www.quiviragolfclub.com

Set within a resort community, Cabo Real was developed in the mid-1990s by Eduardo Sanchez-Navarro, heir to the Corona beer fortune. An intriguing course built by Robert Trent Jones II, Cabo Real’s scenic front nine has broad fairways that spill down to the Sea of Cortez. The longer back nine, marked by steeply pitched holes chiseled into rugged foothills, presents a very sturdy test. Free-form bunkers and elevated greens combine with ridgetop fairways to create a top-of-the-world feel. The 454-yard 14th hole tiptoes along the edge of a steep canyon to a green set beside a precipice at the layout’s highest point—nearly 500 feet above the sea. Uphill holes generally play downwind, downhill holes usually play into the prevailing breeze. Artfully contoured green complexes and containment mounds mimic the shapes of the richly hued mountain peaks that backdrop the fairways.  www.questrogolf.com

Puerto Los Cabos

Situated on the outskirts of San Jose del Cabo, Puerto Los Cabos had functioned as a hybrid venue for more than 10 years, with a pair of nine-holers designed by Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. That changed last April, when Nicklaus’s long-awaited second nine at Puerto Los Cabos opened. Subtly contoured greens, large sculpted bunkers and dramatic elevation changes mark the new additions, which emulate the original design style. The debut of the new nine transformed Puerto Los Cabos into a 27-hole facility, with three 18-hole combinations etched into the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains. Fairways, tees and greens on each nine are perched high above the Sea of Cortez. The club’s preferred 18 is the Nicklaus I & II course, which stretches to 7,194 yards (par 72) and is a fitting finale to the Golden Amigo’s foundational work in Los Cabos. www.questrogolf.com