By James McAfee
Like the "Build it and they will come" advice from the Kevin Costner character in the movie, Field of Dreams, once golf courses started going up in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, come the golfers did after the building.
Starting from nothing a few decades ago, land developers in the Mexico territory of Baja California Sur have built some amazing fields of dreams for golfers. On what once was an arid wasteland favored as a place to stay by fishermen in search of trophy marlin, there are 12 golf courses—plus more on the drawing board—and plenty of deluxe accommodations to whet the appetites of discerning golfers.
The metamorphosis started in the early 1990s when the developers realized that the scenic coastline with views of both the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coupled with 350+ days of sunshine represented a vein of gold just waiting to be mined. By moving a lot of dirt on the desert and mountainside, adding some man-made irrigation lakes and finding enough water by building their own desalinization plants, they created some championship courses that combined ocean, desert and mountain characteristics. Add luxury accommodations and home sites and a new destination was created for golfers.
These developers—most of the original ones are no longer involved—spared no expense either when it came time to obtain architects. Jack Nicklaus' signature is currently on five of them with another one scheduled to open in 2012. Other top designers to leave their marks include Tom Fazio, Davis Love, Robert Trent Jones Jr., Greg Norman and Tom Weiskopf.
Nicklaus' first design was the Arroyo and Mountain nines on the other side of the ultra?modern highway between the Mexican town of San Jose and the party?hearty Cabo San Lucas where the first marina is located. He routed holes around long waste bunkers, ponds and deep arroyos to create a target style of golf with big shifts in elevation. Later, a third nine, the Ocean, was added with one hole playing down a canyon to the water's edge where the luxurious One & Only Palmilla Resort, voted the No. 1 golf resort in Latin America, is located.
Given some land a lot closer to the water, Nicklaus' second design was the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, where you definitely need a few Benjamins to play the No. 1 course in Mexico. While the closing three holes near the sea are perhaps better known, a new par 3 redan style 7th that plays across the beach is getting some rave reviews now.
The newer Desert Course at Cabo del Sol by Weiskopf offers lower rates and provides more target-style golf, including shots over canyon-like arroyos, as it climbs the mountainside on the other side of the highway. Vistas of the sea are visible from every hole. As usual for Weiskopf, there's a drivable par 4 on the 7th.
Nicklaus also did the El Dorado Golf & Beach Club, but six holes of his original design were eliminated in favor of high-priced home lots and six new holes were built higher up. It's now an exclusive private club for members and their guests.
Nicklaus' Club Campestre, nestled in the foothills of the Sierras opened in 2007. The fairways are wide, but spray the ball a little and you are in the desert. It's the greens where the course shows its teeth. It was the first course to use Paspalum grass, more tolerant to salt water, and the turf has matured very well to provide an idea playing surface. One of the most interesting holes is the double dogleg par 5 No. 7 where even the longer hitter may have to back off going for the peninsula green with their second shots.
The Diamante complex high on a hillside where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific has two courses. First was the Dunes Course at Diamante, a Love links design on the wind–swept Pacific side, voted as the best new international course when it opened in 2010. My nephew and his friends liked it so much they opted to listen to a time share presentation and play it a second time. It's now a private club, but if you follow their example and consider a time share, you can play, paying only if you do not opt to buy. The back 9 opened after we played, with a new par 5 12th playing directly to the ocean and a new short par 4 13th replacing a pair of inland holes.
In December 2014 the El Cardonal course designed by Tiger Woods opened, though perhaps not with the hype that would have happened if he were still winning championships. It's a course designed to emphasize strategy, with several ways to approach each hole.
The highly anticipated Nicklaus-designed Quivira opened in 2015 and immediately became the (for now) top course in the region. It's certainly the quirkiest and most challenging, traversing massive sand dunes, rugged cliffs, white sand beaches, private coves, and desert canyons near Pueblo Bonita. See our full Quivira Golf feature story here.
Puerto Los Cabos features a unique hybrid with 9 holes from the Marina Course (holes carry names of marinas) by Nicklaus and the other 9 holes from the Mission Course (holes named after missions) by Norman. Plans call for the two architects to each build an additional nine holes, but plans keep getting pushed back. A marina is also located here.
Definitely put Cabo Real, finished up by Jones, on your must play list. It plays uphill until you reach the No. 6 tee at 450 feet and then drops to the water's edge for the greens on the par 4 14th and the par 3 15th. The par 4 9th features a large double green (50 by 125 yards) guarded by water that will also be used when a new 9 holes is added.
The Club at Querencia, designed by Fazio, is for members only. It's on roller–coaster terrain with very few level lies. The lightning fast greens add to the challenge. It also has a spectacular Tuscan–themed clubhouse that includes spas for men and women.
Two other options for golfers on smaller budgets are the Cabo San Lucas Country Club near Cabo San Lucas and the Mayan Palace Golf Course near San Jose.
After slowing down for a few years because of the recession and a misconception in the United States about the country's drug wars, Los Cabos seems on the rebound based on a June 2012 visit right before it hosted the G-20 Summit in a new convention center.
Cabo del Sol: www.cabodelsol.com
Cabo Real Golf Club: www.caboreal.com/golfcaboreal.htm
Cabo San Lucas Country Club: www.golfincabo.com
Club Campestre: www.clubcampestresanjose.com
Club Querencia: www.loscabosquerencia.com
Club Diamante: www.diamantecabosanlucas.com
Eldorado Golf and Beach Club: www.eldoradogolfandbeachclub.com
Mayan Palace Palace Golf Course: www.mayanresorts.com
Palmilla Golf Club: www.palmillaresort.com 800–386–2226
Puerto Los Cabos: www.puertoloscabos.com
Quivira Los Cabos: www.quiviraloscabos.com