By David Weiss
This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of LINKS.
Los Cabos—at the tip of the slender, 1,000-mile finger of land known as the Baja Peninsula—was custom-made for fairways and flagsticks. It’s hard to build a golf course here that isn’t either adjacent to or in plain view of vast stretches of sapphire sea, perched on craggy cliffs, or set amidst cactus-studded, rolling sand dunes. Baja California South is part of the Sonoran Desert, making for temperate weather from autumn to spring (when gringo snowbirds migrate to their second homes, timeshares, or hotel rooms) and forbiddingly hot summers. Rainfall is but a rumor in the winter, though hurricanes can wreak rare but certain havoc from June till December. Culturally speaking, Los Cabos is a sister act: San Jose del Cabo to the north has retained its tranquil, provincial flavor, while its evil twin Cabo San Lucas is spring-break headquarters for devotees of alcohol poisoning and other mortal pleasures of the flesh. Caveat emptor!
DAY 1 Morning: Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club. Speaking of Jekyll & Hyde scenarios, this layout features nine holes by Jack Nicklaus (Marina) and nine by Greg Norman (Mission), with 18 more on the drawing board by the respective designers. Norman’s nine (intended to go private eventually) affords vertiginous views of the Sea of Cortez, while Jack’s sneaks down to the seashore on the par-five 14th. Come hungry and thirsty: Soft tacos and cold libations come with the price of a round. Afternoon: Club Campestre San Jose. If it’s golf in Cabo, it’s likely to be a Nicklaus design. This 7,055-yard, par-71 layout is bonkers with bunkers, featuring 120 ways to practice your sand game. Paspalum grass is planted throughout, meaning a little less roll on the fairways but stickier approach shots to the flag. Off-Course Option: Strolling the traffic-free plaza across from the mission church in San Jose and shopping for artisanal goodies from woodcarvings to silver/turquoise jewelry. Those who favor sea-spray and fighting fish can charter a boat for the day and chase striped or blue marlin, even some whopping yellowfin tuna. Evening: As long as you’re on this side of town, make your way to the hippest boutique hotel in Los Cabos, El Ganzo, for dinner at the Downstairs Restaurant, where tlacoyo de pollo is the local specialty. Down the road is Shooters, a funky, open-air sports bar where expat football and hockey junkies assemble to cheer, jeer, and listen to local bartender/spearfisherman Freedy spin old-school tunes.
DAY 2 Morning: Plan to spend a long but transcendent day at Cabo del Sol, where Jack Nicklaus’s Ocean Course vies with Tom Weiskopf’s Desert Course for local laurels. Scuttlebutt says the latter is the true player’s choice, the former preferred by those who like to experience crashing surf and ravishing seaside holes when paying grande green fees. You might want to start on theDesert, availing yourself of the roomy landing areas and expansive greens, then stop for succor at the excellent bar and grill (especially on Sunday for the lavish brunch buffet). Afternoon: For dessert, head back to Jack’s “Pebble Beach of the Baja” layout, with its high-desert opening holes giving way to three seaside greens, eventuating in a truly breathtaking stretch of finishing holes. Play the par-three 17th from the tips at 178 yards and use that gentle draw to skirt the surf and find a small patch of green atop sea-blackened rocks. Stunning stuff. Off-Course Option: Costa Azul Beach is the first choice of serious surfers, though beginners can ride the lesser breaks or take lessons from the Costa Azul Surf Shop. Swimming and snorkeling are best in winter when the water is calmer. Evening: Girasoles de la Hacienda is next door to Cabo del Sol at the Sheraton, featuring traditional Mexican cuisine done up hot and haute: Try the Chamorro de Puerco, a tender pork shank marinated in ancho chile. Muy sabroso.
DAY 3 Morning: Palmilla Golf Club. This is the grandpappy of golf in Baja Sur, actually the Golden Bear’s first design in Latin America: 27 holes of immaculate desert landscape with Sea of Cortez views from every one. Most visitors want to play the Ocean nine, with its dramatic 600-foot elevation change from holes one to six and its proximity to the sea. The Mountain course is strategically more interesting, abounding in forced carries and tight landing areas—especially on the 401-yard 5th, which could be described as an island fairway, surrounded as it is by waste areas and ubiquitous cardon cacti. Between those spiky bad boys and local rattlers, it’s advisable to take a drop and avoid a trip to the ER. Swing rusty? Ask for “Radio,” the colorful and laser-eyed golf pro on staff. He’ll gladly tell you how he got the unusual nickname and cure what ails your game. Off-Course Option: Cold-chill at The Spa at Esperanza, the luxury hotel that hosted the Obamas during the 2012 G20 summit. For menfolk, there’s a Mexican Beer & Lime Facial (make mine a double!) and a restoring massage therapy called the Auberge Attunement. Evening: Save some dough and hit Maro’s Shrimp House in Cabo San Lucas for very fresh seafood slathered in melted garlic butter. Nightcaps are de rigueur at Two for the Road, a hyper-friendly jazz club where your hosts, Marty and Cathy Daniels, double as the entertainment. Great local flavor and tasty chocolate martinis to boot.
DAY 4 Morning: Cabo Real Golf Club. Robert Trent Jones II has crafted a real winner here, an immaculately conditioned Sonoran desert design with—you guessed it—Sea of Cortez views from every hole. The first third of Cabo Real climbs uphill to the course’s highest point—460 feet above sea level—then descends to the more forgiving back nine with its two seaside holes. Afternoon: Before you pack up the wrenches, test your skills at the formidable 7,220-yard Cabo San Lucas Country Club, with nine lakes beckoning hungrily for errant shots and reasonable green fees. And down the road at the tip of the peninsula is Nicklaus’s most dramatic work to date, Quivira Golf Club, with more oceanfront holes than any other course in Cabo. All sand dunes and rugged cliffs, it’s reminiscent of Cypress Point and is slated to open by spring of 2014. Off-Course Option: When you are tired of carding your last double-bogey, get the bigger eco-picture with Whale Watch Cabo, staffed by marine biologists and offering tours thrice daily from the Cabo San Lucas Marina. Evening: The brave at heart can head to Cabo San Lucas’s club district to see how the young and reckless let off steam in-between semesters, most infamously at El Squid Roe or the Giggling Marlin. More highly recommended? The chiles rellenos picadillos at Maria Corona, a reasonably priced but elegant restaurant with traditional regional cuisine and festive live music on the outdoor terrace.