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|The scenic par-3 15th hole on the Nicklaus nine at Puerto Los Cabos runs along the beach. (Jason Scott Deegan/WorldGolf.com)|
SAN JOSE DEL CABO, Mexico - The Golden Bear and The Great White Shark. Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman remain golf legends, two names that transcend the game. They dominated during their heydays and are still driving forces today through their flourishing design businesses. A fierce competitive drive defines both men. Whether it's on the course or designing one, both want to be the best.
That's what makes their unusual alliance at the Puerto Los Cabos resort community in San Jose del Cabo in the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula so interesting. Almost by accident, the two icons were thrust together to create one of the most unique hybrid golf courses in the world: A front nine designed by Norman coupled with a back nine by Nicklaus.
Think of it this way: Would you ever see an 18-hole collaboration between Gary Player and Arnold Palmer? Or heaven forbid, Tiger and Phil? Don't think so.
As a player, Jack Nicklaus won more majors (18 to 2) and more PGA Tour events (73 to 20) than Greg Norman. As an architect, Nicklaus has designed more than courses (275 to 66) than Norman. So all signs point to the Nicklaus nine being superior, right?
Wrong. At Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club, The Shark devours The Golden Bear whole. Nicklaus might have stolen the Masters from Norman in 1986, but The Shark gets a small measure of revenge at Puerto Los Cabos. The Norman nine thrills with shot-making excellence and superior vistas. On the other hand, Nicklaus' effort tends more toward being bully than buddy.
"It's nice to have such different contrasts between the courses," said Jose Ezeta, a local resident. "I think Norman got the better views. The golf course looks easier and is more friendly."
A conspiracy theory suggests that the club, run by Questro Golf, mixed the two architects together to generate some marketing buzz. Head professional Sergio Castillo said it was a matter of logistics. In order to drive membership sales for the developing resort, he claimed, the club needed to open the Norman nine last October, since it's visible from the makeshift clubhouse and real estate. The Nicklaus nine, opened in December 2007, rests hidden on the other side of a mountain ridge.
Eventually, Norman's Mission course will add nine more holes and become private. Likewise, Nicklaus' Marina course will eventually add another nine and stay open to the public. The resort's 2,000 acres will eventually boast a 455-slip marina, two separate clubhouses, three beach clubs and room for six different hotels, according to Castillo.
Historically, the design careers of Nicklaus and Norman evolved along a similar learning curve. Their early efforts suited their games, not the high-handicap resort golfers playing the courses. Their layouts were punishing and penal. Softening their stances in recent years, both designers have created more award-winning courses that are loved by all.
The Norman nine climbs skyward three of the first five holes. The trek pays off with a jaw-dropping view of the Sea of Cortez from an elevated tee on the par-3, 213-yard sixth. The par-5 seventh hole rumbles 623 yards downhill to the beach. The nine ends playfully, with a downhill tee shot that could actually find the green 350 yards away if struck just right.
To his defense, Nicklaus clearly wasn't given the land cherished by Norman. An awkward par-37 routing just doesn't seem to flow at times with the difficult mountainous terrain. Two par-5 holes, the 10th and the 14th, seem particularly out of place. The 10th climbs so severely uphill golfers need a tow rope to reach the green. A forced layup off the tee on the par-5 14th detracts from a hole that could have been great. The green, tucked behind a second arroyo, resides just steps from the beach.
From there, Nicklaus finishes strong. The scenic par-3 15th hole runs parallel to the sea, followed by one of the longest par 4s in Mexico, the 498-yard 16th. Saving the best for last, tee shots bombed to the 18th fairway below face a wicked carry over a pond to an elevated, sloping green.
Every golfer who fancies himself a golf course architectural savant should come play Puerto Los Cabos. Experiencing two nine-hole layouts so different is a bit schizophrenic, but also a great study in course design. The Norman nine shines as one of the best nines in all of Los Cabos. Keep an eye on the property as it develops - it could eventually be another jewel in the golf crown of Los Cabos. For more information, see www.puertoloscabos.com.
The 375-room Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort shares the ocean with several holes of the Cabo Real Golf Club, a fabulous sister facility of Puerto Los Cabos, also run by Questro Golf. Its infinity pool looks down on a sprawling beach with a protected rock cove for swimming, one of the few swimmable spots in Los Cabos.
The Playa Grande Resort & Spa, located on eight acres of beach along the Pacific Ocean, just steps from the Land's End and the famous natural arch, is a charming, hacienda style all-suite resort within walking distance of downtown Cabo San Lucas. Known as sacred ground for fishermen, the Playa Grande mesmerizes other guests (including golfers) with its beautiful setting and amenities, such as the spa, miniature putting course and various pools.
During the fall, sea turtles invade the beach to dig nests for their eggs. The resort takes great care to protect their habitat until the turtles hatch and return to the sea. Staying so close to such a natural wonder has its privileges.
The beach-front Brigantine at the Playa Grande serves fresh seafood, steaks and Molcajete stuffed with lobster, fish filet, shrimps, avocado and melted cheese.
The Tequila Restaurant in downtown San Jose offers an intimate retreat with a secluded courtyard for outdoor dining. All the restaurant's organic vegetables are grown locally. Drinking house wines pared with entrees from an exotic menu satisfies after a long day spent golfing in the Mexican sun.
October 22, 2009
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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