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Mexico's Cabo San Lucas offers two different kinds of golf vacation

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Cabo San Lucas - Golf Trip
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You swing along ocean whether you party hardy or stay quaint in Cabo San Lucas. (Chris Baldwin/GolfPublisher.com)

Cabo San Lucas is one of the craziest party towns in the world, and it's got the big-thrill golf courses to match. But a lot of people don't know that there's also an authentic traditional Mexican town, San Jose del Cabo, in the Cabo corridor, providing the opportunity for two very different types of vacation golf on courses like Jack Nicklaus' famous Cabo del Sol Ocean, Cabo Real and Palmilla.

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico - Ashley Salzbury felt very proud of herself. She made her tee time after a night of heavy drinking with a wedding party. Dragged herself out of bed like a real trooper. In a foreign country no less.

Only there's one little problem ...

"I'm here in plenty of time," Salzbury said, smiling. "I'm just at the wrong golf course. Too much to drink."

Salzbury shrugged and resumed hitting range balls at Cabo Real Golf Course. Sure, the rest of the wedding party was at Palmilla Golf Club. But why worry? Or change location.

When the staff at Cabo Real heard Salzbury's story, they invited her to play at their course instead. Not up to another cab ride, Salzbury decided to do just that. Hey, the surf is crashing against the sand, the sun's shining and the hint of a breeze is in the air.

That's Cabo. They're used to hard-partying Americans in this 19-mile seaside corridor that may completely change your view of Mexico. And hard-partying Brits or Spaniards for that matter. You can be sure that Salzbury isn't the first golfer here who showed up at the wrong course.

In Cabo, it's shrugged off. You'll likely be offered a Corona or six - whether it's 8 a.m. or 2 p.m. - and sent out onto the course.

This can be one of the craziest party golf destinations in the world if you want it to be. A nun could come to Cabo and leave as one of Britney Spears' backup dancers. Cabo Wabo, a tequila bar/anything-goes-nightclub owned by rocker Sammy Hagar in the heart of downtown Cabo San Lucas, is as famous as any of the top-notch golf courses.

Cabo Wabo is the kind of place where you show up and become convinced that a crew from "Girls Gone Wild" is filming on hidden cameras.

"I like it because it's wild but pretty low key at the same time," Los Angeles visitor Dave Sander said. "You can still go in Bermuda shorts and nobody's going to hassle you."

It's Cabo. You could show up in a bear suit and nobody on staff would raise an eyebrow. And Cabo Wabo is the touristy place - complete with souvenir T-shirts. Walk some of the less-lit side streets and a host of characters will be coming up to you unprompted, trying to push all kinds of clubs.

So Cabo is not a place to take a significant other? Actually nothing could be farther from the truth. That's because there are two Cabos - the party zone full of beer bongs and a quaint Mexican village and land of high-end restaurants and spas.

"Cabo can be anything you want it to be," Cabo del Sol Head Pro Fernando Ortiz said. "It's just about the joy of life."

It helps that there are two very distinct towns separated by 19 miles of straight road here. There is Cabo San Lucas, where you'll find Ruth's Chris and a bunch of other American chains, as well as party spots like Cabo Wabo. Then there's San Jose del Cabo, a town where mom-and-pop shops are crowded along the main drag, few admit to speaking any English and music drifts into the streets.

This is how all of Cabo used to be when guys like Hagar first showed up in the 1980s. Now with a big marina in San Jose del Cabo that includes upscale condos, some worry that this way of life could be slowly passing.

Something to contemplate, perhaps, as you munch on authentic Mexican food at El Chilar, where some main courses are under $10. At night, candlelight casts a glow as you gaze out on San Jose del Cabo's 18th-century architecture.

Cabo golf: Authentic or showy

If you want authentic golf to go with your authentic Mexican town in Cabo, there's Campo del Golf. This nine-hole course sits right in the middle of a San Jose del Cabo community. Don't be surprised if a neighborhood dog decides to trail your group.

It's also one of the cheapest courses in all of Mexico - a land that prices its golf for gringos not locals (only the elite of the elite in Mexico play golf). You can play for around $20 U.S.

Of course going to Cabo and only golfing on Campo del Golf is like going to Paris and only eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. You'd be ignoring some of the best golf in the world. Jack Nicklaus' Cabo del Sol Ocean Course is unmatched in ocean golf theater (not to mention free fish tacos at the turn).

Tom Weiskopf's sister design, Cabo del Sol Desert Course, could only be considered the ugly duckling compared to the Ocean Course. Located anywhere else, this is a showcase layout.

Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Cabo Real actually brings you as close to the surf as any Cabo course, while beating up unsuspecting hackers with shaky drivers. Nicklaus' Palmilla isn't quite as good as these other $200-plus tracks, but the double forced canyon clear on the fifth hole of the Mountain Course will live in your golfing memory (and bad dreams) forever.

It turns out that Ashley Salzbury didn't have such a bad plan after all. Show up at any of Cabo's near dozen high-dollar golf courses and you'll be all right, whether you spent the previous night partying or experiencing true Mexican culture.

You're in Cabo. It's hard to go wrong.

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Cabo Wabo - Cabo Mexico - Bar/NightclubCabo San Lucas - Golf Destination

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • RE: Mexico Golf Passport

    Innoventure wrote on: Jun 19, 2010

    The Campo (Mayan Palace) Course is offering a Summer 2010 $20 per round deal. However, it is $600 for 30 rounds, within 30 days.


  • Green Fees

    Richard wrote on: Sep 18, 2007

    If only it was true that the Campo Course near San Jose del Cabo was $20.It was a state owned course with $20 fees until they sold it to developers (Mayan Palace).They green fees were $100 for nine holes this past winter.There is no reasonably priced golf inthe Cabo area.You pay $250 for a course thta couldn't get $80 fees in Phoenix area.The developers greed is changing this beautiful area.The New York Times had a good review of the plundering of the Baja.