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Golf in Los Cabos, Mexico: A can't-miss combo of ocean, jungle and desert

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
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Palmilla Resort - Ocean Course - hole 3
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The par-4 third hole on the Ocean nine at Palmilla Resort is as close as you'll get to the Sea of Cortez without your swimsuit. (Courtesy of Palmilla G.C.)

Jack Nicklaus rules in Los Cabos, Mexico, where you can find a number of golf courses bearing his design signature: Palmilla, El Dorado, Cabo Del Sol's Ocean Course. But there are Fazio and Trent Jones Jr. courses in here as well, most attached to world class resorts that make for a can't-miss golf vacation.

Golf in Los Cabos, Mexico, on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, has really grown in recent years.

Consider the growth curve of Palmilla Golf Club. It was the first true resort course in the area, and the original 18 of this 27-hole Jack Nicklaus design debuted 15 years ago, in 1992.

Eight years later, Golf Digest declared that Los Cabos was already among the world's 15 finest golf destinations.

Since that Digest list appeared, several other world-class golf courses have sprouted in this mesmerizing landscape, an unforgettable confluence of desert, mountain and sea. Only rarely is the weather less than perfection, with the Sea of Cortez sparkling to the east, the Sierra de Laguna Mountains looming to the west, and the mighty Pacific Ocean meeting the sea at peninsula's end, due south.

Jack Nicklaus rules over Los Cabos

Nicklaus is the main man in Los Cabos. Besides the 27 holes at Palmilla, he produced stellar El Dorado, and Cabo Del Sol's Ocean Course, undoubtedly the premium golf experience in the Baja.

In addition to this august Nicklaus trio, Tom Weiskopf, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Tom Fazio have all contributed fine courses as well, with additional facilities debuting annually.

Nicklaus' Ocean Course at Cabo Del Sol is a technicolor carnival, featuring bright blue sky, cerulean sea and shimmering green grass.

Oceanside holes get the attention and the glamour shots in the travel magazines. But the reason the course has been a fixture among the world's top 100 since it debuted in '94 goes beyond the back-to-back beachside par-3s on the outward journey. It even goes beyond the ending ocean side trio, holes that the designer himself has referred to as "the greatest three finishing holes in the world."

The reason is the quartet of lovely and strategic inland par-4s, Nos. 8-11. This stretch runs through desert wash and native vegetation, and no is water involved.

Nicklaus' El Dorado Golf and Beach Club is yet another superior design. The opening third of the course is somewhat routine, the fairways framed and bifurcated by desert wash, nestled within the Sierra de Laguna Mountains.

But the stakes are raised on the 525-yard par-5 seventh. The elevated view of the Sea of Cortez quickens the pulse, and the fairway turns and tumbles downhill towards the crystalline waters.

More can't-miss Los Cabos golf courses

The other golf delights in the area include Cabo Real Golf Club, a Jones Jr. design on the same property as El Dorado.

The outward nine might be the most punishing stretch in the Baja. It's a journey that begins through jungle-like vegetation, with elevated tees overlooking narrow landing areas. That sensibility quickly gives way to fairways framed by impenetrable desert.

Querencia Country Club is a fine Fazio design that's the only private venue in the Baja, although some limited outside play is accepted.

Four hundred feet of elevation change and an endless series of undulating greens are the highlights of this course. It's manicured and landscaped beautifully, but demanding due to the ever-present Barranca, deep gullies filled with unruly vegetation and sand separating the curving green corridors that are the targets.

The resort at Palmilla Golf Club

Palmilla is the original Nicklaus design in the Baja. It's still a treat, the Ocean and Arroyo nines in particular. And finally it has become a full fledged resort, one of them most prestigious lodging venues on the Baja.

It opened in 1956 with 15 rooms, the province of Hollywood hotshots who wanted to get away from it all and troll for the monster Marlins and other sport fish lurking in the temperate waters.

Several expansions later the room count has increased by more than a hundred, but Palmilla is still an intimate and charming place.

Perched by the Sea of Cortez, there are million dollar views from many of the rooms, a lovely negative edge swimming pool, an open air bar and superb restaurant on site.

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Palmilla Resort - Arroyo Course - hole 7
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Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

 
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