GOLF DESTINATIONS

Miles of Beaches and a Plethora of Golf Put Cabo on the Map

LOS CABOS, MEXICO -- Nestled into the tip of Baja California Sur, Los Cabos is not exactly your run of the mill resort community. In fact, its rich beauty and combination of culture and architecture that can only be found in this portion of Mexico, creates for a very unique couple of days of good old R and R.

"Cabo" as it is referred to by the tourist community and the locals alike, is made up of Cabo San Lucas, the tourist community, San Jose del Cabo, the more culturally rich fishing community, and the Corridor, 20 miles of breathtaking beaches and land perfect for making golf courses that runs in-between the two towns.

It also has its fair share of all night dance clubs, posh resorts, and all the tequila your traveling body can handle.

Championship golf in Los Cabos began over a decade ago with the construction of the Palmilla Resort (1-800-346-5940), and it has yet to slow down. Established by famed Californian Don Knoll, and designed by Jack Nicklaus, whose architectural touch is felt throughout Cabo, these 27 holes and the accompanying amenities have become the cornerstone for golf in this area of Mexico.

Golf at Palmilla is a combination of beauty and danger that creates a refreshing yet challenging round of golf. The three nines (the Arroyo Nine, the Mountain Nine, and the Ocean Nine, the newest of the three) all offer a blend of soft views of the always light blue Sea of Cortez, tee boxes built amid looming mountains, and a desert landscape.

Palmilla sits on a massive amount of property, with the hotel and half of the ocean nine sitting snug against the sea, while the clubhouse, practice facility and all the others holes residing on the other side of Highway 1.

The Mountain nine starts by going directly away from the clubhouse, before curling back around and becoming intertwined with the Arroyo. Water hazards come into play on a few of the holes on the original two nines, but fairway length and deep greenside bunkers are the consistent adversaries.

Play on the Ocean Nine is characterized by long, but fairly straight par-4s, while the par-3s and par-5s require a good mixture of brute strength and precision. But what truly makes this additional nine special is the sea. Even though the water does not come into play at all on this nine, the distraction caused by the views might as well be coined a hazard.

The highlight of a day at Palmilla may very well be the walk down the Ocean Nine's third fairway, which allows golfers to inch closer and closer to the Sea of Cortez, until they reach the green, which is practically built on the beach.

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The hotel portion of the resort features 115 room and suites, consistent with the culture and architecture of the region. Also available are numerous off-course activities, including tennis, snorkeling, fishing, four restaurants and bars, and a fitness center.

Play for hotel guests ranges from $185 in the spring to $105 during the hot summer months, which includes a cart, range balls, and a much-needed bottle of water. It's important to remember, however, that given Palmilla's status in the Mexican golf scene, it is not an easily accessible course. The general public is encouraged to book tee times a month in advance, while those looking to take advantage of the resorts several golf and stay packages should starting planning as early as a year ahead of time.

Perhaps offering the most extensive combination of great golf and plush accommodations in all of Mexico is the 3000-acre Cabo Real Resort, home to two championship courses as well as several hotels and condominiums and plenty of non-golf activities.

The older of the two courses is the Cabo Real (1-800-346-5940). Designed by Robert Trent Jones II, the track was the host to the 1999 PGA Senior Slam tournament.

The course opens amid the volatile terrain of the Sierra Mountains, and climbs upward during the first third of the round. By the sixth hole, players reach a tee box 460 feet above sea level.

As a round progresses, players will continue to be met with fairways that dip and rise, as well as holes set right on the beach. Regardless of the setting, views from the magnificently manicured fairways are endless.

At just over 7000 yards, this par-72 track is littered with challenging sand traps and other obstacles that make it a formidable test. But the Cabo Real is well worth the pain and suffering it may inflict, however, as the three ocean holes are breathtakingly photogenic, all culminating with the par-3, 15th hole.

As players stand on the tee, ready to make the day's final push towards the clubhouse, they are treated with a view of the ocean – the shade of the palm trees on the beach and the refreshing water of the Pacific are so close it may seem a little too enticing on a hot afternoon – with the mountain range and the clubhouse looming on the horizon, a distant memory of the course's beginning.

The Cabo Real concludes with a bang, as players must conquer a par-5 that measures 564 yards from the tips. Other than a scattering of bunkers and trees, the hole is fairly straightforward, and plays straight into a mountain.

The other championship course on the 3,500-acre resort property is the El Dorado Golf Club (1-800-346-5940), one of the newer courses in Cabo, as well as another Nicklaus design.

Keeping with the tradition of the Cabo Real, El Dorado incorporates nearly 90 bunkers into play. However, despite the similarities to the other course on the property, Nicklaus' design here takes far more advantage of water.

Six of the holes sit oceanfront, while another six holes are guarded somewhat by one of the course's four lakes. Take for instance the par 4 11th, which wraps around one of the lakes, ending at a green that is protected on one side by the water and by bunkers on the other.

None, however, may be more scenic than the 16th, a testy par 5, with a fairway that slopes gently towards the sea. The mountains also play a big part on this hole, with a rocky slope just right of the green, and a large mountain in the distance, seemingly floating in the dark blue water.

What the property does well with golf, it does better with accommodations. Of the five hotels at Cabo Real, the Westin Regina and the Melia Cabo Real may be the most noteworthy. Built right on the side of a sandy-colored mountain, and colored to blend right into its surroundings, the Westin offers 295 guest rooms as well as a large collection of suites. Seven pools and plenty of fine dining threaten to take one's mind off the golf, if only at night.

The most recognizable characteristic at the Melia resort is the white pyramid that tops the massive sandy colored building. Built right on the beach for easy access, over 300 rooms offer stunning views of the ocean and of the Cabo Real course.

With the likes of Jones and Nicklaus venturing south of the border to build courses, Cabo is no doubt attractive both to the eye and architectural minds of these great designers. And the setting was not lost on Tom Fazio, either, who made Querencia (1-800-346-5940) his first credit outside of the United States.

“When we first went to the site we knew it was a premier spot for a distinctive golf course,” Fazio said. “It reminds a person of a desert setting, but with bold topography and fantastic long-range ocean views. This environment is truly unique for golf.”

The private club, which opened in 2000, is the first of its kind in the Los Cabos region. The 840-acre property features over 250 homes, as well as villas and condos. The clubhouse, measuring in at a hefty 26,000 square-feet, takes advantages, like the other courses in the area, of the beautiful views offered by the Sea of Cortez.

As for the golf, Querencia relies more on Cabo's mountain scenery rather than the sea, which is the most prevalent characteristic at the other courses. Given its private status, the course is tucked within the community, and has a very secluded feel.

The sixth hole is the lone water hole, as the green is guarded slightly on the left by a lake, which is more there for appearances and for the property, rather than as a real hazard.

One of the big advantages of the exclusive Querencia is in fact the 12-acre, state-of-the art practice facility, which is nestled on the northern end of the property, not far from the protective mountain range.

While the Cabo Real seemingly provided everything – golf, beaches, food, and hotels – the Cabo Del Sol takes it one step further by including a residential section in its property, in addition to two hotels, two championship courses, and everything else that goes along with a Mexican resort.

Since it's inception in 1994, the Nicklaus designed Ocean Course has consistently been ranked by golf magazines as one of the top-100 courses in the world, and in 1998 was ranked as one of the top public courses in all of North America.

Seven of the holes on the par 72, 7,103 yard adventure touch either the Bay of the Whale or the Sea of Cortez, including the treacherous finish that has long been considered on the most scenic in the world.

The final three holes all have water in play at some point. Amid a cactus or two, dozens of large rocks, right in front of a treacherous cove, sits the 17th green, a par-3 and the course's signature hole. Depending on the wind situation, the Sea of Cortez that sits peacefully in front and to the right of the green may not be an issue – but then again it could be a big force to reckon with.

Regardless of the amount of havoc that the sea may have on your scorecard, take a moment to watch and listen as the water crashes up against the rocks.

The sandy beach and the blue sea travel the length of the fairway on the 18th, and while it may not be as challenging as its predecessor, it is equally as scenic. Golfers turning back to the fairway and looking out over the sea will be greeted with the horizon and a mountain, jutting out into the water.

The Desert Course, a Tom Weiskopf design and the newest course to Cabo when it opens in the winter of 2002, is, as evident by the name, a much more inland track than the Nicklaus effort. Accordingly, while views of the ocean are available from each of the holes, it is the sloping fairways, bunkers and target-style greens that give Weiskopf's course its own identity.

“The natural beauty of the desert, mountain, and ocean provides an ideal setting and some of the best terrain for golf anywhere in the world,” Weiskopf said. “It's Cabo's newest challenge and one of the most scenic courses I've designed.”

The Fiesta Americana Grand sits right on the beach, and provides guests with a great mix of fine dining with stunning views and plenty of relaxation opportunities. Each of the nearly 300 rooms and suites comes with a private balcony, perfect for gazing out onto the Sea of Cortez.

Tennis courts, swimming pools, and a spa are available for use, as are two restaurants, and an assortment of bars and snack shacks.

The other hotel, the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar, is much of the same, combining setting with elegance. The architecture to both resorts is exclusive to this region of the world, a true tropical getaway.

And for those looking to stay at Cabo Del Sol for an extended period of time, there are a half dozen or so exclusive neighborhoods to chose from, in addition to several condo complexes.

Although not as widely recognized among the collection of quality courses, the Cabo San Lucas Country Club is still a gem, and the only track built with a view of Land's End.

The Dye championship course is a seaside design featuring nine lakes, fairway views of the San Lucas Bay and the Sea of Cortez, as well as holes etched from mountain and desert terrain. The 7th is a 610-yard par 5, the longest in the country, which doglegs around a lake, helping keep the course record at just below par.

The course sits in a private, 750-acre community, but golf packages are available through the Los Cabos Golf Resort, which is easily accessible from the airport via a reserved shuttle.

Cabo's scenery, its culture, and its climate make it a perfect resort region. Accordingly, the golf is pricey and sometimes tee times are hard to come by, and at the private club, even harder.

So if golf at any of the resorts is not working out, or if you are just looking for something a little different for the day, the San Jose Municipal Course may be the answer.

Designed by the Mexican government, this nine-hole course measures just less than 3000 yards. Nestled in between condominiums and, of course, the Sea of Cortez, this “muni” features plenty of doglegs and sloping fairways.

But the reduction in cost – nine holes during the summer runs $33, while the peak months will cost $45 - does not come without setbacks, and this course's Achilles heal is that it is overplayed and always crowded, so plan ahead to assure access to one of the key pieces to the Cabo golf puzzle.