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Golf packagers sound off on Cabo's hottest golf courses

Shane SharpBy Shane Sharp,

LOS CABOS, Mexico -- It's one thing to be hot. It's another to be the hottest of the hot. Few golf destinations in the world can claim to be en fuego like Los Cabos. The desert meets the sea landscape of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula is the perfect canvas for some of the world's most renowned golf course architects to work their magic.

Jack Nicklaus was one of the first big-game designers to discover the region's potential for breathtaking, nail-biting resort golf, and Tom Weiskopf, Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Pete Dye were quick to follow. Nicklaus' 27-hole course at the Palmilla Resort paved the way for golf course development in this sleepy fishing village over a decade ago. Today there is a strong stable of resort and semiprivate golf facilities chomping at the bit to go fairway-a-fairway with Hawaii, Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Scottsdale .

"To me, it is the best golf destination that I have seen," says Ted Maitland, vice president of sales and marketing for Troon Golf Vacations. "I don't know of any other place where there are this many top notch courses in one place with this weather and this scenery. I would say next to Scottsdale, we get more calls for Cabo than anything else."

And within Cabo, Maitland says that the venerable Palmilla, the Nicklaus designed Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol and El Dorado are the hottest plays on the market.

"The Ocean Course is the one everyone considers the best course," says Maitland. "People we send down there say they love the Ocean Course and love El Dorado almost as much."

Nicklaus once said that he felt that the final four holes at the Ocean Course were the best finishing holes in the world. El Dorado - also a Nicklaus design - features a number of oceanside fairways, but trails the Ocean Course only slightly for sheer drama on the final stretch.

"El Dorado still has some of the best scenery in Los Cabos and people are telling me that it is in the best shape of any course down there right now," says Maitland.

In an economy and travel climate that have taken their toll on fly-market golf destinations, some golf packagers actually report an increase in sales for Los Cabo trips. Austin, Texas-based Trilogy Travel registered a 30 percent increase in sales of Los Cabos golf packages in 2001 and is on pace to match those numbers in 2002.

"We have been shocked that sales were up that much," says Trilogy Travel owner Amy Skudlarczyk. "But then again, we are talking about an incredible product. It is one of the premier golf destinations in terms of the courses and the prices. We consider them to be Pebble Beach caliber courses. The other thing it has going for it is its proximity to the U.S. Even from the Northeast you can get there with minimal trouble. All the courses here are within a 10-mile radius and golfers love the variety and proximity."

Sinking a birdie putt and stealing a glimpse of one of nature's largest mammals is also a very real possibility this time of year in Los Cabos. The gray whales migrate through the deep waters of the Sea of Cortez in the winter months, attracting hundreds of whale watchers and marine biologists.

"I have been going down there for years and the first time you are standing on one of the fairways at the Ocean Course or El Dorado and you see the whales, it is almost surreal," says Skudlarczyk.

Like Maitland, Skudlarczyk says that the Ocean Course and El Dorado are by far and away the most popular courses with Trilogy's clients. But with oceanside courses come oceanside prices, and some golfers are looking for more affordable options in this unabashedly upscale destination.

"One course that we are starting to get more requests for is the Raven Cabo San Lucas, which was the old Cabo San Lucas Country Club" Maitland says. "Intrawest has just taken it over and spruced it up and is providing its usual high service levels. It is the closest course to town and you can see Land's End where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez and it is a bit more budget friendly than some of the other courses."

For more information on Los Cabos golf courses, golf packages and accommodations, log on to www.cabogolftours.com.

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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