In February of this year, my golf tour partner, Kevin McGrath, and I spent two glorious weeks, zipping back and forth between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, twenty miles apart. Our local contact, Brian McCallen, who does Public Relations for Los Cabos, calls it the “Tourist Corridor”.
Cabo San Lucas, or colloquially “Cabo”, is at the southernmost tip of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur. The Baja peninsula is separated from mainland Mexico by the Gulf of California; but locals prefer to call it the Sea of Cortez. Along the coast you will see pristine sandy beaches and postcard perfect turquoise blue water. However, the strong currents and powerful shore breaks do not encourage taking a dip in the sea.
Hazards of the shore are marked with beach warning flags, red being the most dangerous. One red flag means surf is high and there are treacherous currents. Two red flags means NO-GO for even the strongest swimmers. Besides red, there is an entire beach color coding system. Green: conditions are good. Yellow: Caution. Black: Extreme danger!
A few places like Chileno Bay, have a swim-safe area, with kayak, snorkel and dive gear rentals available. The gorgeous Medano and Palmilla beaches are also swim friendly. If you want a close-up look at the iconic rock formation known as El Arco (the arch), where the Pacific Ocean becomes the Gulf of California, you have a number of options. There are tours of different duration, and even some on fancier boats taking in the sunset on a 2-hour tour. You can also hop onto a water taxi that will drop you off and pick you up at the swimmable Lover’s Beach.
However, we were there for the golf. Golf. Golf. And more golf. That’s what we’re all about. And plenty of delicious food and excellent wine.
In the two fun-filled weeks, we managed to pack in nine rounds of golf along the Tourist Corridor. Were I not such a golf fanatic I’d have loved to have observed the gray whales, including cow-calf pairs, and even courting whales, on one of the many private boat excursions. Or go in search of blue whales, the largest animals ever to exist on Earth. And there’s sport fishing; but the golf course beckoned…
Cabo sand beach
Taba and Kevin
Course #1: Cove Club at Cabo Del Sol
We started our golf adventure at this ultra-private club. If you can pull some strings, like we did, your extraordinary round will include stopping off every few holes at “comfort stations” — mere bathrooms these are not.
The array of food and drinks boggles the mind. We had the benefit of playing the Jack Nicklaus Signature course (formerly the Ocean Course) with Aaron Shotzberger, the Golf Professional, who congenially pointed out, “The bacon is really incredible.” Standing on end in a ceramic cylinder, when I took the first bite I was hooked. I grabbed an ice cold can of pineapple juice while I circumnavigated the astonishing smorgasbord full of mouthwatering treats; but kept returning to the crunchy strips of bacon that tasted like they were baked with honey. Sinfully good, and golfers need protein, right?
While we did not play golf at Chileno Bay Club, Dan Counts, the Head Golf Professional, gave us a tour, pointing out the spectacular golf holes designed by Tom Fazio. Next up was a site visit of the entire property, owned by Discovery Land Company, including the ultra-luxurious Auberge Spa.
Throughout our tour we saw stunning works of art, starting with a monumental steel sculpture by Sante Fe, New Mexico-based artist Will Clift. A wide range of pieces from dozens of artists, some from Los Cabos and elsewhere in Mexico, included fascinating ceramics by the Mexico City duo Charabati Bizzarri, and mosaic surfboards by Wes Horn near the entrance to the beach.
That evening, Valentine’s Dinner at COMAL was sublime. Our romantic table was set against the dramatic views of the Sea of Cortez. The food was exquisite and the live music by a group called Green Love took the whole experience over-the-top. The female singer was enchanting.
Cove Club Course18th hole
Course #2: Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Our friends, Jeff and Lisa Sepesi, whose permanent residence is in North Carolina, are building a house on the property. They invited us to play with them at this magnificent private resort that includes two world-class courses paralleling a mile and a half of breathtaking Pacific coastline.
Before we descended the steps to the spectacular practice range at the Dunes Course, designed by Davis Love III, we took advantage of the breakfast slider bar. Like the other courses in Cabo, the green fee includes all the food and beverages. We enjoyed egg and bacon sliders accompanied by fresh smoothies made with blueberries, strawberries, and/or bananas. Later, while playing golf, we made pit-stops to indulge in small plates and skinny margaritas at course-side comfort stations.
Course #3: Rancho San Lucas
We had the good fortune to be paired with a lovely couple, Shairida and Johnnie Mack, who’ve been coming to Cabo for 25 years. The Greg Norman-designed course is the centerpiece of the 834-acre private Solmar Group resort. On this particular day, the wind was whipping up the sand from the beach and high dunes, creating an extraordinary challenge. To reward ourselves for surviving what felt like a Saharan desert storm, and continue the friendship we developed during our round, we drove up the hill to Picaro for drinks, and to take in the magnificent view from the tranquil patio. The menu looked superb, especially the Charbroiled Giant Shrimp.
Course #4: El Cardonal
Lucky us. Jeff and Lisa had us come to Diamante again to play this second course, designed by Tiger Woods. Oh, were we in for a treat. Wide landing areas and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean made the experience fun and memorable. We joined them later for dinner at a seaside restaurant in downtown Cabo. Situated on the Medano beach shoreline, SUR Beach House is part of the trendy Bahia Hotel Group. From the outdoor seating area we could see cruise ships anchored out in the bay. Cabo does not have a cruise ship dock yet, but there is probably one on the drawing board. There is a massive amount of construction going on — hotels, resorts, hundreds of private homes — so for the next ten to twenty years, this tourist destination will only grow bigger; and for cruise ship travelers too.
Course #5: Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club
This is one of three public golf courses in Los Cabos owned by Questro Golf. The first nine holes we played was called the Nicklaus II Course. The tiny greens were lightning fast and confounded us. More experience would have helped us adjust.
While lining up a putt, I spotted a giant lizard on the edge of the green with sharp spikes protruding from the ridge of its long back. This Spiny-Tailed Iguana was one scary reptile. Just as the sun was setting, we finished the second nine holes on the Norman Course.
We were thrilled that our room at Hacienda Del Mar (HDM) was in the main building, high enough up with views of the pool and ocean. We delighted in strolling through the manicured gardens and further enjoyed the nightly themed music and dinners served in the Los Tomatoes Restaurant courtyard.
Once Kevin and I discovered the Pitahayas Restaurant at HDM, we returned two more times. Chef Volker Romeike’s sophisticated menu encompasses tastes from Mexico and exotic dishes from the Pacific Rim cuisine.
Other joys of HDM include the artwork that greets you in the main reception area, and is showcased in other public spaces. Paintings and decor in the lobbies reflect old-world Mexico. More contemporary canvases, 6-foot-high tile portraits and stained glass are found both indoors and outdoors.
Diamante Club entrance
Chileno Bay red bucket
Chileno Bay pool
Course #6: Club Campestre San Jose
Today we were in for a big surprise. The starter on the first tee informed us that the word campestre means “country” or “rural.” This course is also a Nicklaus design, and part of the Questro Golf communities. When we reached the fourth hole, the first par-5, the meaning of the word campestre was underscored when a herd of goats meandered onto the course. They bunched up in the shade of a big tree behind a bunker on the left side of the fairway. I aimed my shot in the direction of the goats, knowing I couldn’t reach them or the bunker, and it would position me for my third shot onto the green.
Kevin and I were both trying to get a decent photograph to send back to pals at Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland, where two goats roam the course. The tradition of keeping the goats stems back to before weather apps became the norm. If the goats took shelter by the clubhouse it meant rain was on the way. The goats are so beloved that one is now part of the Lahinch logo.
Course #7: Club Cabo Real
This is the third course in the Questro Golf group, where we were guests of Susana Martin, Director of Sales. She arranged for us to play all three in our quest to experience what Cabo has to offer the golf traveler. Cabo Real was designed by Robert Trent Jones II. We had the pleasure of playing with José Vargas, who flew into Cabo from the thriving commercial center of Monterrey. He was an excellent player and gave Kevin serious competition. When José would hit a wayward shot, he’d moan, “I hate golf.” Then he’d birdie the next hole and was back in love with the game.
Course #8: Palmilla Golf Club
Playing golf with Brian McCallen was both fun and enlightening. Brian revealed that when the club’s first two nine-hole courses opened — Arroyo and Mountain, the first Jack Nicklaus Signature Course in Latin America — this was the start of the big golf boom in Cabo. We played Arroyo first, then Mountain, nearly tumbling off the steep cart path when we came upon the resident rock lizard that Brian said has been there for twenty years. (The club’s Ocean nine was added in 1999.)
The club is part of a 900-acred master-planned community known as the “One & Only Palmilla”. Exhilarating elevated tees…check. Unplayable transition/desert areas…check. Manmade water hazards…check. Getting to know a bit more about Brian while having post-round drinks, was certainly illuminating. He served as a Senior Editor at GOLF Magazine from 1987 to 2003. Big expense account…check. He is now a freelance writer and tourism consultant, living in Cabo, and escaping the heat of the desert summer back home in leafy Connecticut.
Hacienda del Mar pools
At Cabo Real with Jose Vargas
Goats on Campestre Course
Course #9: Quivira Los Cabos
Nothing like saving the best for last—except we didn’t know it until we got there. Quivira is an epic residential resort community. The golf course was designed by Jack Nicklaus. Kevin and I both agreed it was our favorite. Considering Kevin plays off a low single digit handicap, and I’m way north of that, it is quite a feat for an architect to create a course that is fun and challenging for golfers of such different skill levels. Nicklaus wasn’t always known for doing that; but thankfully he has evolved over the decades of doing golf design, and has arrived at this new awareness.
The course itself is a marvel of engineering, cut into and weaving around a mountain. The drama builds as you leave the 4th green and you are riding higher and higher in your cart, wondering if you’ve strayed onto the wrong cart path. Nope. Just keep going for what seems like 10 minutes and you finally reach Hole #5.
Not only is there a great comfort station, where the drink of the day was an amazing rum punch, the fifth hole is so unique, there is someone on hand to give you guidance on how to play it. You have to see it to believe it. It’s a par-4 blind shot to a green that is so far below you, it is magical and scary at the same time.
I chose the right line and my driver sent the ball down, down, down to within a short pitch shot to the small undulating green. Overshoot it and you’re in the ocean. To make par there was a thrill. With four more pars on the back nine, I had the most fun and best score of my entire Cabo experience.
After our round, we had committed to doing a site visit. Figuring it would be a letdown after all the euphoria Kevin and I felt from playing the intense course, we were treated to a big surprise instead. I had heard about Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach from a fellow member of Troon Country Club. She said, “We have a timeshare there,” so I figured it would be nice. Nice? Ha! It was extraordinary.
The gated luxury community at Quivira Los Cabos is situated on 1,850 acres. One of the newer offerings, Coronado, atop a bluff overlooking the ocean and hole No. 17 of the Nicklaus course gives buyers the chance to choose from floorplans ranging from 3,700 to 4,000 square feet, with prices starting at $1.8 million. Features include kitchens with granite islands, Viking appliances, marble flooring and a two-car garage. More highlights are patios, pools, fire-pits and pergolas for your outdoor entertaining. You can even have your own family crest adorn your personal hacienda.
I have to say, after being shown around the massive “all-inclusive” property, I was duly impressed with every luxurious design element, but when we got to the Towers at Pacifica, I realized this adults-only “resort within a resort” set a new bar for me. To cap off this perfect day, we dined at El Huerto Farm to Table Restaurant, indulging in delicious organic food from their four and a half acres of gardens, orchards and fruit trees.
Golf, whale-watching, golf, fabulous food, golf, strolling on the beach, golf, sport fishing, golf, floating in a refreshing pool with a swim-up bar, and just enjoying the laid-back splendor of Cabo, there’s something for everyone — but especially golf lovers.
P.S. A note about timeshares: If you don’t already have one, or even if you do, it’s a safe bet that, at some point during your visit you’ll be invited to a presentation on buying Cabo timeshares.
Pueblo Bonito at Sunset Beach
Quivira hole #5