Playing Through

The 18 best holes of golf in Los Cabos

By Chris Sands
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Tiger Woods designed the El Cardonal course at Diamante.

Los Cabos is one of North America’s premier golfing destinations, with more than a dozen world-class courses from a veritable who’s who of legendary figures. The two greatest champions of the modern era—Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods—have designed courses here.

Quivira Golf Club, Nicklaus’s sixth course, premiered in December on the Pacific Coast of Cabo San Lucas. Golf magazine and Golf Inc. immediately showered it with accolades and awards. And El Cardonal, Tiger Woods’s maiden effort, has become yet another selling point for neighboring luxury development Diamante, already home to the 52nd-ranked course in the world: Davis Love III’s stunning links-style Dunes Course. Ranking these many mountain, desert, and ocean-framed masterpieces is almost impossible. But identifying their signature holes is a good deal easier.

Thus, here are our picks, in no particular order, for the 18 best golf holes in Los Cabos. Feel free to extend your stay to play as many as possible. The Grupo Questro–managed Puerto Los Cabos (www.questrogolf.com) outside San José del Cabo features the world’s only composite design from major champions Nicklaus and Greg Norman. The latter can take credit for the front-nine Mission Course, which boasts what may be the single most spectacular hole in Baja: the 213-yard par-three sixth hole. The elevated tee box—imagine standing on the roof of a 10-story building—offers spectacular views of nearly 10 miles of gorgeous coastline, as well as intimidating looks at a green that appears about the size of a peanut-shaped postage stamp. Forget about a hole-in-one. Just getting the ball on the green is an accomplishment.

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Diamante’s courses challenge golfers of all levels—from the first tee

The highlight of Nicklaus’s back-nine Marina Course, meanwhile, is a strong candidate for longest par-four in Los Cabos: the challenging, well-bunkered 498-yard 16th. Cabo Real—another Questro course—helped put Los Cabos on the international golfing map when TV cameras caught whales breaching near greens during the 1996 PGA Senior Grand Slam. Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s front-nine offers a devilish uphill mountain climb of a test that pays off in breathtaking views on the sixth tee, situated 460 feet above sea level.

The scenic downhill par-three plays 223 yards from the tips, with a bunker lurking on the right side of the green.

Residents of the exclusive Sendero San José community may have the shortest walk to the first tee, but Questro’s Club Campestre is also open to the public. The 6,966-yard layout is high-handicapper friendly, but it wouldn’t be a Nicklaus design without typical Golden Bear touches like forced carries, uneven stances, water hazards and abundant bunkering.

The signature hole is the par-five seventh, with an elevated tee shot that carries 150 feet down to a fairway whose entire right side is guarded by a lake. The green is also well protected by water—it’s virtually an island, with a bunker left—so bring a few extra balls for errant approach shots. Nicklaus’s newest venture, Quivira Golf Club (www.quiviragolfclub.com), may not be ranked among the world’s best courses…yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The spectacular 7,139-yard layout—named for one of the lost cities of gold sought by 16th-century explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado—was named the best new international course by Golf magazine and earned Nicklaus kudos as the top designer for 2014. The short par-four fifth hole, for example, requires an eight-minute switchback drive up a mountain—don’t worry, you can calm your nerves with a margarita at the comfort station en route—a cliff-side tee shot, and a blind second shot downhill toward a green protected back and left by water.

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The sunset over the Quivira Golf Club is extraordinary.

The 635-yard par-five 12th describes a reverse S-curve, with abundant bunkering protecting the arching fairway and the ocean-side green. But the single trickiest shot may be on the 148-yard par-three 13th. The short iron tee shot seems easy until you realize the ocean is right off the green, and any shot left is going to roll across the green and off a cliff. The good news is that if you can hold the green, you’re probably looking at a six-to-eight footer for birdie.

So impressive is Quivira that it’s worth staying at one of Pueblo Bonito’s four Cabo San Lucas resorts or investing in property at neighboring Quivira, Copala, Novaispania, or Montecristo Estates luxury developments just for the chance to tee it up on this instant classic.

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The Diamante courses attract amateur and professional golfers.

After years of chasing Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championship victories, Woods is now chasing his hero’s design legacy. His first completed course, El Cardonal at Diamante (www.diamantecabosanlucas.com), now serves as an inland complement to Davis Love III’s oceanfront Dunes Course. Intended to evoke the Southern California courses he played during his youth, the 7,334-yard El Cardonal loop requires strategic choices and accurate angles of approach. Woods’s tactical philosophy is on full display at the par-four 17th, which requires navigating an angled fairway that leads seemingly inexorably toward hungry greenside bunkers. Despite the publicity generated by Woods’s El Cardonal, Love III’s remarkable Dunes Course remains the headliner at Diamante. Ranked 52nd in the world by Golf magazine, and the best in México by Golf Digest, this Scottish links-style stunner is set along the Pacific Coast just north of Cabo San Lucas. The Dunes measures a cool 7,300 yards from the back tees, and it challenges even the savviest of single-digit handicappers with its length, windy conditions, and miles of natural sand traps. The 588-yard par-five 17th is a stern yet rewarding example of the course’s charms: steeply uphill, with a tricky two-tiered green that looks out across a majestic stretch of golden sand and pounding surf.

Guests in any of the 74 elegant, hacienda-style villas at the Los Cabos Golf Resort will have easy access to Roy Dye’s scenic—it’s the only area layout with Land’s End views—and challenging (80-plus bunkers, water in play on 10 holes) Cabo San Lucas Country Club (www.cabosanlucascountryclub.com). The toughest hole on the 7,220-yard Tourist Corridor course may be the par-five seventh, a 610-yard double dogleg monster that mandates strength and accuracy off the tee. But for sheer beauty, it’s tough to top the 13th, a downhill par-five with cascading waterfalls in a three-tiered lake and striking views of the Sea of Cortés. Once ranked the best course in México by Golfweek magazine, Tom Fazio’s superb layout at Querencia includes the diabolical, dogleg left par-five fourth, sculpted along a ridge that curves around a deep canyon to a dual bunker protected ledge-perched green.

Members of the equally exclusive El Dorado (www.eldoradogolfandbeach club.com), in contrast, have access to yet another knockout layout from Nicklaus, featuring six seaside holes, and panoramic views of four holes and the Sea of Cortés from the tee box of the par-four 13th.

Described by designer Nicklaus as “the best piece of golf property I’ve ever seen,” Cabo del Sol’s Ocean Course (www.cabodelsol.com) is still, 20 years after its opening, one of the region’s benchmark golfing experiences. The 7,091-yard layout has been ranked among the world’s 100 best by Golf magazine, and it has also drawn raves for two of its signature holes, the fifth and 17th. We’ll concentrate on the latter, a Pebble Beach–worthy par-three test requiring a 178-yard flight to a small green framed by bunkers on one side and the Sea of Cortés on the other. (The par-three fifth at Tom Weiskopf’s neighboring Cabo del Sol Desert Course provides a similar, if less majestic, test: bunkers left, water right, safety in the middle.)

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Cabo del Sol’s course boasts an impressive design.

Palmilla Golf Club (www.palmillagc.com) has the only 27-hole layout in Los Cabos, with Mountain, Arroyo, and Ocean nines from—who else?—Jack Nicklaus. Pick two for a round of 18, but make sure the 3,527-yard Ocean course is one of them. There are 600 feet of elevation changes in the first six holes alone, and the Sea of Cortés views are magnificent, particularly from the par-four third hole, which ends at the beach. The beachside green is ringed with palm trees and might as well be sponsored by Corona. The Palmilla brand is pretty much synonymous with excellence.

The Gary Player-designed Costa Baja Golf Club (www.costabajagolf.com) isn’t in Los Cabos; it’s just outside La Paz. But the 7,229-yard layout is so welcoming to the destination golfer. Read: elevated tees, wide fairways, and mild-mannered greens. Visiting duffers will particularly enjoy the tee shot on the par-five 14th. The fairway waits some 200 feet below the tee box, and the ball stays in the air for what seems like forever.

Although the 3,153-yard, nine-hole layout at Punta Sur (www.vidantagolf.com/los-cabos) is modest in comparison with other courses, the property’s historical significance—it was the first golf course to open in Los Cabos, in 1987—and budget-friendly rates have contributed to its continued popularity. The philosophy is simple: Hit it relatively straight off the tee, and you’re golden. The 203-yard par-three eighth is a good example. Avoid the water to the left and potential property damage to the right, and you should have a nice birdie putt. And, really, isn’t that all any of us can ask for?

 

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