Assessing Los Cabos courses individually

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Quivira Golf Club is the Jack Nicklaus-designed showstopper with vaulted sheer granite cliffs high above the sea. The location offers a breathtaking test and can be visually intimidating, especially to first timers. Nicklaus, to his credit, built kicker slopes and containment mounds at Quivira that tend to gather the ball to safety. Because of the vertiginous setting, each risk-reward scenario must be weighed very carefully on this one-of-a-kind design. When in doubt, take the conservative route.

The opposite is Palmilla Golf Club. The first Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Latin America, Palmilla presents a fair, straightforward test with all targets and hazards in plain view. What you see is what you get. Carved into a box-shaped canyon, the layout weaves around cactus-covered hills, boulder-strewn arroyos and vast waste bunkers. For experts, heroic forced carries over ‘no man’s land’ are required from the back tees, but broad terraced fairways and open-entry greens accommodate players of lesser attainment from the forward markers.

Cabo del Sol, a sterling 36-hole complex, offers a Jekyll-and-Hyde pair of layouts. The Ocean Course, a Nicklaus-designed masterpiece, is often described as the Pebble Beach of the Baja. The ebb-and-flow routing carries players from the high desert to the rocky shore of the sea on both nines. You need a full repertoire of shots to score on this world-class layout. The onshore breeze adds piquancy to the strokes, especially at the exposed seaside holes. Currently under reconstruction, the Ocean Course offers the most balanced test of golf in Los Cabos. Bring your ‘A’ game.

Each hole on the Desert Course at Cabo del Sol, designed by Tom Weiskopf, offers a panoramic view of the sparkling sea. This user-friendly design has wide landing areas and few forced carries. However, it does have a few blind shots. Faith and trust are required. The highlight of this strategic design are the greens that feature long slopes, subtle rolls and distinctive tiers. To defend them, Weiskopf built large-scale bunkers with dramatic capes and bays. Good putters do well at the Desert Course. Bring a trusty sand wedge.

Cabo Real, a Robert Trent Jones II design that opened 25 years ago, flies under the radar. The front nine plays to the brink of the sea and presents a scenic, sporty test. The incoming nine, arguably the toughest back nine in Los Cabos, is another story. Marked by steeply pitched holes chiseled into rugged mountain foothills, this stretch of holes presents a very sturdy test for aces and duffers alike. Elevated greens and ridgetop fairways create a top-of-the-world feel. The uphill 14th hole, stretching to 454 yards, tiptoes along the edge of a canyon to a green located beside a precipice at nearly 500 feet above the sea. Bogey is a good score here.

Tucked into the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, five minutes from San Jose del Cabo, the Nicklaus Design course at Club Campestre features an abundance of sand as well as sinuous arroyos that snake across the fairways. Sound tactics and course management are required to score. Campestre greens, among the most liberally contoured putting surfaces in Los Cabos, can be very challenging depending on pin placement.

Puerto Los Cabos is situated on the outskirts of San Jose del Cabo. The club’s 27 holes (18 by Jack Nicklaus and nine by Greg Norman) are etched into rolling desert foothills. These rank among the steepest golf holes in Los Cabos. Holes on all three nines run sharply uphill and downhill. Players must steady themselves on the uneven terrain in order to make solid contact. A good tip is to set your shoulders level with the tilt of the land.

There are a pair of private clubs with limited resort access that offer a different kind of challenge. Guests of Chileno Bay Resort can play the perfectly manicured Tom Fazio-designed course at Chileno Bay Golf & Beach Club, which offers deluxe comfort stations on both nines. Expect Kobe beef sliders, beer on tap and an astounding array of sweets. The key, if you’re keeping score, is to imbibe in moderation.

Similarly, guests at Montage Los Cabos can play the otherwise private Twin Dolphin Golf Club, a beautiful Fred Couples-designed course opened in 2018. The club’s two on-course “Red Door” comfort stations are state-of-the-art refreshment stands with the definitive selection of drinks and light bites. As mentioned, for those keeping score, less is more. Twin Dolphin also offers the finest and most sophisticated practice facility in Los Cabos.

Looking ahead, Los Cabos will welcome two newcomers this year. The Greg Norman-designed course at Rancho San Lucas, fronting the Pacific Ocean, will be a beguiling, ‘least-disturbance’ layout with several holes carved through massive dunes along the beach. Players will need to be able to hit low-trajectory ‘knock-down’ shots to control the ball in the wind.

Costa Palmas is a new resort and residential development taking shape on the East Cape. The Robert Trent Jones II course under construction is on a sandy site along the Sea of Cortez that will also require players to shape shots in the wind. In addition, there’s an estuary that guards several holes—golfers must avoid this watery grave at all costs!

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