Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cabo Del Sol (Ocean) Golf Course

The Corona warehouse came into view as our plane made its final approach to land in Los Cabos airport. It was an early sign that it was going to be a good trip. My mid-winter flight from Newark brought me to our friendly neighbor in the south for a welcome break. I was bumped to first class on the flight down and enjoyed the show from a group of big cleavage, silicon breasted, botoxed women and their oversized husbands with leathery faces on their way into the sun. All I had to do was put on my gold chain and my sweat pants and I would have felt right at home. There is a reason The Sopranos was based on a New Jersey Mafioso family.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Mexico to experience one of life's simple pleasures. That is, flying from a cold climate in the winter, arriving in the tropics and walking out of the plane directly onto an open stairway, with the warm sun beating down on you. It is a redeeming experience and is a much better way to arrive than walking through a jetway, through an air-conditioned terminal that is hermetically sealed.

It has always been a curiosity to me why no desert golf courses are ranked in the world's top 100 golf courses. There are many fine courses in Arizona, Nevada and Palm Springs that provide an enjoyable, different type of golfing experience -- that of target golf. The name of the golf course ranked #68 in the world threw me off -- Cabo Del Sol (Ocean). In reality it is a desert golf course laid out with islands of both green and fairway set among the desert.

I played the Jack Nicklaus-designed Cabo Del Sol (Ocean) under fine conditions this past February: seventy degree weather, a mild breeze, in the first group off the tee, with the sun rising over the water. It was my first round wearing shorts in six months and it felt great to play in such a nice location. You can see the brilliant day unfolding at Cabo del Sol below, with the cacti providing a nice frame to the sunrise.


The summary of the landscape at Cabo del Sol is: The desert meets the ocean. The summary of the golf course is: Jack Nicklaus-style forced carry shots and fast greens.


The first tee shot of the day, seen above, is typical of what you face all day at Cabo Del Sol: a forced carry over the desert.

The approach shot to the 4th green

Often times, shots to the green at Cabo del Sol also require a forced carry over desert as well. The approach to the par five fourth hole, above, requires you to hit a shot over about 60 yards of desert and over a ravine, to an elevated green.

Cabo del Sol is located in the Mexican state of Baja California in Cabo San Lucas. Baja California is a peninsula of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. The course overlooks the Sea of Cort├ęs and was opened in 1994. The course starts away from the water on a desert plateau and then gradually plays downhill until it reaches the water at the par three sixth hole.


The par three 6th hole

This 165 yard par three is situated in a dramatic setting among the craggy rocks right on the sea. The setting is made even more spectacular by the whales that fill the expanse behind this hole. Grey whales migrate the 12,400 miles to Cabo in the winter from Alaska to mate here. Whales are clearly an intelligent species spending their winters in Mexico! The water immediately offshore is extremely deep, which is what attracts the whales here. As you play the holes along the water, and this one in particular, you can see them continually jumping up in the water and also shooting plumes of water into the sky. I suggest playing Cabo del Sol between December and April so you experience the whales while you play.

The par 3 6th hole

The par three sixth is one of the prettiest of its kind anywhere in the world and for my money rivals Pebble Beach's seventh for scenic beauty.

From behind the 7th green

The dramatic par three sixth is followed by another par three, the seventh, which is a 137 yard hole that plays at a ninety degree angle to the sixth and is parallel to the water. You can see the curious juxtapositions at Cabo del Sol, above, where Cactus plants in the desert meet the ocean. The sixth and seventh are the only holes along the water on the front nine. You don't return to the water until holes sixteen through eighteen, which finish along the sea. At this point, the course is routed back inland and plays up the plateau and then back down it again for the closing stretch of holes.

The view from the 11th tee

The 11th hole is a classic risk-reward hole. A very short par four at 328 yards, the hole offers a generous lay-up area down the entire right side. What is tantalizing, however, is that you can hit your drive just short of the green by hitting over the vast desert area on the left. Take the risk and you will have a very short shot to the green and a very good angle of approach. Miss it and you'll be down in the sand for a bit. Jack Nicklaus's courses can sometimes be overbearing and too difficult to play. I didn't find that to be the case at Cabo del Sol. As with this hole, the overall course is a nice bit of Nicklaus design.

Approach shot to the 12th green

The twelfth hole is a 473 yard par five and the picture above is the approach to the elevated and well bunkered green.
The downhill par 3 3th hole

The 171 yard downhill par three 13th hole, seen above, again demonstrates the forced carry present on every hole. The greens at Cabo del Sol are among the best I have played in all my travels. They were in ideal condition when I played and were very fast.

A desert hazard at Cabo del Sol

The signature 16th hole

The sixteenth hole is the signature hole at Cabo del Sol and is featured on its scorecard. It is a 342 yard par four that plays downhill. The approach shot to the green should obviously not be long.


The par three 17th

The seventeenth hole, pictured above, is another forced carry to a beautiful, small green perched between the ocean and the desert. It is somewhat reminiscent of Pete Dye's Casa de Campo where he built several holes into the water. Golf Magazine has also compared this hole to the sixteenth at Cypress Point.


The par 3 17th hole 

The eighteenth is a disappointing hole that plays along the water but doesn't really take advantage of the great terrain and beautiful setting. According to its website, Jack Nicklaus calls Cabo del Sol "the best three finishing holes in all of golf." I don't agree. Carnoustie is the clear winner here, followed by Merion and the National Golf Links of America.

You must take a cart at Cabo del Sol because the walk between green and tee is often quite long. The greens fee is steep at $325, but then again, you are playing one of the world's best golf courses in a dramatic location. Cabo del Sol was the first time I had tacos for breakfast, at the half-way house between the nines. It know it sounds unusual, but they are included in the cost of your round, and they are delicious.

Cabo del Sol is a worthy desert course among the world's top 100. Similar to Pebble Beach and Turnberry, Cabo del Sol also has a hotel on the property and I suggest staying there to soak up the experience and enjoy the great views.

The Cabo Del Sol web-site

P.S. My business took me from Cabo to San Francisco so I was unlucky enough to fly Alaska Airlines again. They practice flying the old-fashioned way: Run your flights late, lie about the delays, charge extra for inedible food, cram an extra 15 seats onto the plane and take an extra hour to unload the bags. Bravo.


Anonymous said...

Played Cabo del sol a few years ago, It was great! Next time you are in the SF Bay area check out Stonebrae CC on the East Bay. Designed by David Mclay Kidd.
I'm a member there and will be happy to host you. It's up for best new private cousre this year in Golf Digest.

John Gorman said...

The Ocean Course is very nice and is in my personal top 20. However, with the exception of some of the ocean holes, it's not that great. Weiskopf's Desert Course on the same property probably has a better collection of inland holes.

The new Nicklaus course at Cap Cana, called Punta Espada, is better than the Ocean Course. I played there a couple of months ago, and it's stunning.

MacBoube said...

Mr. Top 100 asks why there are not more desert courses in the top 100?
Lets see.......maybe it is because they are all of the same dimension = un-interesting and way under achieving when compared classic Golden Age links and parkland courses. DUH! Cabo del Sol is just another over rated Nicklaus resort course that places emphasis on the Foo Foo views and charges a ridiculous amount of Pesos to play there. It is merely a course that a vacation hacker can brag about playing to try to impress those who do not know much about golf courses. I have an idea....why don't you, Mr. Top 100, endeavor to trash this list you are working on, and start over with "Playing the Top 100 Classic Courses" from Golf Week's list? Now that is something that nobody has ever done, and it would be so much more of an achievement to accomplish. Golden Age golf courses RULE!

Anonymous said...

Just Played Cabo Del Sol on 11/22/08. I thought it was a visually stunning course, and challenging at that. The thing I liked about it was that it rewarded good shots, and didnt absolutely kill off target shots. It was really a fair course, and visually stunning. I took 5.5 hours to play this course by choice, and shot 78. Enjoy your time in the present on this one. At the end I felt rewarded and punished appropriately. Top 100's review is spot on, but I think that the tacos at the turn were just okay. BTW MacBoube commentary is bullshit. That guy is just pissed because he sucks at golf.

Dean Guske said...

If this course is number 68 in the world I'll eat my hat. Very average at best. I certainly wouldn't pay to play it again. If you must, just go straight to the champ tee at 17, hit your 6 iron, putt out and leave. you've seen the best this course has to offer. I'd rather have a long brunch with my mother in law.

This place is strictly for hung over hacks on vacation.