Golf Makes a Splash On the Sea of Cortez

By: George Fuller

At this moment I’m sitting in an infinity-edged hot tub on the balcony of my Palapa Level suite at Esperanza, an Auberge Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It’s 4:30 in the morning. Middle of July.

It’s quiet now. Not a single light in any of the 55 other rooms of this stylish hotel, no one else relaxing in the warm, pre-dawn breeze, listening to the Sea of Cortez softly brush against the rocks and sand below.

Soon, the eastern sky will lighten. Small brown birds will start to sing from atop the palm leaves that make the palapa roof, their small bodies dancing with the effort of the song.

Then the sky will brighten again as the sun pokes over the horizon, shining on this magical coast like a golden Buddha.

It is important to get to the golf course early this time of year. Later, the heat of the day inspires a siesta by the pool, in a nice shaded corner, or maybe a retreat into the orange-scented spa for a massage. But now, at 7:00 a.m., it’s time to play.

There are several excellent choices nearby, all basically desert courses with views of, or holes playing next to, the ocean. The best among the eight choices are two Jack Nicklaus designs, Cabo del Sol – Ocean Course and Eldorado, and the new Tom Fazio design called Querencia.

The Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol advertises that it has the “three best finishing holes in golf,” and it’s hard to argue they don’t. The course winds its way through the desert past the shoreline and Nos. 6 and 7, then back into the desert. The layout emerges waterfront again at No. 16, a 429-yard par-4 that plays out of the desert down to the sea. It is a gorgeous hole, but rated the number two handicap hole on the design because of the lengthy arroyo carry from the tee.

No. 17 is the hole you’ll be discussing over margaritas, the one that gets all the shutters snapping and the raves from the golfers. This par-3 is 178 yards from the back tees, all of it carry over a sandy white beach. The Sea of Cortez is lapping the shoreline and the putting surface is buttressed by rocks. You’ll love this hole even if you miss your tee shot, but you’ll feel even greater satisfaction if you make the green and putt out for birdie or par.

Eighteen is a solid par-4 finishing hole, playing 430 yards with the ocean on the right, a short desert carry off the tee. When you putt out here, you’ll feel like making a tee time for the next morning so you can do it all over again.

A second course at Cabo del Sol is the Desert Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and opened in 2001. It is a fun course to play, with generous landing areas off the tees and large putting surfaces. Perfect for family golf and higher-handicap players, the Desert Course does not get to the water, but there are ocean views from every hole.

Just a few miles up the road are the affiliated courses Cabo Real and Eldorado. Cabo Real is a nice course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II. Two holes play at the water, Nos. 14 and 15. On No. 15, a 154-yard par-3, the ocean is on the left, and if you hit long from the tee, you might be in the pool at the adjacent hotel, Las Ventanas al Paraiso. If you put a diving board on the back of the green, you could literally dive into the pool.

Eldorado is another Nicklaus design that should be on your “must-play” list in Cabo. The clubhouse is perched on a cliff above the beach, overlooking holes eight, nine and 18 that play right next to “la playa,” the beach. No. 8 is a gem of a par-3, 176 yards, that rivals No. 17 on Cabo del Sol’s Ocean Course. It’s followed by the number one handicap hole on the course, the 451-yard, par-4 ninth. Again, the ocean and beach grace the entire left side of the hole. Golfers must hit a strong drive from the tee, over a patch of desert to a generous landing area. They must then strike a long, accurate mid- to long-iron shot to the green, over a gaping arroyo. It’s an exhilarating and beautiful hole.

The newest course at Cabo is the Tom Fazio design called Querencia. The centerpiece of an upscale, gated residential community, this course plays in the desert above the ocean, with some nice views. It is a forgiving design and will suit the family and occasional golfer quite well. The development features a nine-hole short course, a 26,000-square-foot clubhouse, plus luxury homes, villas, condominiums and casitas, in addition to the golf course. Guests of Esperanza Resort can play here, but otherwise it is pretty private. Fair warning: be prepared to pay upward of $350 for a round of golf on this course.

Other area courses include Palmilla (27 holes of Nicklaus), Cabo San Lucas Country Club (Dye Design), and the nine-hole San Jose Municipal Campo de Golf.

Me? I’m heading back to Esperanza now, getting ready for my siesta by the pool before my quatros manos (four hands) massage at the spa . . . and maybe another hot tub on the balcony before dinner.

Photographer and writer George Fuller has been covering golf and adventure travel for more than 15 years. His assignments have taken him throughout the United States, Asia, Polynesia, Europe and Mexico.

As an author, he has eight books to his credit, the two most recent being “California Golf – The Complete Guide” (11th edition, 2004, Avalon Travel Publishing) and “Discover Hawaii’s Best Golf” (second edition December 2001, Island Heritage Publishing). Others include “Hawaii: Adventures In Nature,” (October 1999, John Muir Publishing).

A former editor of “LINKS – The Best of Golf,” he has contributed stories to many newspapers and magazines, including TIME, San Francisco Chronicle, Coastal Living, GOLF Magazine, Travel & Leisure Golf and others. Based in Marina Del Rey, Calif., George is a monthly travel correspondent for the PGA Tour (, and a Contributing Editor to The Golfer.