The Third Stop:

By: Jeff Shelley

The next stop on my Cabo-logue is Querencia, the sole members-only golf club down here. Designed by Tom Fazio, the par-72 course opened on November 3, 2000. A Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match pitting Sergio Garcia against Phil Mickelson (Mickelson's 67 bested Sergio's even-par 72) officially inaugurated the place in February of the following year. From the tips, the 7,070-yard track sports a course rating of 74.5 and a slope of 147, Cabo's highest.

In Spanish, Querencia (pronounced "Kah-ren-see-ah"), means a sanctuary; a place to feel safe, strong and at home; a place to return. For the club's 120 regular members and 19 founding members, that's quite an apropos description, given the fact that Querencia is a very attractive place to return to.

The golf course occupies 320 acres of the 840-acre reserve, which is situated a couple of miles west of San Jose del Cabo and next door to Palmilla. Querencia is co-owned by Gaylord Entertainment (owner of Gallardia CC in Oklahoma City, the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado, Opryland Hotels in Texas, and several media companies); the Gonzales family (the owner of the site and Baja's first Ford dealer); and the Samises (another Oklahoma City clan which has a home in Palmilla and had always wanted to build an exclusive golf course in the area).

The members hail from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. The development will ultimately contain 350 memberships and a like number of residences, including single-family dwellings and villas. According to Querencia's president, Jud Perkins, and vice president, Cheryl Brown, strict covenants will ensure that the architectural styles of the homes will not clash. There won't be any Cape Cod mansions here. After considerable thought, the developers selected a "nouveau rustic Mexican" style. Once the lot sales reach a certain point, the only people eligible for a Querencia golf membership will be a property owner.

Creating a Sense of Community

Querencia's management - Perkins, Brown, and director of golf Bob Gaudet - strives to ensure Querencia is a place where the members will mingle. Gaudet, a native of Vancouver, B.C., who worked at Palmilla for five years before coming here, oversees quite a few tournaments throughout the year.

In addition, the members enjoy cultural programs that involve bringing in local experts for casual seminars. A group of "Querencians" went to Guadalajara on a sightseeing trip, and they've held receptions and tequila-tasting parties. The upshot of all this is that, although memberships at the club go for $110,000, with annual dues of $4,000, there's an open friendliness among the members. That's pretty remarkable considering only about 30 members are full-time residents.

Refuting the Local Scuttlebutt

While visiting Cabo's other courses, I heard rumors that Querencia, because of its slow membership sales (mainly attributable to America's languishing economy), might end up opening itself to the public. Not so, according to Gaudet.

Certainly the developers would like to expose more people to the charms of the golf course (more on those later) to accelerate the sale of housing lots. Because of the real estate slow-down, infrastructure additions - including a permanent clubhouse - have been put on hold until more lots are sold.

But as for altering the members-only status of Querencia, that's not going to happen anytime soon. However, the owners have been in discussions with Fazio about him drafting up a preliminary routing for another 18 holes that would be open for the public. If that layout comes to fruition, there'd be a separate entrance (Querencia probably has the tightest security among Cabo's gated communities) and the holes would be apart from the club proper.

On to the Course

I've now played all of Cabo's courses, and am in a reasonable position to proclaim that Querencia may boast the area's most intriguing overall design. That's going out on a limb because the course contains no ocean-side holes - such as those at Eldorado, Cabo del Sol and Palmilla. It's also quite far from the Sea of Cortez, going up and down, over and across precipitous terrain situated deeper inland than the other Cabo courses.

But Querencia gains special status because of perhaps the area´s best set of holes - now played as the front nine until a new clubhouse is built. Holes 1 through 9 are truly spectacular, with each providing a golfing joyride involving thrills, chills and goose bumps for those fortunate enough to play it.

The rest of the course is nothing to sneeze at either. Contributing to the overall challenge is the site's 350 feet of elevation change; a steadfast array of stand-alone holes (you rarely see other golfers at Querencia); magnificent conditioning (thanks to a 42-man crew overseen by superintendent Adolfo Garcia); and the fact that, in hosting a mere 10,000 rounds a year, the layout is virtually virgin ground. Regardless, the members are getting considerable bang for their big bucks here.

As noted by Gaudet, Fazio "reshaped the environment" at Querencia, which was created over an 18-month span by one of the industry's top golf course builders, Wadsworth. Over 680,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved during construction, a remarkable amount for any project, but especially one in this rugged locale. Wadworth and Fazio brought to the project shapers who specialized in fashioning bunkers, tees, fairways and greens.

Entire arroyos were filled in and sculpted into outstanding tests of golf. No. 14, a tasty par-3, was built from scratch, replacing a deep cross arroyo with a huge green complex. Yet, many endemic features were retained, leading to the course's best par-5. The 552-yard 4th winds around a deep canyon to a spectacular green that sits on a peninsula that seems to be hovering in the air.

Fazio and the developers went to considerable trouble in preserving the desert flora. An extensive re-vegetation program involved removing over 4,000 native species, temporarily storing them in a special nursery, and replanting them around the course. In all, over 350,000 native plants were returned to their roots - including many flowering species that attract hummingbirds.

Other extra-special treatments were taken. Incredibly, for an expansive course that sprawls well over 300 acres (about twice the normal amount of land used for 18 holes), you rarely see the intricate cart path system, which is surreptitiously placed out of sight. The concrete used in the paths was mixed with an ocher-tint to match the surrounding desert, adding to the covertness of what can become - without proper planning - manmade monstrosities.

The bunkers are true works of art. From afar, especially off the tees, the traps appear as if they've been etched into the ground, amoeba-like in configuration with sharp, hand-mowed edges. (That said, the quality of the sand needs to be upgraded, and Gaudet acknowledges as much, saying there are now too many "fines" and that other local grits are now being examined as replacements.)

Querencia didn't use just any ordinary Bermuda grass for the course. Over 90 acres of sod were shipped in on refrigerated trucks from West Coast Turf in Indio, Calif. The developers held their collective breaths while the turf was laid, knitted and planted. Thankfully, the hurricanes held off and what's now found at Querencia is close-cropped and healthy 328 Bermuda tees, Bulls Eye Bermuda on the fairways and rough, and Tif Eagle Bermuda for the greens. (By the way, Querencia's greens are the toughest to negotiate in Cabo. Like the area's other putting surfaces, they're cut short, but the dastardly grain here is truly mind-bending - it must be due to the course's location in the foothills.)

Top Holes

The toughest tests on the front (numerically termed the back because of the lack of a clubhouse) include the 13th, a 451-yard par-4 with a big landing area for tee shots. From here, the hole bends leftward around a rugged canyon and then rises steeply past two traps at the right-front of a wild, multi-tiered green that tips toward the front. Another good quad is the 16th, a 466-yarder that goes slightly downhill along a wide path into Sea of Cortez breezes. Two deep bunkers lurk along the right of a V-shaped green.

On to the magnificent back nine (or the front, as the case may be), which starts at one of Querencia's highest points and seems to have holes that go from peak to peak like one of those phantasmagoric golf calendars. The 1st, a 426-yarder, is one of Cabo's prettiest holes, with Cortez vistas, a wide route lined by cavernous bunkers left, and desert right. The fairway eventually veers slightly left to a big and rolling putting surface trapped left.

No. 2 is a 246-yard par-3, a lovely downhiller with a feral putting surface trapped twice on the right-front edge. The short par-4 3rd features a tight landing area and a sloping green in a hollow. The aforementioned 4th is a sweeping left-bender defined by an overgrown canyon and a well-moguled fairway. At about the 100-yard mark, the hole bears left to a cliff-perched green guarded by bunkers on both sides.

The 373-yard 5th has one of Querencia's tallest starting points, and a tight garden spot for tee balls. From there, the hole reverses itself and ascends steeply to a hill-cut green ringed by three deep traps. The top-rated hole on the course is the 439-yard 6th, a tough par-4 with bunkers outside the turn and deep doodoo inside. The fairway then falls off a cliff en route to a round, rear-sloping green squatting on a perch.

No. 7 is a neat, abbreviated (343-yard) par-4 with an S-shaped, concave fairway that eventually arrives at a tiny, cactus-concealed green. The second shot here is one of the most precise in Cabo. The 8th, a 197-yard par-3, goes slightly uphill, circumventing dense detritus to a severely front-sloping green trapped front and back (whatever you do, don't find this back bunker). And the 9th is a 595-yard par-5 that takes a declivitous route past inescapable "gow" and a bunker left, and two traps right. The hole probably drops 150 feet, ending at a banana-shaped green angled 45 degrees to the fairway. You'd better have your shoulders parallel to the slope or you'll end up in the jungle to the right of the putting surface.

That's it for Querencia, one of the finest courses (among the 800-plus) this writer has ever played. Next up is Cabo Real, which includes the original eponymous track, designed by Robert Trent Jones, and the newer Eldorado, which ranks up there with Cabo del Sol as the Golden Bear's best work in Cabo.

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