Landmark 36-hole facility also improves its underrated Desert Course
Latin America’s premier destination for world-class golf is found at the tip of the Baja peninsula in Los Cabos. Now boasting 15 courses laid out by several of the game’s leading designers, Los Cabos commands a unique ocean-mountain-desert ecosystem found nowhere else in the hemisphere.
The golf course credited with placing Los Cabos squarely on the international golf map is the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, a brilliant Jack Nicklaus Signature design debuted in 1994. This scintillating layout, described by Nicklaus as occupying “the best piece of golf property I’ve ever seen,” stretches for more than a mile across a stunning desert landscape backdropped by rugged 6,000-foot mountains. Often described as the ‘Pebble Beach of the Baja,’ the 7,111-yard, par-72 layout has seven holes touching a coastline marked by craggy granite outcrops and sun-drenched beaches washed by the Sea of Cortes. The Ocean Course is ranked among the Top 100 courses in the world by both Golf Digest and GOLF Magazine.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Cabo del Sol completed a major bunker restoration late last fall to bring the layout’s strategic elements into sharper focus. The project was directed by Jim Lipe, the original Ocean Course design associate for Jack Nicklaus.
“The impetus for the bunker renovation was to replace the contaminated sand with new, quality sand,” said Greg Tallman, Cabo del Sol’s director of golf. “From there we began to study old photos, noting that the original forms and shapes had changed rather significantly over the 20-plus years the Ocean Course has been open. We were fortunate to have Jim Lipe review each hole with an eye toward eliminating several bunkers while also contemplating new ones that we had discussed through the years. The final result is a considerably upgraded facility with an overall aesthetic befitting such a great golf course.”
Once the old sand was removed from the layout’s bunkers, the bunker contours, which had flattened over time, were restored or reshaped. In addition, the bays and floors of the hazards were returned to their original concave shapes. Original course drawings and photos were referenced during the reconstruction process to achieve accuracy.
Taking a less-is-more approach, Lipe removed 19 bunkers and added five new ones. In two instances, bunkers were joined together to form a single sandy hazard. When the shaping was completed, new sand was introduced to all the bunkers, as was new drainage. The net result of the refurbishment: The Ocean Course now has 72 well-placed bunkers, 16 fewer than before the renovation. The bunker reduction accentuates the layout’s clean, flowing lines and majestic ocean views. Lipe noted that the bunkers that were taken out tended to penalize higher handicappers.
“We wanted flashed faces in the bunkers where it was needed for visibility, but overall we eliminated steepness in the bunkers to enhance playability,” Lipe explained. “Taking out superfluous formal bunkers enabled us to bring the desert back into the golf course.”
In addition to the remedial bunker work, two new ladies’ tees were added late last year. At the 14th hole, a short par 4, the new tee box occupies “a fairer and more attractive location” than previously, according to Tallman. At the spectacular par-4 18th hole, a grand left-to-right dogleg that traces the curve of the rocky, wave-tossed shore, a new seaside ladies tee now presents a more beautiful prospect from the red markers.
A final tweak was made to strengthen the par-5 15th hole, which tumbles downhill from the high point of the course to a broad fairway backdropped by the sparkling Sea of Cortés. A new back tee has stretched the hole from 530 to 550 yards, while a new bunker in the driving zone, suggested by Nicklaus, is intended to give big hitters pause for thought.
While often overshadowed by the Ocean Course, the Desert Course at Cabo del Sol, a Tom Weiskopf design routed high above the Ocean Course and the Sea of Cortes, is a well-balanced test that takes golfers on a roller-coaster ride across barrancas and through cactus-covered foothills. Shot-for-shot, the Desert Course, opened in 2001, ranks among the finest and most complete tests of golf in Los Cabos.
Following rain and wind from a minor hurricane last fall, all bunkers on the Desert Course were cleaned of debris and later filled with new sand. Two bunkers were removed; two bunkers were converted to large “Baja bunkers,” or waste bunkers. In addition to the post-storm clean-up, an extensive clearing program on the Desert Course restored vast amounts of playable desert areas beside the fairways. The course now offers players a reasonable chance to recover from a wayward shot that departs the fairway.
Cabo del Sol’s magnificent 40,000-square-foot clubhouse serves both the Ocean and Desert courses. This elegant edifice fuses colonial and traditional architecture with modern amenities to create a distinctive Mexican hacienda design. Marked by magnificent arches, rich stone floors and high-beamed ceilings, the clubhouse features indoor and outdoor dining areas, an expansive golf shop, men’s and women’s locker rooms, and picturesque ocean and golf course views from its open-air verandas and landscaped terraces.
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