Golf Industry Flourishes in Los Cabos as Real Estate Drives New Developments

BY: BROCK LEE

BY BRIAN McCALLEN

The old joke about Mexico is that tourists would head south of the border with a T-shirt and a $100 bill and not change either one in a week. Through the 1980s, this was as true in Los Cabos as it was in Cancun.

All that changed with the infusion of world-class golf built in and around the 20-mile coastal corridor stretching between San Jose del Cabo, a quaint 18th-century colonial town; and Cabo San Lucas, a fishing mecca and party capital.

But it wasn’t always so. Formerly a rustic port of call favored by retired pirates, deep-sea fishermen and outback writers like John Steinbeck, Cabo, in the span of just over 25 years, has reinvented itself as a premier golf destination.

Jack Nicklaus, the ‘Golden Amigo,’ should take a bow. Nicklaus, who first visited Los Cabos in the mid-1960s to take a break from the PGA Tour and angle for trophy marlin, put Cabo on the international golf map with his seminal designs at Palmilla in 1992 and the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol two years later. He’s since returned to build four additional layouts, single-handedly catapulting Los Cabos into the golf vacation stratosphere. If his output is prolific, so is his enthusiasm.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way things have evolved in Los Cabos,” Nicklaus said. “I truly believe Cabo is not only a flagship destination for golf in Mexico, it’s as good as any golf destination in the world. It’s nice to have a legacy of spectacular courses in one of my long-time favorite places.”

Situated at the place where the Sea of Cortes meets the Pacific Ocean, Los Cabos boasts a rare mountain-desert-ocean environment where enterprising developers and prominent designers have joined forces to build a handful of the world’s finest courses. Varied terrain and enticing natural features are required to produce worthy venues. Aesthetics count, too. Only in Cabo do verdant green fairways drop from cactus-studded foothills to the deep blue sea. Add 340 days of sunshine per year, dozens of splendid hotels and improved air connectivity from major North American gateways, and it’s easy to see how Los Cabos has become a magnet for avid players in search of an exceptional golf experience.

With three courses on Golf Digest’s “World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses” list and home to seven of the top 10 courses in Mexico, Cabo can rightfully claim the title as the ‘Golf Capital of Latin America.’

There’s more. The golf landscape in Los Cabos is expanding. While most golf destinations are status quo or shrinking, Cabo has a handful of new projects in the works that will further solidify its reputation as a must-play getaway.

One caveat: there’s been a sea change of late with the emergence of the “private resort,” a new hospitality category. Increasingly, new golf projects are tied to real estate developments. Otherwise-private clubs will permit guests of selected hotels to play their courses, with fees ranging up to $450 at the top end.

At present, visitors who want to tee it up without booking a room at a designated hotel can play any of the three Questro Golf courses: Cabo Real, Club Campestre San Jose and Puerto Los Cabos (27 holes); Palmilla Golf Club (27 holes); Cabo San Lucas Country Club; and Vidanta Golf, a modest 9-hole layout. The Desert Course at Cabo del Sol is closed for modifications and will reopen to outside play later next year.

The exclusive “private resort” category brims with top-class courses worth crossing a continent to play. Again, there’s a prerequisite: a player needs to stay at an affiliated hotel to gain access.

For example, the centerpiece of Chileno Bay Golf & Beach Club, the Discovery Land Co. development, is a beautiful Tom Fazio creation, its graceful flowing landforms intended to simulate rolling ocean waves. Course access is granted to guests of Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, an Auberge property set on one of Cabo’s prettiest beaches.

Similarly, at Twin Dolphin Golf Club, a naturalistic Fred Couples-designed course stretched across a broad sloping plateau bisected by arroyos high above the Sea of Cortes, players must stay at Montage Los Cabos, a 122-room beachfront hotel set on Santa Maria Bay, a marine preserve; or book a two- or three-bedroom Montage Residence.

On the East Cape 45 minutes from the airport, guests of Four Seasons Resort and Residences Los Cabos at Costa Palmas can secure a tee time at the resort community’s golf club, a Robert Trent Jones II design that opened last year. This multi-themed layout sprawls across a gently rolling expanse of sand that rises nearly 40 meters above the Sea of Cortes.

There is a bit more flexibility at three top clubs around the corner from the iconic sea arch on the Pacific side of Los Cabos. 

Want to take on the challenge at Quivira Golf Club, an engineering marvel conceived by Jack Nicklaus that weaves along sheer granite cliffs high above the frothing sea? Golfers can register at any Pueblo Bonito Golf & Spa Resorts property to gain access, including Pacifica, the adults-only, all-inclusive hotel five minutes from the golf club.

A couple of miles from Quivira is Diamante, a resort community that’s home to the Dunes Course, the No. 1 ranked venue in Mexico; and El Cardonal, the first completed 18-hole course by Tiger Woods. Also available is a sporty 12-hole par-three course by Woods. Guests of the on-site Nobu Hotel and Hard Rock Hotel have access to Diamante’s courses, subject to availability.

Moving further north is a sparkling newcomer, Rancho San Lucas Golf Club. The club’s Greg Norman Signature Design, opened in February 2020, anchors an 834-acre beachfront community and ranks among the best of the 100-plus courses Norman has built worldwide. The links-style layout spans three different ecosystems, transporting players from huge windswept dunes to a thick cactus forest and back again. The club offers entrée to guests of Solmar Hotels and Resorts, including the new on-site Grand Solmar Rancho San Lucas Resort.

Golf-wise, what does the future hold for Los Cabos? More real estate developments moving up both coastlines that use golf as a prime amenity to attract potential buyers.

A native New Yorker, Brian McCallen is a writer and tourism consultant for hospitality firms and international resorts who divides his time between Cabo San Lucas and Stonington, Connecticut. He has written three golf-travel books for Harry N. Abrams and has produced hundreds of feature stories on a variety of topics for leading magazines (Esquire, Town & Country, Playboy, Golf Digest, etc.), newspapers (Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, etc.), and digital outlets for the past 40 years. He currently works in golf public relations at the Los Cabos Tourism Board. McCallen first visited Los Cabos in 1992 while serving as Senior Editor at Golf Magazine and fell in love with the region.   rep.golf@visitloscabos.travel MX cell: (624) 145-3535 U.S. cell: (860) 514-5011.