CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — Booming.
That might be the word used to describe your drive on the downhill – and downwind if you’re lucky – par-5 16th hole at Cove Club that races from the tee box toward the Sea of Cortez.
Booming is also the best word to describe the sheer growth of the game of golf on the tip of the Baja California peninsula.
Los Cabos, “the two capes,” is the area book-ended by the twin cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, neighboring towns situated at opposite ends of a 20-mile corridor. This Mexican golf mecca has only been a golf destination for about 30 years. But what’s there now combined with what’s coming guarantees this hotspot will remain a popular locale for years to come. Tourism was up double digits in 2022, a trend that continued the first part of 2023, and several new golf courses are either planned or under construction.
Cabo had but one course in 1987 and there’s 18 now. By 2030, there’s likely to be as many as 25. Almost all are top-shelf venues catering to those looking at golf as a complement to an upscale resort lifestyle.
It’s almost a chicken-or-the-egg discussion: Are golfers flocking to Cabo because of the array of great courses? Or are great courses continuing to sprout up as people seek a home-away-from-home destination with a country club lifestyle replete with all the modern amenities?
That’s most likely a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. When you plan your trip, though, you may want to leave your departure date open-ended. It’s not uncommon for a six-day Cabo trip to become nine days, 12 days, even more. You’ll see what we mean when you get there.
Ease of access
Arrival into the Los Cabos International Airport in San Jose del Cabo on a recent trip for this Golfweek staffer was a breeze. The direct flight from Phoenix was a little more than two hours. At the taxi stand, where dozens of vacationers waited for their turn to get whisked away, music was blaring and bartenders were pouring.
Yep, it was now Cabo time.
Photos: Tiger Woods, Davis Love III golf courses at Diamante Cabo San Lucas
After finding a ride, a white Chevy Tahoe with dark-tinted windows, a tall, cold slender can of Pacifico beer became the refreshment of choice. The first stop: Diamante Cabo San Lucas.
Our driver, Jose, made a good call taking the Los Cabos Toll Road, which cuts across the desert a few miles north of the corridor. The toll is fairly new and makes for a quicker route to the ever-growing Pacific Ocean side of the cape.
Downtown Cabo, in the middle of the corridor, is the heart of the action with restaurants, bars, shops and the pier. This nightlife hotspot is on the agenda but reaching home base for the first part of this trip is the task at hand, with the SUV making a beeline to Diamante. About 45 minutes later, the second-floor, double sliding-glass door was opened, bringing in the cool desert air and providing an amazing view to the west, the sun beginning to set over the horizon.
The ninth green of the Davis Love III-designed Dunes course was just to the right off the patio. Looking that direction, it’s impossible not to notice the Lagoon, Diamante’s 10-acre saltwater pool, its stunning blue water contrasted against the desert terrain. For those with family in tow, the Lagoon, complete with a kids water park, is a centerpiece to your stay.
Farther up the landscape is El Cardonal, the second of what will soon be three 18-hole championship courses. Better known as the first golf course designed by Tiger Woods, El Cardonal will get its proper introduction to the world in November when it joins the roster of PGA Tour stops as host of the World Wide Technology Championship.
Like in so many other aspects of their golfing lives, Tiger is following in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus, who has six courses in Cabo. The two legendary golfers are linked again here on the peninsula.
Exploding on the scene
As with many coastal Mexican locales, Los Cabos was once a sleepy fishing community. It’s also long been a renowned scuba and whale-watching spot. Situated about 1,000 miles south of San Diego, the area is Instagram-famous for El Arco de Cabo San Lucas, better known as Land’s End, the stunning natural arch that dips into the water, a must-have photo opp for all visitors to the area.
Cabo is now just as well-known for its golf but it’s a bit stunning to realize that just a generation ago, there was but one course on the peninsula. Constructed in 1987 and just a nine-holer, Vidanta Golf Los Cabos was built by the government and is still in operation. It would be another five years until the next one came online, but that course, called Palmilla, was Jack Nicklaus’ introduction to the area and signaled the beginnings of a subtropical golf destination.
“There was nothing here,” said Brian McCallen, who knows Cabo better than most. He handled golf public relations for the Los Cabos Tourism Board for eight years. Prior to that, he was the travel editor for Golf magazine for 16 years.
“There were five hotels, probably more donkeys than people.”
It was the second course Nicklaus built in Cabo that really got the ball rolling. Originally called the Ocean Course at Cabo Del Sol, Cove Club is now a private golf and beach club. It transitioned into a private residence club after operating as a public/resort facility for 25 years. Nicklaus once said it was “the best golf property I’ve seen.”
“I don’t call him a Golden Bear. I call him the Golden Amigo,” said McCallen. “He’s the dude, he’s the guy that really put this place on the map.”
Photos: Check out the golf courses at Cabo Del Sol in Cabo San Lucas
The Ocean course eventually earned its accolades, but there was a time when the idea of flying to Cabo for golf only raised some eyebrows.
“Hey, you guys, you gotta be down, you gotta come down to Mexico and see this Jack Nicklaus course,” McCallen recalled telling his fellow golf course rating panelists at Golf magazine. “They said ‘We’re not going to Mexico to play golf. What are you talking about?’” So I said, ‘Look, if you don’t think it’s the best course you’ve seen, the margaritas are on me.’”
After convincing some golfers to make the trek, the course won them over. Nicklaus was right. The Ocean course was a huge hit.
“It was the game changer,” McCallen said. “That was the course that established Los Cabos as a primo international golf destination.”
To be a primo destination, you need to have primo amenities and Cove Club offers exactly that. Cove Club, now a private golf course, was redesigned in 2023, with the original 17th and 18th holes removed to make room for the Cabo Del Sol Beach Club. The 17th was a par 3 that played up the coast, but as it turns out the land along that hole was more ideal as a sandy beach area. The 17th green is now a negative-edge pool and the Beach Club has a fantastic outdoor restaurant and bar. It just made too much sense to maximize the land.
The new 18 is where the old 16 used to be, and it’s a great way to finish your round. In fact, all three of the closing holes are what’s going to make your round here memorable. You start that closing stretch at one of the highest points at Cove Club at the 16th tee box and make your way toward the ocean, each shot downhill, drawing you closer to the salty sea air.
Along the way, make sure you pull into the comfort stations for a quick break, a delicious bite, maybe even a shot of Casamigos or Codigo tequila.
Cove Club Golf Course is tied for 12th on Golfweek’s Best 2023: Top 50 courses in Mexico, Caribbean, Atlantic islands and Central America list. One trip around this place will make you a believer.
Cabo Del Sol has a second 18-hole course, designed by Tom Weiskopf, called the Cabo Del Sol Course. Called the Desert Course when it opened in 2001, it ranks 42nd on the Golfweek list and it’s no slouch.
Sitting higher up on the terrain, the golf is farther away from the ocean but there are views of the deep blue water on most of the holes. Currently under a months-long renovation by the team of Dana Fry and Jason Straka, the Desert course is a great complement to Jack’s course down the hill.
On the western edge of Los Cabos, with the vast Pacific Ocean dominating the views in the distance, is Diamante, and once you’re here, it’s really difficult to leave. Fine dining, a sports bar, a great breakfast spot for coffee and smoothies. A workout center with basketball, tennis and pickleball. Hiking trails. Even a private yacht providing members sunset cruises two nights a week. And of course, golf, golf and more golf.
Diamante, which opened in 2009, features two 18-hole championship courses: the Dunes by Davis Love III and Tiger’s El Cardonal. Tiger also did The Oasis, a 12-hole short course that loops around a lake. A 15-hole putting course is mere steps from the clubhouse. Each day the routing is reversed, providing a different challenge from just 24 hours prior. And coming soon: the Legacy, an ultra-private course and also a Tiger Woods design.
As people around Diamante like to say: “We’re in the Tiger Woods business.”
Woods’ Legacy will take things next level and further entrench his influence at Diamante. Slated to open late in 2024, The Legacy will be the eventual home of the World Wide Technology Championship. It’ll also perhaps be the most visually stunning golf course at Diamante, with Shadow Creek in Las Vegas likely to have heavy influence on the design.
While Davis Love III’s Dunes course and Tiger’s El Cardonal layout ebb and flow with the terrain, the Legacy is proving to be a major engineering feat.
It’s estimated that more than 2½ million cubic yards of dirt will be moved to create The Legacy. That compares to roughly a couple hundred thousand for El Cardonal and the Dunes.
There will be dozens of different species of plants and trees used in the landscaping, with several lakes, creeks and waterfalls meandering throughout. Like Shadow Creek, golfers will probably forget they’re even in the desert.
Membership will be exclusive and will be capped at 250. Homesites on the Legacy are extremely limited, with just 14 lots. Diamante founder and CEO Ken Jowdy has one of them. Tiger has one picked out, too.
Where the Legacy course ultimately lands in the rankings is TBD, but it’ll have some competition right there at Diamante.
The Dunes course is No. 3 on the 2023 Golfweek’s Best courses 2023: Mexico, Caribbean, Atlantic islands and Central America list; El Cardonal checks in at No. 26, up six spots from 2022.
Simply called the “Tiger course” by most at Diamante, it opened in 2014. Tiger was there to hit the ceremonial first tee shot and his ball ended up in a fairway bunker down the right side. His name graces numerous plaques commemorating famous shots he hit around the world and there’s a plaque here, too, right there in the sand. Not his shining moment, perhaps, but a historical first nonetheless: the first shot Tiger hit on his first course.
“I’m very excited about the opening of El Cardonal,” Woods said in December of 2014. “This is a culmination of a dream for me and my team. I’ve always wanted to be involved in golf course design.”
The second course built at Diamante was the first one on the docket on this trip. The opening hole is inviting, a downhill race track with a wide fairway, allowing golfers to ease into their rounds. Nobody’s tee shot found Tiger’s bunker, and after putting out for par, we were off and running.
The fourth hole, a par 4 that can play as long as 483 yards, features a steeply elevated green, adding to the challenge of finding the putting surface in two. You may consider two extra clubs for this approach shot.
The first comfort station is located just beyond the fifth hole, but the pre-golf smoothies were doing their jobs so it was on to the sixth. The short par-3 ninth takes you right back to the clubhouse, and while it still wasn’t quite time for lunch, it was indeed time for a snack: egg and bacon tacos.
The 10th hole plays uphill, setting the stage for many of the back-nine holes, as the course climbs the terrain. The layout is graced by countless cardons, which are similar to the saguaro cactus that dot the landscape across Arizona. Anyone who’s played desert golf in the Grand Canyon state knows the saguaro. The cardon, however, is a bigger species. And no, El Cardonal is not a play on the Cardinal mascot of Stanford, where Tiger played his college golf. The name is paying homage to this majestic desert plant, native to the Baja peninsula.
The key hole on the back nine is likely the 15th, with its severe right-to-left sloping green. The prevailing green is right to left as well so a sharp mid-iron will be required to find the proper part of the putting surface.
Whatever your score on that 15th hole, rest easy because the second of two comfort stations awaits. This one has a thatched-roof cabana and what you can’t miss is a white donkey statue wearing a colorful Mexican blanket. It’s a must-have photo opp for sure.
The 16th is an interesting par 3 with a huge three-tiered green. The length is manageable, about 150 yards, but there is nowhere to miss left, right or deep. Steep slopes into gnarly desert scrub await on all sides, with the location of the pin and hint of wind likely to lead you to rethink your club selection.
Coming soon to El Cardonal, on the back side of the 16th hole, is a bakery. You read that right. A bakery. Imagine the smell of fresh-baked bread as you near the finish of your round.
The 17th tee box is near the main entrance to Diamante and you get big, sweeping views of the entire place with the Pacific off in the distance. If you’re wondering about all the green grass on these courses here, technology and gravity team up to deliver water to the Platinum paspalum turf.
Diamante’s desalination plant – a requirement for the newer developments – first pulls the salt out of the ocean water. Pumps then bring that water to the highest elevation on the property at the 17th tee box, where a gravity-fed system feeds desalinated water across the land.
Like the first hole, No. 18 is a wide, downhill par 5, which could make for exciting bookend scoring holes for the PGA Tour pros.
When golfers come off the 18th hole, they’ll soon be able to walk off Tiger’s course and into Tiger’s restaurant. The Woods Cabo will be the second in The Woods brand to come online, and it’s highly anticipated. Slated for a September opening, The Woods Cabo will likely be a hot spot for the area, and you won’t have to be a member of Diamante to enjoy it.
The restaurant features a stunning four-sided marble bar that dominates the room. There are about 30 big screen TVs in the venue and large high-backed round booths offering privacy. Large windows along three walls offer views of the course and the ocean.
Diamante hired Larbi Dahrouch as head chef, and he’s joined by sushi chef Jesus Humberto Villalobos Aviles whose team will prepare sushi on a daily basis. A key feature of The Woods Cabo will be the large butcher counter, where members can hand-pick steaks to take home and grill for themselves.
Where the desert, mountains, ocean meet
The landscape and climate of Los Cabos is unique. It’s considered a tropical desert, where the desert meets the mountains and together they run downhill into the ocean. If you’re playing golf, you can be poking around the desert scrub looking for a Pro V1 and then 20 minutes later have your toes dipping in the water.
Officially, there are two bodies of water that meet at the marina in the town of Cabo San Lucas, about in the middle of the corridor, with the massive Pacific Ocean is to the west, stretching on to infinity. The Sea of Cortez, meanwhile, runs up the east side of the peninsula, all the way to Puerto Penasco, aka Rocky Point, another popular Mexican beach town that’s an easy drive from various spots in the American southwest.
The vast majority of U.S. citizens visiting Cabo are coming from the western states. Direct flights – from Phoenix (two hours away), Los Angeles and San Diego (about the same), Dallas (about three hours) – make it easy. But more East Coast cities are coming online with directs, including Charlotte, New York, even Toronto. Heck, you can fly direct from Spain and soon London.
There’s already talk of a second Cabo airport, near the Pacific side of the Cape, another indication of this fast-growing area.
Love leads the way with Dunes
There are 11 golf courses in Cabo on Golfweek’s Best courses 2023: Mexico, Caribbean, Atlantic islands and Central America. Considering there are 18 courses in all of Cabo, that’s a strong field to contend with.
The best of the lot is the Dunes course at Diamante. Designed by Davis Love III and opened in 2009, it’s the closest to the ocean, with its holes winding up and back down, over and through natural dunes, created after thousands of years of wind whipping through the area. The course deserves its accolades.
Like El Cardonal, the Dunes has two comfort stations, but these are strategically placed.
Playing the Dunes on our second day of golf at Diamante had us paired with a couple of members who were keen on pointing out the tamales. Their recommendation: Get one red and one green and wash them down with a cold Pacifico.
The flow of your round at Diamante is perfect, as you’re not rushed playing your next shot nor are you quickly eating those delicious tamales. Remember you’re on Cabo time.
But don’t take your focus off your game. Take the 12th hole at the Dunes, a par 3 that was playing 180 yards. Beware because danger is lurking. You will probably need one or maybe two clubs more than you think here because of the elevated green. Don’t miss left or you’ll be neck-deep in a bunker.
Your reward for reaching the green is more than the chance to use the flatstick; it’s the views. From this lofty perch you can see the ocean waves crashing – and they often do crash, loudly – onto the beach to your left.
Two holes later, as you’re standing on the 14th tee, your swing commitment here is going to be key. The hole plays 380 yards from the tips, 358 yards from the more reasonable tee box. It’s a blind tee shot with more room to the left than you might think. An odd obelisk in the fairway does give you a sense of direction but it still feels like a hit-and-hope kinda shot. More than likely, though, you’ll find your ball in the fairway. One of the members pounded his drive here and thanks to a healthy wind at our backs, found that his tee shot came to rest on the green before settling for a two-putt birdie.
The course is a fair test, but if it’s windy it kicks things up a notch. The course was recently reworked and the original 18th hole is gone, but the current 18th hole will get your attention. Mostly straight away, your approach to the green needs to get up, up, up in the air because of a severely elevated putting surface. Get home in two here and you’re going to feel good about how your round ended.
Home stretch for the PGA Tour
Of the two courses at Diamante, the Dunes gets about 55 percent of play, but El Cardonal is closing the gap. That’ll likely continue but for now, there will be no rounds played at El Cardonal. The course closed July 15 for home-stretch preparation for the PGA Tour and all the necessary infrastructure that hosting requires.
The World Wide Technology Championship, a staple on the PGA Tour’s fall schedule since 2007, was previously held on a different Mexican coast, at El Camaleon Golf Club south of Cancun in Riviera Maya. But Mayakoba flipped to the LIV Golf League and created an opportunity for Diamante, and Tiger Woods, to fill the void.
Will Mazzeo was the tournament director at Mayakoba and has moved to Cabo to stay on in that role. His full team joined him in August in the walk-up to the tournament. Diamante generally closes for about a week in September anyway as the Cabo area gets 90 percent of its annual rainfall in that month, and that’s a good time to get some “rehab” work done. Some fresh paint here, a little clean up and fix up there. This extended closure of El Cardonal started July 15 with a scheduled reopen date of Monday, Oct. 30, just in time for the first of two pro-ams.
The golf course will be ready. The Woods Cabo will be rocking. The eyes of the golf world will be trained on the cape. We’ll just have to wait on that 16th hole bakery.
Closing in style
Cove Club director of instruction Carly Schneider frequently plays the two courses at Cabo Del Sol, often with students but many times with members. A former college golfer who was later a coach at Loyola University in her hometown of Chicago, Schneider grew up “on my grandfather’s golf course that he built.” She was first drawn to Cabo, at least the idea of Cabo, through Instagram, specifically Christian Hafe, a golf photographer. She found a magnetism to this subtropical locale through his images. She says she knew she wanted to find a landing spot at a private club, and Cabo Del Sol sure fit the bill.
“The weather is great 10 months out of the year,” she said. “Even in August and September [Cabo’s rainy season], I enjoy those off-season months. The surf is so good, the water is so warm. It really goes through these beautiful, magical seasons. We’ve got whales for three months and then the water warms and then everything turns green after the storms. Then in the winter we’ve got cool desert nights and 80-degree days.”
Casual golf, even barefoot, is encouraged, especially when you find yourself playing the consecutive par 3s along the ocean.
On this May visit, it was high 80s, windy but warm and dry. Coming down the stretch at Cove Club, Schneider showed off some of her golf skills. The 16th hole, which starts off on a tee box offering stunning views of the course, is the final par 5 on the course. With a little luck, there’s wind to your back on this hole and on this day, we had just that luck. Two strong shots later, Schneider found herself over the green but no worries there. She calmly holed out a wedge for eagle from a big swale behind the putting surface.
The par-3 17th is a treat, with a large green on the other side of a deep arroyo. A short iron is all you need, but be mindful of the two-tiered green.
And then there’s 18, the Cove Club’s original 16th hole. Talk about your great closing holes, as this beaut is a stunning downhill par 4 that ends at the edge of the Sea of Cortez. When you reach the putting surface, and as you wait for your group to putt out, you marvel at the views of the ocean. This spot provides one last on-course photo opp before you meander off the green and head next door for snacks and perhaps some drinks.
At the Beach Club, there’s a tremendous outdoor bar and restaurant, with views of the waves crashing against craggy rocks. Head indoors and you can see the large kitchen staff at work, preparing the day’s selections.
There’s also a private room with floor-to-ceiling windows all around for that next large gathering of family and friends.
The five-flight tequila tasting is a must-have experience, with each of the agave flavors paired with the perfect bite-sized snack. Sipping the extra anejo while noshing on the chocolate dessert is the ultimate finisher here.
It’s only going to get bigger, better
“When I first came down it felt, it really felt like a cowboy town,” said Erik Evans, PGA director of golf at the Cove Club. “It was a very small town, everybody knew everybody. You go into a restaurant or a bar, everyone knew your name. We didn’t have a lot of golf courses back then.”
Evans first arrived in 2009, and one of his early stints was at Diamante. He knows the scene about as well as anyone. “You can buy good wine down here now, which wasn’t the case here 10 years ago,” he says, a subtle yet noticeable difference.
Before 2010 there were a dozen courses in Cabo. There are 18 now and “I see us by 2030 getting to 25, 26 golf courses,” he said.
The growth of golf matches the increase in popularity of the entire area. There was a surge in the number of visitors to close out the 2022 calendar year, according to the Los Cabos Tourism Board, which called double-digit growth in tourism “unprecedented”. That hasn’t subsided, with similar numbers arriving so far in 2023.
Nicklaus got the ball rolling and many of the other big-name designers have a stake in the ground. Tom Weiskopf built the Cabo Del Sol (originally called the Desert Course), which is now in the hands of the Fry/Straka Design Group. The entire course is being redone, with six holes of the new-look layout already completed.
Greg Norman has two courses in Cabo with two more being designed. Fred Couples was involved with the Twin Dolphin Club. Tom Fazio has a project in the works. Ernie Els recently signed on to build Oleada, not far from Diamante near the Pacific.
Big brand names are indeed selling this big destination.
All this high-end golf comes with high-end resorts and residences, which makes for all-inclusive experiences for those vacationing in the area. If private, high-end golf is what you desire, there’s plenty of that. In fact, the area is becoming increasingly that, with multiple properties offering all-inclusive memberships with exclusive perks that’ll make you extend your stay or perhaps find that next cheap flight for a quick last-minute visit.
So if it’s fun in the sun with plenty of not-so-serious rounds of golf you seek, put Cabo on your to-do list.
“We have created an experience around golf you really don’t wanna leave,” said Evans.
A taco station at the private Cove Club Golf Course at Cabo Del Sol in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (Photo: Golfweek)Whenever you do stick your tee in the ground at Diamante or Cove Club or any of the other courses, remember to make the most of your time there.
“Set the pencil aside and take it all in, enjoy the whole experience,” McCallen said. “Don’t worry so much about your score. Take a couple of deep breaths.
“I would say it takes great land to create great golf and we have great land. There’s elevation change, there’s really beautiful desert vegetation.
“I will definitely say that the people are very welcoming and very warm and they always have a warm welcome here. The people make the place.”