I don’t know how many times I’ve said this, and this time won’t be the last. There isn’t a better gig out there than running this golf blog. As a result I have the pleasure of reviewing some of the best golf courses and golf travel destinations in the world. Los Cabos, Mexico is home to many of those courses and is certainly in the top tier of resort destinations. My tough duty today is posting a review of the splendid time I had at the Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos.
Palmilla Golf Club Overview
Palmilla is a Jack Nicklaus designed, 27 hole facility comprised of the Arroyo, Mountain and Ocean nines. The track meanders through the hilly desert terrain of Los Cabos, taking advantage of the local scenery, cacti and views of the Sea of Cortez. A large percentage of the holes have ocean views. There’s something very cool and relaxing about the contrast of the green fairways and having that cool blue background of the ocean. Contrast that with the perfectly manicured and colorful local vegetation, numerous types of cacti, and you get 27 holes of photo opps. As a result, I shot about 120 photos during my round.
I played 18 of the 27 holes, so my review and image gallery features the Mountain and Arroyo nines. I’ll have to return soon to review the Ocean nine. Hint, hint.
As mentioned, my pal Jack Nicklaus is to blame for this beautifully challenging seaside track. I expected many of the typical Nicklaus design characteristics, and I was not disappointed. One of those characteristics which Jack seems to like is bunkers. This course had plenty of bunkers, and I found a large percentage of them. By my count, including desert areas which play as, or are positioned as bunkers, there are 82.
Another characteristic I expected was to see many “fade holes.” Jack loves to fade the ball, and many of his hole designs are dogleg right (left to right curve). Surprisingly I didn’t see a fade hole until #4 on the Arroyo nine, and that was the only one for that side. For those who like to shape their shots, the Arroyo nine is most suited for those who draw the ball. The Mountain nine however is another story. Seven of the nine holes favor fades off the tee as opposed to draws.
For those of you scoring at home: Total draw holes is 10. Total fade holes is 8.
Five sets of tees at Palmilla insure that players of all skill levels can enjoy a round of golf without taking a beating on the scorecard. From the tips (black tee) Palmilla (once again, Mountain and Arroyo nines) measures out at 6939. The course rating from the black tees is 73.7 with a slope of 138. From the front tees (red) the course yardage is 4858, rating 69.2, slope 116.
The tee shots at Palmilla are what I’d call desert/target style. The tees are mostly their own little islands of grass surrounded by desert sand and cacti. That means forced carries off of most tees over native desert areas, but not to an extreme where the player is worried about being able to make it to the fairway.
The teeing areas are all very nicely groomed and decorated with the local plant life, rocks and precise turf lines.
The fairways at Palmilla contain the 3rd of my expected Nicklaus design characteristics. They’re fairly wide. Most of the fairways call for some kind of shot shaping to give the best approach and cut off the most yardage, but any of them will reward a well placed straight ball as well.
Stances in the fairways are not difficult. There can be slightly uneven lies, but there are no really extreme slants, humps, bumps or undulations which can cause swing or stance issues.
I know what you are saying. “What about those of us who miss more fairways than we hit?” For you, there is plenty of trouble. Though the rough outside the fairways is not extremely penalizing or thick and the lies in the rough not extremely difficult, there isn’t much of it. Miss the fairway by a few feet and you will catch the rough. Miss the fairway by a few more feet and you’ll find a desert area or bunker.
Playing from the desert areas is very tough. The desert sand contains little rocks which when I hit them a few times, made the sound of bullets ricocheting. Though the desert sand feels soft under the feet, there is a hard layer underneath which highly increases thin shots. Once you’ve figured out how to strike shots from the desert areas you aren’t done either as you’ll likely be behind a cactus, or have one in your backs wing or stance.
To me the approaches at Palmilla are the real test. Perhaps part of that is because during my rusty round there (three weeks without playing or practicing), my irons were not very good. Most of the approaches require good shot placement or a tough chip, bunker shot or long putt will be the result.
As my ball striking and iron play wasn’t my best, I found many greenside bunkers. Though these greens aren’t overly guarded by traps, the traps that are there are placed exactly in the right location to penalize an errant shot. I was penalized, a lot.
Thankfully, unlike many newer resort courses, the greens at Palmilla are not circus greens. They’re enjoyable to putt, and don’t have any really crazy undulations or tricks to make them more difficult. They roll true and smooth. If you start a ball out on the right line and speed you can count on the ball dropping.
As mentioned, I found many of the greenside bunkers. Somehow I was able to get up and down from some seemingly impossible spots. That’s because I was able to hit a decent bunker shot and rely on the strength of my game to save par, my putting.
Palmilla has a small pro shop as well as a snack bar with outdoor seating.
The practice range at Palmilla is quite nice, with a view of the Gulf of Cortez in the background. There is also a short game area with bunker, chipping and practice green.
I have one critique about Palmilla Golf Club, it is about 2000 miles from my house.
Beware of Cacti
Speaking of cacti, while taking photos behind a green I managed to get my left forearm punctured by a cactus. Shortly after that my forearm was in pain and the two middle fingers in my left hand went numb. The pain and numbness went away after a few holes. Today, four days later, I have a circular bruise surrounding the puncture mark which is over an inch wide. The skin in that area is very dry as well. Beware of cacti when out in the desert areas or walking to and from the tee on this course!
But Is Cabo Safe?
There are a lot of horrible stories coming out of Mexico about everything from swine flu to drug wars and violence. Los Cabos is very insulated and far away from any of that. The area is very safe. There is no need to put off traveling to this area because of what you hear about coming from Mexico City or other areas. Cabo is fine so go enjoy it.
The two most dangerous parts of visiting Los Cabos are the possibility of drinking too much tequila or getting poked by a cactus.
The weather is great all year in Los Cabos. There’s never a bad time to visit. But if you live in a winter wonderland like me, it is especially great to leave the two feet of snow on the ground and freezing winter temperatures at my house for the 85 degree, sunny weather in Los Cabos.
Palmilla Golf Club is a very fun golf course to play which is challenging but doesn’t beat you up too badly. If it does beat you up a little, you won’t really care because you are having so much fun in such a pleasant and wonderful place. The ocean views are fantastic. The air is clean. The staff is friendly. The place is safe.
When you are done golfing you can enjoy the many other splendors which the area has to offer, from sunset sailing cruises to some of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen. The resorts in town are fantastic and have service levels beyond imagination. Stay tuned for my reviews on those splendors soon.
HOG Palmilla Golf Club photo gallery with roughly 120 images of the course and facilities