Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club is the 2nd of my two golf course reviews from my recent HOG World Tour stop in Los Cabos, Mexico.
I had a terrific time in the warm and sunny conditions of Los Cabos, knowing my golf pals back home where staring out their windows praying for the snow to melt.
Puerto Los Cabos Overview
Puerto Los Cabos (PLC) is currently an 18 hole course, located a short drive from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I said “currently an 18 hole course” because the plan is to expand to 36 holes. The current nines are each one half of their respective future 18 hole tracks, and play as an 18 hole course.
Mission and Marina Nines
The front nine is called the Mission Course and is a Greg Norman signature course. The back nine is called the Marina Course and is a Jack Nicklaus signature course. I’ll be referring to them as the Norman and Nicklaus nines.
The two nines are definitely different, as different as the games which their famous architects had in their prime. I’ll try to spell out the differences in the “tee, fairway, approach, green” sections below. And who wins? Can Norman top Nicklaus?
Both courses do share and take advantage of the hilly and mini-mountainous terrain of this area, which is perfect for building very interesting courses with fun elevation changes.
Nicklaus’ tees are desert/target style. They’re lone islands of grass in desert sand, and force the player to carry over native areas to reach the fairway. Though there are some forced carries as well, Norman’s tees are typically contiguous grass from one tee to the next, and to the fairway. They both have quite a different look. See the Jack tee on the left below, and the Greg tee on the right below.
Due to the terrain that both designers had to work with, there are some spectacular and challenging elevation changes from the tee. Right off the first tee, Norman has you climbing a very steep hill. If you hit your drive well enough, you can see the green on approach. Poor tee shots on that hole would result in a blind 2nd.
Neither the Nicklaus or Norman fairways are incredibly difficult to hit. The landing areas are fairly wide and forgiving, though the visual from the tee may make the landing area look smaller than it really is. Missing fairways at Puerto Los Cabos can be costly as the ball will find desert in the low areas of the course, or the mountain’s dense vegetation in the higher areas.
Norman’s fairways are smoother and more free flowing. The ball bounces more predictably, and stances are seldom difficult. The fairways look pleasing to my eye as well, as they seem to move with the natural landscape.
Nicklaus’ fairways are not as smooth. There are many hundreds of little humps and bumps which can cause the ball to bounce in odd directions or result in strange lies.
An example of the strange bounces on the Nicklaus fairways is my tee shot on the 18th hole (above). I striped my driver right down the middle. When I arrived at the middle of the fairway, my ball was nowhere to be found. After a short search, I found it in the right bunker. That ball had hit the center of the fairway and come to rest close to 30 yards right of where it landed, due to hitting the “unlucky” side or sides of the little bumps in the fairway. I know that some great courses like St. Andrews include this sort of random bounce feature, but I’m not a fan of being penalized for making a good shot. My 2nd shot was impossible, up against the lip. I did well to make bogey on 18.
Approach shots on both the Norman and Nicklaus nines are straight forward. There’s nothing tricky or deceiving about them. That doesn’t mean they’re not challenging by any means, as the greens can be well guarded by bunkers.
Many of the greens are crowned greens with collection areas around them. Miss those slightly, and the ball will roll off and down into a collection area, producing some difficult up and down opportunities.
The bunkering on the Norman nine is very interesting. Holes like #2, #5 and #6 have some bunkers with extremely steep and deep faces. On #2 and #5 they’re above and below the hole to the extreme, producing some sand shots which can be a real blast, pun intended. I found the far right greenside bunker on #2 and had about a 20 foot drop to the green. I was very happy to get that ball within about 12 feet.
The Nicklaus greens are very challenging. Each green can have up to four quadrants, and balls which aren’t on the right quadrant produce tough two-putt challenges. With the speed jacked up on those greens it is quite possible for a good player to be “happy” with a 3-putt if the original putt is in a bad location. Going from quadrant to quadrant could mean the read is one of a two, or even three-breaker.
The Norman greens aren’t “quadrantified” like Nicklaus’ greens. Like the word “quadrantified?” I do. The slopes and tiers are larger on the Norman greens, providing bigger landing areas and more massive long breaks.
Though different, the Norman putting surfaces are no less challenging. On #3 for instance, I dropped some balls in certain places on the putting surface and watched where they finished rolling. A one foot variance in where I dropped the ball could make the difference between having a short putt to rolling off the green 20-30 feet and having a tough chip.
Tough choice here. There are so many holes which could claim the title of “signature hole” on this track.
I have to mention ocean side holes here. There’s a links style flavor on the par-5 14th hole (Nicklaus). From the tee you can test your golf balls and see how much of an arroyo you want to bite off. The farther right you go, the longer the carry. Nice little risk-reward, Jack. Once over arroyo #1, the 2nd shot has more desert to clear, or you can wimp out like I did and lay up short of it. The wimping out paid off as I did make a par by the way.
The approach on #14 is where you really start to love the hole. The green is framed between two sand hills and behind the green just a few feet is the Sea of Cortez (below).
From the first hole I liked the Norman course. There are many holes which could be the signature hole, like #5 which is a very cool par-4. The green complex and bunkering of #5 lay on the side of a small mountain peak. Large and steep bunkers guard above and below the green while the Sea of Cortez provides a great blue background. It frames up nicely.
But #6 on the Norman course (pictured above with yours truly standing on the Gold tee) is hands down, by far THE signature hole of Puerto Los Cabos (Norman or Nicklaus nines). #6 is a severely downhill par-3 which from my tee (gold), played 190 yards. I’m not good at estimating elevation changes in feet, but I’m guessing the drop to be over 200 feet. The tee boxes are perched up on that same hill that #5 green was adjacent to. The view of the surrounding area and the ocean in the background is jaw dropping. The green complex is interesting and challenging with those same steep and deep bunkers. Thankfully my slightly toed iron made the surface.
I’ve played some great par-3′s, like the 17th at the TPC Sawgrass. #6 at Puerto Los Cabos can hold its own against any of them.
Puerto Los Cabos is a new development and as such, the amenities have yet to catch up to the course. There’s no locker room, restaurant or lounge. The pro shop is a trailer currently, but the future plans include a 40,000 square foot clubhouse.
The practice facility is fully developed and more than adequate with driving range and practice short game areas.
The Los Cabos area is a wonderful destination, from all of the great seaside activities and resorts to the golf. I strongly recommend visiting Los Cabos. Don’t worry about feeling safe because all that bad stuff you hear about Mexico is quite a long distance from this place. Like I’ve mentioned before, the most dangerous thing about Los Cabos is the possibility of drinking too much tequila or being poked by a cactus.
When the 36 hole facility is completed I’d love to take a trip back and see what the 2nd nines of both the Norman and Nicklaus courses are like. As it sits at this point, it is interesting if not a bit odd to have two nines by different designers and which have such differences, especially in the fairways and greens.
Though I like both nines, if I had to choose which one I liked better it would hands down be the Norman nine. That being said, the two ocean holes (#14 and #15) on the Nicklaus course are wonderful. #18 is no slouch either. Norman may have beaten Nicklaus this time, but the real winners are the golfers who get to play the course.
The par-3 6th hole (Norman nine) is worth playing this course all by itself.
Stay tuned for more on Los Cabos coming soon.