Cabo del Sol (The Ocean Course)
Los Cabos, Mexico

Fourteenth hole, 365 yards; The rugged features at Cabo, especially the arroyos, are such that a much harder and far less enjoyable course could have easily been built here. Nicklaus Design deserves credit for its routing whereby the number of intimidating forced carries is keep within reason. Having said that, the course’s most menacing forced carry comes here at this modest length hole. Given the apprehension created on the tee, the natural tendency is to aim well away from the arroyo as it snakes along the left of the fairway and up past the right of the green. Unfortunately, tentatively played tee balls out to the right leave the golfer with the ball well above his feet (i.e. a hook stance) to a green that angles from front left to back right (i.e. a fade green) beyond an arroyo. The golfer who accepts the challenge off the tee and plays a slight draw toward the inside of the dogleg is mightily rewarded with a potential easy pitch for birdie. Within Nicklaus Design, not only is the namesake a great (!!) golfer but so too is Jim Lipe. One can imagine how he relishes the opportunity to display his ball striking skills on this gem of a sub-400 yard hole.

The arroyo was put to similar use as Rae’s Creek at the thirteenth at Augusta National: the more the golfer hugs it off the tee ¦

¦ the easier his approach shot becomes as he gains a level stance and the perfect angle down the length of the green which ¦

¦ was beautifully placed on the inside of the arroyo’s elbow as seen above. One of the single toughest hole locations on the course is found back right on a finger of green that protrudes perilously close to the arroyo.

Fifteenth hole, 530 yards; The previous six holes havestayed away from the sea and the fifteenth acts as a crucial transition holewhereby the golfer is slowly re-introduced to it. At 158 feet above sea level, the tee is the highest point on the course with the long views afforded to the Sea of Cortez providing the start for this seamless transition from desert to sea. In addition, the fact that it is a long hole means that the transition is allowed to play out gradually over the hole’s 500+ yards in length.

Though the golfer is one thousand yards away from the coastline, the view from the elevated fifteenth tee across the scrubby desert floor and out to the Sea of Cortez signals an important transition.

With the prevailing wind behind and from the right, the golfer is mightily repaid if he can get past this bunker complex with his tee ball as he might have as little as a mid iron into the green in two.

Sixteenth hole, 445 yards; Great courses evolve as no architect gets every feature right after spending a limited time on sitefor a few scant years. The more concentrated basis of power for decision making like at Pine Valley, Oakmont in the days of Fownes and Friar’s Head today, the course’s evolution is likely to occur in a quicker and more sophisticated manner. Why go into this here at the sixteenth you wonder? After all, the sixteenth couldn’t look more natural as its fairway meanders downhill toward the Sea of Cortez. In fact, more tweaking has occurred design-wise to this hole than any other since opening day. The fact that the hole has been allowed to be steadily improved upon is a great compliment to all parties concerned. The end result is what some consider to be the finest hole on the course.

Though the sixteenth is now picture-perfect, such wasn’t always the case as the fairway, bunkering scheme and green location have been all tinkered with to yield today’s exceptional hole.

In the 1990s, the sixteenth green commenced just past the bunker in the foreground and stopped before the edge of today’s green. The removal of a back bunker and an extra set of tees meant that the green could be pushed back thirty-five yards to its present superior location. Today’s ground game options makes the approach the author’s single favorite shot on the course.

As seen from the left, the back third of the sixteenth green narrows to a scant ten paces wide, making the back hole locations among the most ticklish on the course to access.

Seventeenth hole, 180 yards; The tees were well thought-out on this postcard hole across the beach. From the back tee, even the Great man himself Jack Nicklaus feels a bit of perspiration, yet the mid-handicap player experiences the same feeling from his tee at 145 yards as does a lady or junior golfer from their 110 yard set. This attribute of well thought out tee boxes applies throughout this design. Thoughsuch teesare obviously a highly desirable attribute for any resort course as it seeks to accommodate a vast array of playing abilities, capturing the same spirit of the hole from different lengths and angles is a far more complicated task than most appreciate. Along with the fifth, this was included in George Peper’s book entitled The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes.

The adage ‘build it and they shall come’ only applies when the architect delivers world-class holes that draw people in. Nicklaus did just that at The Ocean Course with this view from the back markers at the seventeenth being a conspicuous example.

A mid-handicap golfer playing from the blue tees enjoys an equally thrilling shot from the 140 yard markers as …

… does a lady or junior from farther forward.

Though it was a disappointing swing that led to this photograph being taken on the beach below the green, there is a point to it and that is that a recovery shot was possible. Though the desert and sand provide numerous hazards around the course, the opportunity frequently exists to play a heroic recovery shot. This makes the hazards at Cabo del Sol among the best in the game from a quality of golf perspective as they entice you to think/play boldly.

Eighteenth hole, 430 yards; Within its first year of being open for play, this was heralded as Nicklaus’s finest finishing hole as well as one of the best anywhere. The only thing that has changed since then is that the hole has been improved by virtue of a small gathering bunkering that pinches in this kidney shaped green set atop the coastline’s granite boulders. Now, not only does playing down the right considerably shorten the hole, it also provides the best angle into the numerous back left hole locations.

The graceful eighteenth fairway follows the natural left to right tilt of the land with nothing forced upon it.

The eighteenth plays around its own bay with both its tee and green protruding into the sea, yielding this impressive (!) approach angle into the Home green.

The small bunker left of the green that was added in 2002 makes the approach more confounding/interesting.

The Ocean Course’s famous four hole finish is both spectacular and fun, an irresistible combination. The whole gamut of emotions can be had from a potential eagle at the fifteenth to a ball that hangs in the air a fraction too longat theseventeenth. Regardless of the outcome, the strong connection that the golfer feels with nature during this stretchinsuresmany a return round.

Interestingly enough, the initial routing had these four holes as the fourteenth through seventeenth holes. The eighteenth was to be a hole that headed perpendicular to the coastline and back to the clubhouse, some four hundred yards inland. Mercifully, Nicklaus and Lipe (along with Lyle Anderson who happened to be down when the decision was made) agreed in unison that the course should finishalong the water. Time has proven them right that golfers don’t mind the short cart ride back to the clubhouse.

Golfers are interesting creatures in that they don’t require perfect weather to enjoy the game. Many head in droves to the United Kingdom and relish telling return stories of battling the wind and rain. Such won’t happen here as Cabo enjoys over 340 sunny days per year. Yes, you’ll get the wind but for miserable rain (and so-so food), you’ll have to go elsewhere as Cabo averages only seven inches per annum! Certainly, such playing conditions (and great fresh seafood) are part of the appeal that has made Cabo a top golf destination. The real reason though to cometo Cabo San Lucas is the high quality of the golf. In addition to The Ocean Course, Cabo del Sol Resort also offers the Weiskopf designed Desert Course. Opened in December 2001, several of its holes play 400 feet above sea level and feature sweeping views out to sea. Totally different from the Nicklaus course, it makes for a perfect complement.

New courses are being built each year here by the likes of Nicklaus, Fazio, Davis Love, and a Tom Doak up the coast. Whether the developers of these projects allow such courses to reach their full potential and whether the architects can deliver a world class design remains to be seen. What is for sure is that Jack Nicklaus has already set the design bar at a standard that will be hard to match and that all golfers who fly into Cabo San Lucas will relish a game at the peerless Ocean Course.Leaving the last word to Lipe, ‘the flow and variety of the course is what makes it successful. Since it was to be a high profile resort course, we worked very hard to achieve just that and hopefully its success has proven that we delivered what we sat out to do.’

The End