Baja California Sur, MexicoArticle by: Brandon Wilde
¡Hola! The gurus recently returned from another great golf trip. This time we took it international to Baja California Sur. Our travel from the US to Los Cabos International Airport was uneventful. Our first taste of Mexican hospitality came at the rental car counter when David, the friendly concierge, noticed our golf bags and asked if we would be playing El Diamante during our stay. When we responded that we would be playing there the following day, his eyes lit up and he hit us up for the next 20 minutes trying to get us to participate in a time share presentation where we would get a free breakfast, free golf and a 7-day stay at the resort anytime within the next year. We eventually slithered out the door and into our rental car without committing, but this was not the only time we would have someone try to sell us something on the trip.
We rented a VW Jetta for the week and took off on the coastal highway and headed north towards our home for the next three nights, the luxurious Holiday Inn Express. On the way there we saw pickup trucks with way too many people in the bed, pizza delivery guys on mopeds and a pickup with an entire cleaning business attached to the back. We were amazed at all the traffic violations that occurred during that thirty-minute drive, but during the week we came to realize that no one seemed to care. We also found the Mexican drivers to be quite polite, particularly when we headed the wrong way on a one-way street (which happened more than once). Upon arrival to the Holiday Inn Express we got checked into our room and had a difficult time turning on the lights. We eventually discovered a small shelf with an electric eye above the light switch where you had to set the room key in order to turn on the power. Apparently, this ingenious idea helps keep the power bill under control.
After getting settled at the hotel we ventured into the city to find some authentic Mexican food. We found it at Guacamayas where we were served a platter of different salsas and sliced cucumbers. We had some delicious flank steak tacos and horchata that really hit the spot. We then walked across the street to peruse the shops and promptly found a store with handcrafted backpacks with professional and college sports logos on them. The store owners asked which team we were looking for and when Billy said BYU they scattered to find one. It took them awhile because we had already left the store and entered the next one when they came running and told us they had found it. After they put forth all that work, Billy didn’t even buy it.
The next morning, we awoke nice and early for an 8:12 am tee time at El Diamante (El Cardonal) which is Tiger Woods’ newest design. The weather was a little overcast that morning, which made the temperature just right. We were paired up with three other gentlemen who were familiar with the course. The most memorable of the group was a man named Perry, who owns/operates some golf stores in the Pacific northwest. The Gurus decided to tee it up from the tips and Perry joined us. I’m sure after about the third hole he was wondering WTH we were doing playing from back there. There were more than a few balls sent into the saguaros that day, all while Perry consistently made pars en route to a round in the mid-70s.
Our afternoon round was The Dunes course at El Diamante, a Davis Love III design, that lives up to the hype. We played by ourselves and took our time absorbing the golf course. There is some development happening around the course which takes away a little bit from the sheer beauty of the design of the golf course. This place had it all, with ocean views as well as excellent use of the natural dunes of the land. After playing this round, I was concerned that we had hit the climax of the trip and no other course would live up to The Dunes at El Diamante. I was wrong.
After golf, we found our way to a hot dog stand that we had spotted the night before. It caught our attention for obvious reasons: It’s called Doggystyle and the slogan on the façade of the building is “Nice buns, tasty wieners.” We had to try it. Inside we met the dueña (owner) who was a jovial woman with all sorts of energy. The entire menu was innuendo, I ended up enjoying the threesome, which of course, consisted of three specialty hot dogs. We also recommend the mango milkshakes.
Wednesday morning, we awoke at the Holiday Inn Express to another breakfast consisting of chips and salsa (yup, at 6:15 am). Fortunately, there was some yogurt, fruit and bacon also included. We had to load up a plate and run because we had a 7:00 am tee time at Cabo del Sol. There are two courses there, the Desert Course and Ocean Course. We had tried to get onto the more popular, more highly rated Ocean Course, but the pro was unable to accommodate us. So, as we drove to the course, we planned how we could “accidentally” end up on the Ocean Course instead. Opportunely for us, we arrived to find a tournament being played on the Desert Course, so they sent us out on the Ocean Course. Like two giddy schoolgirls, we hurriedly teed off in case there was a mistake. The Ocean Course lived up to the hype and in my opinion, rivaled The Dunes at El Diamante. Mr. Nicklaus did a fantastic job of maximizing the ocean holes, highlighted by the back-to-back par-three holes 6 and 7. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the food. Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages were served throughout the round and we discovered MiCoco, which is a deliciously delightful coconut water drink with bits of coconut pulp. Also, the comfort station at the turn offers street tacos which were worth the trip. We also swung by for a couple more tacos at the end of the round (shrimp was our favorite).
The afternoon round took us across town to Cabo Real, a Robert Trent Jones, Jr layout that was undergoing some construction so they had to re-route a couple of holes. The course was in great shape and perhaps the most unique part of the course was the beautiful purple and pink flowers that surrounded many of the tee boxes. It was reminiscent of golf in Hawaii.
The round at Cabo Real was quite slow and as such we decided that in order to keep our travel to a minimum to have dinner next door to the hotel at a small BBQ joint. Mexican BBQ is a little different than that of the Midwest and southern USA, but it was still very good. There was a distinct smoky flavor that I had never had before, with ribs, brisket, pulled pork, etc. The onion rings were especially delicious. After our bellies were full, you can bet we slept well that night at our final night at Holiday Inn Express.
On Thursday morning we woke up and drove to Quivira Golf Club, a private, Jack Nicklaus design that boasts multiple holes on the ocean. The gurus had been looking forward to this course all week. It is built around an old Mexican military fort, which has been preserved, and sits high on a bluff on the front nine. The front nine also claims the longest cart path between holes that I can ever remember-between the fourth green and the fifth tee. While climbing the large incline, we both wondered what could be ahead to make Mr. Nicklaus travel this far between holes. It was worth it. The fifth hole had an amazing view of the ocean and was as unique a hole as I have ever played. Then the sixth hole blew our minds while running along the ocean for some of the most picturesque golf of the trip. To add to the beauty, there were whales breaching by the dozens just off the coast. It was the singularly most memorable moment of this golf trip.
Throughout the round, we stopped at multiple comfort stations which added to the round some great food choices. In particular, the station at the turn had a chef and waiter that cooked and served authentic quesadillas stuffed with cheese, veggies and breakfast meat as well as fresh-squeezed orange juice and lemonade. While I spoke Spanish with the waiter and chef, Billy tried the different hot sauces which took him right back to Houston where he spent two years of his life twenty years ago. It goes without saying that we had seconds. To put it succinctly, Quivira became my favorite track on the trip, and my favorite Jack Nicklaus layout I’ve ever played.
After Quivira, we headed to Puerto Los Cabos where 27 holes are available. We ended up playing the Norman and Nicklaus II tracks. These are the two favorite nines according to various sources, including the pro shop. We enjoyed a quick round without much traffic on the course. Afterwards, we hopped into the Jetta and got on the road north for a two-hour drive to La Paz.
We arrived in La Paz after dark and were limited in our choices for dinner in this small town. We settled on a Chinese buffet located in a strip mall. Bad choice. The food was lukewarm at best and the service was sub-par. Note to self: don’t eat at a Chinese buffet in the middle of Mexico. The good news is that the all-you-can-eat platter was less than five dollars, including dessert. We eventually made our way to an Air B&B, which was a small room, just large enough for bunk beds and our luggage. We had a nice conversation with the dueña on the patio while she proceeded to smoke a couple packs of cigarettes and we eventually turned in for the night. It was about this time that we realized that the round that we booked for Friday afternoon was not in La Paz, but in Los Cabos. We really wanted to get that round in, but ultimately decided we couldn’t make the 2-hour trip there in the afternoon, then go six hours to our next destination after the round. We ended up cancelling the round. Neither one of us slept much that night on squeaky, hard bunkbeds.
La Paz is a town of nearly 250,000 and the capital of Baja California Sur yet sports just one golf course, El Cortes, which was formerly known as CostaBaja and was designed by Gary Player. It is a fun track cut out of the hills with lots of ocean view holes. The small resort has had some financial difficulties and has had a change in ownership (which is also the reason for the name change.) This was the first time we had ever been told by the starter that the practice balls on the range are not to be removed from the practice facility. Apparently, this has been a problem in the past. We were both quite surprised at the quality of golf at El Cortes. There were several very creative holes with lots of elevation changes. It was one of the most quirky golf courses I have ever played. It left me with the desire to play more courses designed by Mr. Player.
Following the morning round we had a 4 hour drive north. So, naturally we stopped at Walmart for all our travelling essentials. We got sushi rolls, chips, cheese and jalapeño stuffed bread and coconut water and ate in the car. The sushi rolls were quite disappointing. Note to self: don’t eat sushi while in Mexico, particularly sushi at Walmart (seriously, what were we thinking)? Otherwise, we were very pleased with our food choices. We made good time to Loreto and only had to stop a couple times to allow livestock to cross the road. Upon arrival at the Loreto Bay Resort we were greeted by security guards that didn’t speak English, which we found interesting. Then we realized why; the resort was a ghost town. We were two of very few visitors to the resort that night. In fact, when we pulled up to the front of the hotel there were no lights on. It was eerie. However, the room was nice and the bed was comfortable. After settling in we headed into the small town to find some local Mexican fare, and we hit the motherload at Asadero Super Burro. While Billy was amazed at the number of building code violations, the food was spectacular. The burritos, tacos and horchata were all worth writing home about.
In the morning, we checked out of the ghost town and checked into Loreto Bay Golf Course. It was obvious very quickly that this course was the dog of the trip. We arrived just before 7 am. Javier, the gentleman at the front desk didn’t have a tee time for us, but when we told him Rafael had set us up and the round was comped he sent us right out. The cart had an old belt-type system for securing golf bags, but fortunately, we only lost the clubs once. Rafael eventually made his way out to introduce himself. His English was poor, but he asked if he could join us for a few holes. As we walked back to the tips, he made the comment, “I didn’t even know these were here!” He made an awkward, choppy swing and sliced it badly right. The ball didn’t even make it to the fairway. It was obvious that he hadn’t played much and he was more comfortable in the office. He thanked us for coming to the course, invited us to a member-guest lunch in the afternoon and left us.
Later, as we made the turn, we were informed that they were having a tournament with a shotgun start and that we would be playing between groups. On the tenth hole we realized that the maintenance crew was playing ahead of us as the flatbed maintenance cart was carrying their clubs. Because they were playing in a tournament, they were in no hurry to allow us to play through. The signature 14th hole was a picturesque par-3 along the ocean with amazing rock formations just off the coast. It seemed so out of place on that course, but it goes to show you how amazing the landscape in the area really is.
We decided to skip the member-guest luncheon at Loreto and headed south about 20 minutes to TPC Danzante Bay, a Rees Jones design which is cut out of the mountain side with more of a desert course layout along the ocean. This course is so isolated, that there were only eight groups that played it the day before we arrived. We saw two other groups on the property all afternoon. We enjoyed the scenery and took our time on the round.
We then headed south a few miles and checked into the Hotel Oasis in Ciudad Constitución. When I started speaking Spanish to the young man at the front desk his eyes lit up. The accommodations were quite good for the $36 fare they charged. Later that evening I had to return to the front desk to ask for a plunger to unclog our toilet. They couldn’t find one, so the young man headed out while we went to dinner and bought a brand-new plunger for the Golf Course Gurus. Dinner consisted of a large pizza, salad and a 2 liter of Coke. Towards the end of the meal, Billy excused himself to use the bathroom and a few minutes later returned to report that he, too, clogged a toilet and then he spilled the Coke which required multiple employees to help clean it up. We high-tailed it out of there as quickly as we could so as not to cause anymore problems.
The next morning, we embarked on the final leg of the trip, Ciudad Constitución to Los Cabos. It was about a 6-hour drive on Sunday morning. By this time, we were experts at driving in Mėxico. We learned many nuances that may be of benefit the next time you go. We found that 1. the speed limit signs are simply there for decorations, 2. The Policia don’t care about traffic violations (rolling through a stop sign, speeding, lack of use of a turn signal, etc), 3. Seatbelts are optional, and so are seats. It wasn’t uncommon to see 6-10 grown men standing the bed of a pickup truck, 4. If oncoming traffic flashes their lights at you, it means there is livestock in the road so slow down! 5. When you approach a slower vehicle, they will turn on the left blinker to signal that it is safe for you to pass them on the left (I wish we could implement this courtesy in the US)!
When we arrived back in Los Cabos, we had plenty of time to eat at Los Guacamayas, where we had our first meal a few days earlier. It was excellent, just like the first time. We then purchased some Mexican vanilla for cooking for our wives, but Billy left his in is carry-on luggage, so it was confiscated at the security checkpoint. Overall, this trip was one for the books. We played 9 rounds of golf in 5 days, traveled many kilometers, ate some really great food (and some that we wish we hadn’t), and enjoyed plenty of authentic Mexican hospitality. Los Cabos is easy to get to and has plenty of affordable options for food and lodging. If world-class golf is your thing, then Los Cabos is a must-see destination.