Boom or bust? Golf development moves slowly in Mexico, despite the recent surge in Los Cabos

LOS CABOS, Mexico -- Is Mexico experiencing a mini golf boom?

The buzz from the three new high-profile projects that have debuted in Los Cabos since late 2013 would seem to indicate as much. So would the fact that both Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus -- the undisputed kings of course development in Mexico -- have projects taking significant steps forward in 2015.

However, Ray Ball, the vice president of Florida-based Nicklaus Design, isn't ready to declare a sunny forecast for golf course construction south of the border. Nicklaus, who boasts 25 designs in Mexico, has at least four signed projects with no immediate plans for construction, according to Ball.

"Overall, I don't see (golf development in Mexico) booming and going gangbusters," Ball said.

Golf in Mexico has improved immensely in the past five years. The Dunes Course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas, a Davis Love III design that opened in 2010, quickly became heralded as Mexico's best course. The top course in La Paz -- the Gary Player design at the CostaBaja Resort & Spa -- opened to acclaim in 2010 as well. Riviera Maya, the luxurious resort zone stretching south from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, hasn't stood pat, either, adding four courses since 2010.

All this news is good for golfers, but is it good for the Mexican golf industry? Can Mexico really support all these new high-end courses?

The violence associated with the drug cartels continues to cause pause for legions of potential American tourists. Finding water in Mexico's dry desert climate to irrigate these courses can be costly.

Despite these challenges, every major Mexican golf market has multiple courses on the drawing board. How many will materialize -- and eventually succeed -- remains the question.

Los Cabos golf

The additions of Tiger Woods' El Cardonal Course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas, Quivira by Nicklaus and Chileno Bay by Tom Fazio brings Cabo's total roster to 14 courses.

Golf insiders such as Ball and Greg Tallman, the director of golf at the 36-hole Cabo del Sol, believe Cabo is ripe for further expansion. Mexico's best vacation destination attracts plenty of golfing gringos with disposable incomes.

"The area will have continued growth for a long time. Why not (build more courses)?" Tallman said. "It's golf and fishing. Those two things built Cabo."

When Nicklaus visited his stunning Quivira course for its grand opening in December 2014, he also stopped by Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club, which has been operating since 2007 as an 18-hole routing with nine holes by Nicklaus and nine holes by Norman. As a result, construction on nine new holes by Nicklaus, coupled with changes to the original Nicklaus nine, will begin this spring. When completed, this "Marina" course will remain open to the public.

The developers of Puerto Los Cabos, a massive resort community close to San Jose del Cabo, expect an increased demand for golf now that the adult-only Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort is up and running, with a second hotel, the 300-room JW Marriott Hotel, scheduled to open later this year.

Norman will start construction in the fall of 2015 on Rancho San Lucas. Long-range plans at Quivira, Diamante Cabo San Lucas and Querencia call for an additional course at each club, although they're years away from reality. Diamante has tabbed Woods again; Quivira will stick with Nicklaus; and Querencia, a private club with a beautiful Fazio course, will look to Gil Hanse.

Cancun/Riviera Maya golf

Cancun and the Riviera Maya -- like Cabo -- sports 14 courses. Unlike Cabo, it is probably overbuilt, despite the prestige of hosting Mexico's only PGA Tour event since 2007.

Glenn Preciado, the director of golf at the PGA Tour's host course, El Camaleon at Mayakoba, indicated that 2014 rounds were down at 12 courses in the destination. The old TPC Cancun, a Nick Price design that has struggled since opening in 2012, is now operating as El Tinto Golf Course.

"The last thing the destination needs is more golf courses," Preciado wrote in an e-mail.

Preciado noted a new residential course inside Mayakoba's gates remains at least five years away. The St. Regis Kanai Resort is scheduled to open in December 2016 inside a 135-acre development that could eventually include two courses and three other luxury hotels.

Riviera Nayarit golf

Nine holes from a new Norman design are scheduled to open this spring just north of Puerto Vallarta along the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta between the western Sierra Madre mountains and Banderas Bay. Grupo Vidanta, Mexico's leading resort developer, isn't releasing details yet.

La Paz golf

La Paz, the capital city of the Baja California Sur three hours from Cabo, has been a major disappointment for golf developers.

The Bahia de Los Suenos Golf Club, located 35 minutes south of La Paz, didn't live up to its nickname. The "Bay of Dreams" course by Tom Doak was shuttered in 2013. Paraiso del Mar, a course by Arthur Hills, is barely holding on. Norman's Azul de Cortes Course and Saltito by Nicklaus haven't gotten off the ground, either.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Commented on

I played the 9 opened holes at the Norman design course at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta four times last week.  Very nice design.  Many fairways bunkers and water in play.  Much harder in the afternoon when the wind is up.  They take you from the clubhouse over the single lane golf cart suspension bridge over the Ameca river to the course  There is a guard booth on each side to make sure no one is coming the other way.  There is a large driving range and very small putting green.  The greens don't have any severe slopes, but just enough to keep it interesting.  Greens were very fast.  The other nine holes should be open in the summer.  Close to the airport so there is a good amount of jet noise especially during the afternoon take off times.  Just like with the Nicklaus course mandatory forecaddie, $44 USD per twosome or $57 USD per foursome.

Commented on

Thanks for sharing. I've been in touch with Vidanta and hope to see Greg Norman at the grand opening later this year. 

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Boom or bust? Golf development moves slowly in Mexico, despite the recent surge in Los Cabos