Golf thrives where the mountains, desert and shore collide in Los Cabos

SAN JOSE DEL CABO, Mexico -- Filling his morning coffee on an outdoor patio at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort Los Cabos, Harley Foos is reminded of why he's been a property owner in the tip of the Baja Peninsula for more than 15 years.

Over his shoulder is a stunning white-sand beach on the shores of the Sea of Cortez. Even though it's before 8 a.m., the sun already shines bright, just another spectacular day in a vacation destination known for perfect weather almost every day of the year. He's feeling plenty comfortable in flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt.

"(Staying here) it is probably the most beautiful morning and day in our travel experiences," says Foos of Wichita, Kan. "We love the water, and it is friendly people. We've not had a bad experience here."

It's easy to cherish a place where three ecosystems -- the mountains, the desert and the ocean -- collide in an array of colorful scenery. This geographic phenomenon makes Los Cabos a world-class getaway for golf, fishing and ocean adventures like sea kayaking, swimming with dolphins and more.

Following in step with Mother Nature's fine handiwork, developers have built lavish resorts, opulent restaurants, marinas and a wild bar scene in Cabo San Lucas to complete a five-star destination.

The race to impress guests continues. Hotels and resort properties constantly renovate rooms, rebrand restaurants and add entertainment to keep on the cutting edge of travel trends. The Sheraton plans a soft renovation next year to finish off a redecorating of all of its 270 rooms. The Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos, a sister property that is also a member of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, is scheduled for a spa renovation and a new menu and theme at Arrecifes, a four-diamond restaurant overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

"There is just so much change all the time," Foos says.

And, thankfully, the remote location of Los Cabos has kept the crime issues currently haunting the mainland at bay. Eric Grindereng, the director of golf at Cabo San Lucas Country Club, says he lets his 14-year-old daughter ride public transportation in Los Cabos, something he would never do in Phoenix, where his family used to live. Foos brought his grandchildren on his most recent vacation to Cabo, his vote of confidence to the region's safety.

Los Cabos golf

It could be easy to criticize golf developers in Los Cabos for drinking too much Jack -- Nicklaus, that is. The Golden Bear has designed four (and a half) of the nine area courses, the first being the 27-hole Palmilla Golf Club in 1992. Later came the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol (a world top-100 course), Club Campestre San Jose and nine holes at Puerto Los Cabos, not to mention the ultra-private El Dorado Golf & Beach Club.

There's still great variety to be had. Tom Weiskopf added the Desert Course at Cabo del Sol. Greg Norman built the other nine holes at Puerto Los Cabos to create a unique experience that should eventually become 36 holes, 18 by each architect.

Roy and Matt Dye -- related to Pete Dye -- each pitched in to create the Cabo San Lucas Country Club, the only area course with a view of the rocky Arch at Land's End. Original architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. will return in the summer of 2012 for a redesign of the Cabo Real Golf Club. Unfortunately, the course will lose the 15th hole, a scenic par 3 on the beach, but the redesign should be thoughtful enough to keep Cabo Real held in high regard.

In 2011, Davis Love III opened the dynamite Diamante G.C., the first course on the Pacific side of Los Cabos. Its popularity allowed it to go private, joining El Dorado and Tom Fazio's Querencia.

Dave Montgomery, a transplant from California who works at Cabo Real, summed up the Cabo golf scene this way: "There is everything to choose from. You've got links (at Diamante), and that target golf at Palmilla and Cabo del Sol and mountain golf at Puerto Los Cabos. It's great."

Off-course adventures

Luxury living is a big part of Los Cabos. It's why celebrities George Clooney and Michael Jordan reportedly own homes here. Spas and four- and five-diamond restaurants come standard at nearly every resort. The Sheraton is the only local property with two five-diamond restaurants, Pitahayas and the D Cortez Grill and Restaurant. The only things better than the views from Pitahayas are the exotic dishes of Pacific Rim cuisine being served.

The only knock on Los Cabos is that many of the beaches are not swimmable, due to strong undercurrents.

There are other ways to enjoy the water, however. Whale-watching and seeing sea turtles hatch on the beach remain popular seasonal experiences.

Much of my travel party went sea kayaking around the famous Arch at Land's End to the secluded Lover's Beach at Land's End, a secret oasis of sand. The following day two aspiring fishermen in our group chartered a boat. They came back with two massive Mahi Mahi. That night, the Westin chefs transformed the fish into two fabulous appetizers, a common service that is very affordable for guests at high-end resorts.

New in town is the Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos in the Marina at Puerto Los Cabos near San Jose del Cabo, a charmingly authentic Mexican town on the other end of the resort corridor. The discovery center opened last year and has been so popular, it already is undergoing an expansion. Swimming with a dolphin in an ocean cove is a life-changing event. Just like vacationing in Los Cabos.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations 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 @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Golf thrives where the mountains, desert and shore collide in Los Cabos
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