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Golfing in Paradise

Mexico's Baja Peninsula Provides Challenging Courses with Incredible Vistas
Lorne Rubenstein
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 1)

On the Mountain nine, the par-4 fifth hole is thrilling. It requires a tee shot across an arroyo, or gully, to a fairway dropped like an oasis between deep fallaway zones. The second shot must carry another gully to the green below. I learned from a companion who has played here to aim my tee shot at a rock 245 yards away at the arroyo's edge, and hit a left to right shot that would bound down the fairway.

With its challenging layout and panoramic views, the Palmilla course invites you to linger. But other courses beckon.

Cabo Real, a bold, strong course that plays high into the hills above the ocean and then plunges seaward to the greens below, offers powerful golf, full of difficult shots but always presenting arresting views. The fifth hole at Cabo Real is a wonderful microcosm of the entire course. Standing at the back of the tee at this 454-yard par-4, you look to the east and see the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez. Ahead, over a chasm, is the fairway, turned to the left around bunkers, and beyond it are mountains and a saddle between two hills where Robert Trent Jones Jr. has already plotted another course. To the south and west sprawl vast, rugged lands populated by cacti and other desert vegetation. It could have been the set of a Wild West movie, but this was pure golf-land.

Cabo Real is very demanding, but it is leavened by softer holes down by the sea. The 14th hole is a short par-4 that zooms out to the sea, followed by a par-3 along the shore where the green is perched against the water. The sea and sun conspire to totally relax the golfer.

This is also the case at Nicklaus' Cabo del Sol, where Ray Floyd, Lee Trevino, Dave Stockton and Simon Hobday played a tournament last spring. Floyd had heard about the course and flew in one day for a practice round. Stockton also had come in beforehand, and why not? The golfers would be up against a course that is a true jewel. Right now it's the best course in Los Cabos, which is no slight to the other layouts. It's just that Cabo del Sol is that good.

The first hole sets the tone for this course, a generous fairway inviting a long drive, but with bushes and cacti just off the sharply defined border between fairway and rough.

At the 568-yard par-5 fourth hole, the tee is elevated, always a signal to the golfer to take a hard rip at his drive. The fairway continues downhill to the brink of a drop-off into a modest but troublesome arroyo. Playing the hole, I felt tremendously invigorated, and recalled similar moments at remote courses such as Royal Dornoch in northern Scotland and the New South Wales Golf Club in Sydney, Australia. There was a feeling of getting away from it all, of being in touch with the essence of golf, which I have always felt is simply a game of hitting the ball from Point A to Point B while drinking in the environment.

At the aforementioned 17th hole, I unfortunately chose the wrong club for my first shot and cranked a ball to my right and out to sea. There was an east wind and I could not decide whether a 4- or 5-iron was the right club. Alas, I made the classic golfer's error of hitting too little club, swinging too hard and not catching the ball solidly. Why didn't I remember some advice that golfing legend Sam Snead gave me a few years ago when I played a round with him at the Upper Cascades course in Hot Springs, Virginia? There I had also taken too little club on a par-3 after hesitating over my club selection. The ball went sideways, gone but not forgotten. Snead turned to me and said in his droll drawl, "Son, let me tell you something. If you're standing over the ball thinking you don't have enough club, you don't." Slammin' Sammy was right, but I had neglected his sage advice at Cabo del Sol and would pay the price of a double bogey. But I didn't mind. It seemed churlish to agitate over a bad shot when the scenery was so enchanting.

The final hole was no less captivating. The par-4 of 425 yards plays to a fairway that runs along the cliff edge to a green that is also on the brink of the sea. Still, there is plenty of room to the left of the tee. I found the fairway and then took Snead's advice, choosing lots of club. Swinging a 5-iron, my ball soared across the rocks and sand and settled sweetly on the putting surface. Two putts for par. As a golfing buddy likes to say, "Bee-yoo-tee-full, just bee-yoo-tee-full."

And it was beautiful, from first tee to last green at the courses in Los Cabos. I was golfing in a place so serene it belonged to me alone, and I was completely taken by the sensation of watching my ball soar against the background of sky, sea, desert and mountain, then following its flight landward. How could golf be better than this? This was golf with an eye to the idyllic.

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