Surf's up on the 5th: Cabo del Sol Ocean golf course delivers, from sea to desert

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico - On how many golf courses can you step right off the green and into the ocean?

Cabo del Sol Ocean Course - No. 18
Old salts might be eyeing your shots from off the coast of Cabo del Sol Ocean Course's No. 18.
Cabo del Sol Ocean Course - No. 18Cabo del Sol Ocean Course - DesertCabo del Sol Ocean Course - Ocean PuttsCabo del Sol Ocean Course - Beach Clear
If you go

This scenario is very much in play on the fifth at Cabo del Sol's aptly named Ocean Course. One hundred feet of sand is all that separates the raised green from the surf. Drop the putter, head down the ridge and you're there.

Did you bring your trunks for a quick dip?

Not that you'd want to leave the Ocean Course mid-round. This is one of those rare tracks where you're going to feel the wonder, where you'll enjoy yourself no matter what you shoot. And Jack Nicklaus can make that number high.

This is a Nicklaus that leans toward his demanding, challenge-and-challenge-some-more designing days. Still, the setting and the genuinely friendly staff make it seem like Nicklaus is tweaking or teasing rather than tormenting.

It's hard to rue your round too much when there's fresh, free fish tacos cooking up in a booth at the turn. How many courses - even $250 per round courses like Cabo del Sol - offer that kind of memorable perk in the United States?

And believe me, they're memorable.

"We have people coming back every few years and asking us if we saved them some fish tacos,'' pro Fernando Ortiz said.

There's a real joy in golf at Cabo del Sol Ocean Course. A round here is stress relief like golf is supposed to be and seldom really is. It's just hard to stay agitated when the ocean breezes are making this spot 10 degrees cooler than anywhere else in Cabo and the surf's sometimes serving as the soundtrack to your putts.

Forget Guns N' Roses' head-banging "Welcome to the Jungle." How about welcome to the seaside?

When you're navigating the 430-yard par 4 18th and Jack's squeezed in dogleg approach, you might see what looks like an old school English Empire ship charging ahead in the near distance. It's tempting to get a bullhorn and shout out to the history buffs for their read on the putt.

This is the close to one of the most dramatic runs in golf. Ever since Cabo del Sol opened in 1994 - transforming this area's golf scene forever - it's been touted for its 16 through 18 finishing stretch. It's equal to the press clippings too with the par 3 17th jutting out so far its green is almost hanging over the ocean.

And the balls are collecting like seashells in the bushy, rocky desert region on the opposite side as golfer after golfer overcompensates.

No. 17 is a hole that's hard to wrap your mind around. So most golfers just take a picture of themselves on it.

It's hard to reduce Cabo del Sol to one snapshot though. For even on 17, the frame is unlikely to be wide enough to include both the sea and the rock surrounded cacti. That's what makes Cabo del Sol so unique, having the ocean and the desert side by side.

"People most say this place reminds them of Pebble Beach," assistant pro Rodrigo Uribe said. "But Pebble Beach doesn't have the desert. The desert and ocean combined? No one else has it."

The Ocean Ccourse's desert fangs can catch you off guard. One minute you're putting on the par-3 sixth with a small yacht floating by over your shoulder; the next you're negotiating a fairway (on the 438-yard eighth) neatly dissected by enough sand to host Lawrence of Arabia reshoots.

The 50-something lady I played with pointed out the dazzling vegetation - purple, pink, aqua - growing around and on the ancient cacti. I just tried to steady my six-iron after No. 12 - a fiendishly deceiving short par 5 (515 yards) that curves up to a raised green as sheltered as Madonna's kids, with six huge bunkers stacked like hotcakes standing guard.

Right about then that dip in the ocean off No. 5 looked like a sweet option.

The verdict

Cabo del Sol Ocean Course is a more-than-worthy vacation splurge, almost guaranteed to be one of your most memorable rounds ever. This Nicklaus doesn't do cookie-cutter in any way. Whether it's the ocean-desert double team, the staff hospitality, the fish tacos or, heck, the desert flowers, something is going to stick with you. Probably a number of somethings.

With a 147 slope rating from the back tees (and a 136 from the third set where most golfers play it), Nicklaus isn't lulling anybody to sleep here. Yet there are fewer forced carries than you'll find on many Cabo tracks, a little more allowance for futility than you'd first expect.

"It's very fair to the ladies," my playing partner, Theola Kirschbaum, said. "I only lost one ball."

Her husband, Norm, shook his head and smiled. Cabo del Sol's so relaxed it's even hard to get mad over your spouse outplaying you.

Stay and play

The courtyard at the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Resort & Spa gives the illusion that you could walk right over the edge into the sea. The resort itself has a great setup - it's easy to walk from your room to any pool or restaurant. You really feel like you're right on the ocean, even when you're in the pool with a beach between it and the sea.

Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos has just about everything you could want on its sprawling property, down to a spa massage right on the beach with the ocean waves crashing. The resort's location - close to the more authentic Mexican town of San Jose rather than Americanized party town Cabo San Lucas - is a great plus.

Fast fact

Among them holes six through eight and 16 through 18 cover incorporate 1.5 miles of ocean frontage, contributing to what Nicklaus called "the best piece of golf property in the world."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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