Mexico's Los Cabos resort is a paradise for golfers The Greening of Baja

July 09, 1995|By Syd Kearney | Syd Kearney,Houston Chronicle

Los Cabos, Mexico -- The grass is greener on the Pacific side of Mexico. Or maybe that should be, the greens are greener.

Just ask travelers who are discovering a new golf resort in Los Cabos at the tip of the Baja Peninsula.

Los Cabos is actually a tale of two cities: San Jose del Cabo, the sleepy fishing village with charming restaurants and friendly residents, and Cabo San Lucas, a burgeoning tourist center with hopping night life. Together, the towns, linked by a 19-mile, resort-lined coastal highway, are making the Los Cabos area the hottest destination south of the U.S. border.

Los Cabos possesses charm that cannot be manufactured by the Mexican tourism agency, and it has the clout of developers with vision.

Developers have put up the money for a second Jack Nicklaus golf course and a master plan that envisions 162 scenic holes of golf in the spot where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortes.

The world-class golfing, pastel desert, stunning surf and legendary fishing make Los Cabos an active vacationer's dream.

Los Cabos' three main golf courses already are creating a stir in the United States. All are sandwiched between the ocean and the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, offering spectacular vistas as well as challenging golf.

The newest is the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol.

"I firmly believe that these are the three best finishing holes in all of golf," Mr. Nicklaus says of his second Mexican course.

The dramatic 17th hole features a cliff-top tee where golfers must hit over a cove and onto a green that juts out into the Sea of Cortes. Measuring 7,051 yards, the par-72 course is breathtaking.

The first Nicklaus course is the Palmilla Golf Course, which opened its first 18 holes in 1993. The Mountain Nine (3,620 yards) and the Arroyo Nine (3,337 yards) will be joined by an Ocean Nine (3,512 yards) next winter.

Robert Trent Jones Jr. is the architect of Baja California's third major course, the Cabo Real. Golfers shouldn't be surprised to see coyotes and road runners on the golf paths of this memorable course.

While many U.S. residents think of Mexico as offering travel bargains, don't expect cut-rate prices at these courses. Greens fees begin at about $75 in the summer at Palmilla to $115 in the winter at Cabo del Sol.

This is in keeping with the top-drawer attitude in Los Cabos, where there is no rush to pack the hotels with bargain-seekers. The hospitality industry knows it has a thoroughbred and is pricing it accordingly.

Hotel rates may be a little higher than at Cancun or Puerto Vallarta or any of those other Mexican resorts.

However, resorts like the secluded Hotel Twin Dolphin and the romantic Hotel Palmilla, which normally wish to attract folks who aren't pinching pesos, have seasonal deals. Summer rates at the Twin Dolphin, a popular celebrity hideaway, start at $145 (double occupancy). Summer rates at the Palmilla, where every Friday night is a real fiesta, start at $130 (double occupancy).

What visitors get for their money in Los Cabos are stunning beaches and mountain views, and nary a McDonald's in sight.

Imagine real Mexican restaurants offering fine cuisine. Sitting at a table with candles and the light of a full moon may be the most romantic dining experience you'll ever have.

Try the chilies en nogada at Mi Casa, or order the mahi mahi with pecan crust at Peacocks. Dinner at either of these San Lucas restaurants runs about $60 for two.

Many hotel restaurants will prepare your catch for you. After a day of fishing for bonito, mahi mahi, tuna, snapper and sailfish, drop off your prize at the kitchen and then get ready for a memorable meal.

Hollywood stars like John Wayne and Bing Crosby put Los Cabos on the map back in the 1950s, when they flew their private jets in for weekends of marlin fishing.

The tip of the Baja Peninsula soon became a hideaway for the rich and famous. Some flew in on private jets; most stole in by yacht.

You still can see the huge yachts anchored offshore.

Ordinary travelers can be big shots for the day by chartering a fishing craft. Charters usually include a captain and deckhand. Day charters for one to three anglers run about $400. Half-day excursions also are available.

Catch-and-release programs are popular with marlin boat captains, since commercial ventures fished out the waters around Los Cabos about 10 years ago. Sport fishing has since returned, but the Mexicans are cautious about allowing over-fishing to happen again.

The best time of year for serious anglers is August through October, but there's plenty to do here year-round.

In the spring, you can sit on the balcony of a beach-front hotel and watch the whales. Whale-watching excursions are popular with visitors wanting a closer encounter.

The surf is always up in Los Cabos, making it an ideal place to test the waters on a boogie board or surfboard.

In fact, if there's a downside to Los Cabos, it may be that although the water is crystalline and inviting, many of its beaches are unsafe for swimming because of strong waves and a stronger undertow.

A few hotels, by virtue of their locations, do have swimming beaches.

If taking a dip in the ocean is important, ask about the swimming when you're booking. Otherwise, lie on the beach, enjoy the sound of the waves and dive into the hotel pool, where much of the action is located at the big resorts.

IF YOU GO

Getting around: Taxis are readily available, and attractions are spread widely apart. If you plan on exploring the area, consider renting a car. Avis, Hertz, Budget and Dollar have desks at Los Cabos International Airport.

Where to play:

* Palmilla Golf Course, (800) 637-2226; Cabo del Sol, (800) FUN-2-GOLF; Cabo Real, (800) 336-3542.

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