One man is responsible for creating the growth for golf in the Cabo area and he just happens to be the game's greatest player -- Jack Nicklaus. In years past the Cabo area was where such Hollywood titans such as Bing Crosby and John Wayne, to name just two, would escape the glare of prying media eyes and head to Mexico for some serious world class fishing -- among other activities.
The golf side really took hold when Nicklaus created a series of clubs in the early 1990's. I have played nearly 100 of the Golden Bear's designs worldwide and can easily say that the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol is easily among my personal top five and a very good case can be made that it's Jack's best effort.
Part of the success is clearly attributed to the sensational topography that lies at the core of Cabo. The juxtaposition between the Sea of Cortez, the desert, the nearby mountains and the verdant green areas that make up the layouts is truly an eyeful to absorb.
The Ocean Course earns its plaudits beyond the incredible finish at holes 16-18. It starts with a well thought out routing that takes you on a marvelous adventure and does so without the intrusion of real estate as has happened at other Cabo located courses.
The 1st is fairly straightforward and there's sufficient room to be found in the fairway but a series of bunkers on the right side must be avoided at all costs. Even when hitting the fairway Nicklaus mandates an aerial approach to avoid a foreboding frontal bunker. The 2nd through the 4th provide your best birdie opportunities as two par-5's are in the mix along with a short par-4 that tests you appetite for risk.
When you reach the world class part-4 5th the game is on. The 490-yard par-4 is played once you cross an interior roadway when completing the 4th. The solo back tee pad provides just enough room for a foursome to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. It's also angled a bit more to the right and you must a find fairway that slides more to the right the longer you hit the tee shot. Making matters more demanding is the gorgeous intersection with the Sea of Cortex in the nearby background.
Pull the tee shot and you are blocked from seeing the green. Push a bit too far and you'll be playing your approach from a desert wasteland. The green has no bunkers around it but there are fall-offs for shots that simply fail to find the mark.
As you make your way to the beach area Nicklaus smartly added back-to-back par-3's. The key in doing this was to have two clearly differentiated holes. To be fair -- the holes are not in the same league as what one sees at Cypress Point's 15th and 16th -- but they are a solid contrast. The 6th playing parallel to the Sea of Cortez and at 184 yards is subject to varying wind velocities. The 7th plays far shorter at just under 140 yards and plays away from the water to a smallish target protected by several bunkers.
Now after you have not played a driver for a bit of time you're forced to hit your very best at the uphill par-4 8th. The key is finding the island fairway which is engulfed by sand. There are internal bunkers within the grass area and they too must be avoided. In many ways the tee shot at the 8th reminded me of the target golf requirements you face at Pine Valley. The green is located on the far side and like so many of the Nicklaus greens is angled so your distance to the target must be calculated correctly. There's no doubt some will frankly detest the hole but often those doing so had best realize the strategic calculations that start at the tee. Playing the hole smartly is an absolute must because those doing otherwise will definitely feel some serious scorecard pain.
The long par-9th concludes the outward side and it plays uphill on the tee shot and downhill to the green. Nothing extraordinary but like many Nicklaus long par-4's nothing is given away.
The 10th on first glance appears benign but Nicklaus wisely tapers the fairway for those who wish to get as far down into the fairway as possible.
At the short par-4 11th you must decide how to play the split fairway. Go right and be safe -- go left for the green and it's the equivalent of landing a 747 on a community airport runway. The 12th reverses direction and once again you have a tapered fairway immediately after going past the right side bunkers. The par-5 is also well defended by a series of greenside bunkers. Getting home in two is doable but the reward is only provided for those who take on the considerable risk.
Among all the Nicklaus par-3's I've played the 13th at The Ocean Course is among the very best. The hole can usually play into the wind and the angle for the green -- plus its narrow waist landing area -- makes for the most exacting of shots. A frontal pin can be scary but a back left one is extremely brutal for the severity encountered. Walk off with a par here and you can certainly take a bow.
Nicklaus doesn't often get credit for his two-shot holes under 400 yards but the uphill 14th is a great change of pace hole. Just 366 yards you play to a separated fairway. The landing area is quite wide but the favored side is the left. A desert wash hugs that side and the approach is played to the far side to a second area of fairway grass with the green shaped like a "T."
At the par-5 15th and par-4 16th you work your way back to the beach area. The 15th provides a good birdie possibility but the key is the drive because several bunkers lurk -- especially one small pesky one that is located in the ideal position. The 16th is the quintessential Nicklaus hole -- for right hander's a slight fade works marvelously. But don't rest on your laurels because the approach is a target that appears smaller than it is.
When you reach the par-3 17th you are level with the Sea of Cortez. The 178-yard hole features a fairly large receptive green -- the key is focusing on the task at-hand because the distractions are certainly there.
The 18th at 430 yards is arguably the most demanding of tee shots on The Ocean Course. The championship tee is angled to the right located just behind the 17th green. The key is trusting your site line -- staying away from the right is a must but I have seen many a player attempt that line of play thinking a shorter and easier approach awaits. The likely outcome that way -- a major shipwreck to end the day. Actually, the smart play is to go as far left as the fairway allows -- this bolsters your success rate with a far easier angle into the green which is positioned alongside the beach area. If you should play the 18th with the pin cut in the deepest left corner be sure to simply aim for the center of the green unless your name happens to be Brooks Koepka or Justin Rose.
In assessing The Ocean Course one has to remember it's a resort and the range of players is far, far different than any private club -- such as what you find at nearby Querencia. One of the issues at The Ocean Course is the paralyzing slow play that routinely develops. If you are intent in playing be sure to grab the earliest of tee times.
Far too many golfers fail to heed the famed Clint Eastwood expression from one of his Dirty Harry movies -- "A man's got to know his limitations." Nicklaus did a superb job incorporating the natural washes inland and the flow of the holes and the different shot requirements that are tested provide for both an enjoyable and memorable round. There's plenty of other good golf in Cabo -- but there's just one Ocean Course.
M. James Ward
Date: December 03, 2018