Cabo Real, at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, was created in the mid 1980s as an enormous, 3,000-acre resort development and its seven hotels along the coastline of the Sea of Cortez supply a steady stream of vacation golfers to this 18-hole course.
The opening six holes rise through a desert landscape at the foot of a rugged mountain range with the 454-yard 5th running along the edge of an arroyo to a green sited at the highest point on the course, some 450 feet above the coast.
The lush, emerald fairways of the back nine are routed over gentler terrain, moving towards the water’s edge at the short par four 14th, then along the shoreline at the par three 15th hole, before turning back uphill toward the clubhouse.
The task of laying out a course was originally allocated to another, lesser known, architect but when the developers discovered that El Dorado next door was to be a Nicklaus signature course, they employed another designer “name” to match their competitor – a case of keeping up with the golfing Jones’s you might say!
My return to the Cabo area earlier this year had me make return visits to a number of courses in the area. There's an old saying first impressions are lasting ones. Not always. What we think we see on the first go around may be out of whack when we return. We are all human beings and keeping an open mind -- both on the upside and downside -- is a much needed.
So here goes mine --
Cabo Real has an identity issue. The desire to provide a mega diverse location for an 18-hole round is a commendable idea but the inability to pull it off is what holds back the overall impact the facility seeks to showcase.
The layout attempts to include holes touching near the Sea of Cortez and then provide holes located in the foothills section of the property. The objective is a good one. The concept of multiple "looks" had been carried out at other courses. One of the most stellar globally is Cypress Point. The issue here is that Cabo Real fails to maintain a high level of architectural quality throughout with different parts unable to deliver.
Cabo Real's property is similar to that of the letter "V" -- wider at the top and considerably narrower at the bottom. Fitting all of the concepts on such a challenging piece of terrain is no small feat.
The outward side works its way from the mid-portion of the property and eventually crosses Highway 1. You then play two holes near to the Sea of Cortez. The narrow strip of available land is claustrophobic -- the equivalent in forcing one's feet into a pair of undersized shoes.
The 5th and 6th in this section contain one lackluster short par-4 and a formulaic par-3 hole. The routing is nothing more than the equivalent of a golf "U"-turn in order to return to the other side of Highway 1. You then get another par-3 at the 7th -- it's engaging when the pin position is in the far-left corner.
The real juice of the layout starts with the par-4 8th. Beginning the climb uphill with the land mandates two quality shots to get the green.
The par-5 9th hole closes out the side well.
When you reach the inward half the consistent nature of the holes rises appreciably. The par-4 11th, is arguably. the most noted at Cabo Real. The drive is under enormous pressure to find the elusive fairway. Failure to find the fairway can mean a self-imposed blowup number on the scorecard. Even after getting to the short grass the approach can be frightening to a devilish tabletop elevated green. Although listed as par-5 at the 12th hole -- I do believe Cabo Real would be better served in having the hole listed as a par-4 even though the grade of the terrain rises.
As much as the layout force fed holes nearest to the Sea of Cortez the design pedigree showed with the likes of the 13th and 14th is noteworthy. The former is a quality par-3 -- requiring a perfect blending of sufficient distance and archer-like accuracy. The pressure intensifies when reaching the par-4 14th. Playing 454 yards two quality shots are needed to get to the green. You either stand and deliver or stand and fail. There's no gray here -- just black and white vintage shotmaking needed. Amazingly, when you reach the green, you are at the highest point of the property -- approximately 500 feet above the sea.
The final four holes end the round nicely. The par-3 15th plays tough when the flagstick is anywhere near the right side. The par-4 16th moves downhill and even at 462 yards it plays shorter. Be sure to avoid a pesky solitary bunker positioned in the left center of the fairway. The penultimate hole is a short par-4 that turn left and tempts the big play from the tee. The smart choice is to leave oneself no more than 80-100 yards out and then go with a quality approach. Those seeking to max out glory from the tee on this 350+ yard hole will need a high level of flawless execution to reap the highest reward.
The 18th provides a true eyeful when you stand on the elevated tee with the Sea of Cortez in the nearby distance. The tee shot requires careful thought before pulling the trigger. The fairway tapers in considerably on the par-4 -- a bunker right and a waiting water penalty area on the left. The green is shaped like a reverse "C" which calls upon proper assessment for the approach because a haphazard play can easily mean a quick three or even four-putt.
From a visual point of view the bunkers cosmetically stand apart from the desert environment. Unfortunately, a number of architects just take their standard product and superimpose it on the properties they work.
Overall, Cabo Real wanted to showcase different visual elements. Great concept. You then need to deliver the holes advancing the concept. The 5th and 6th don't do that. They simply "check the box" -- giving golfers a visual without the strategic magic of holes dovetailing with the location.
The backbone of the course is the hillier section of the property. Cabo Real has enough moments to get the juices pumped for the golfer with a small "g" next to their name. For architectural bloodhounds, Cabo Real demonstrates a disappointing mixed bag -- fun at times but wondering what the potential upside could have been.
Nonetheless -- one thing for sure -- you'll enjoy is the views the property provides, the tasty fajitas and cold beer when the round concludes.
Cabo Real GC was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr in the 1980’s as part of a massive real estate development.
The public access course has had the nines reversed and now starts quietly winding down the mountain from the clubhouse until the par 4 5th hole touches the sea- the remainder of the nine heads back up the mountain.
I knew that the course had originally included a hole along the beach which was sold off for development at an exhorbitant price, and that a new hole had been added in it's place..
At this stage in proceedings I was thinking that Cabo was a pleasant resort style course with a couple of interesting holes... that is...until I played the back nine!
The back nine is a different story altogether as the course heads into higher terrain with more elevation change through the holes, great views- all beautifully framed by the cactus, desert and mountains…The holes are varied, picturesque, strategic and challenging, and I was impressed.
Notable holes include:
- The par 4 5th hole with green on the beach
- the par 4 11th hole with rising turning fairway well protected by bunkers and and elevated tabletop green
- the picturesque and challenging par 5 12th hole
- the testing par 4 14th hole with its long gully carry off the tee
- the tricky dogleg par 4 17th hole
- the slightly whacky par 4 finishing hole with a shallow, but very very wide (85 metres) green with an all water carry for the approach…
Cabo Real exceeded my expectations, and should be on everyone’s itinerary for golfing in Cabo!!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
The distinguishing feature of the club is how it provides two distinct different 9-hole layouts. The front works its way to the ocean and while architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr, had to smartly squeeze holes into a very tight acreage, the routing is done quite well. Getting the most out of the property is always a test for any architect and the challenge in doing so at Cabo Real has been done with great care and attention to getting the details right.
The back nine moves into the higher terrain and it features a number of creative hole differentiations. The final trio of par-4 holes is especially good. There's also testing holes at the par-4 11th and the final two holes on the outward nine play back uphill to the clubhouse area.
Plenty of people who come to Cabo will likely head to such high caliber facilities such as Cabo del Sol, Diamante and Quivira. Rightly so. But the aforementioned are not inexpensive.
Cabo Real truly flies "under the radar" yet it gives a worthy test and the juxtaposition between front and back nines makes for an entertaining day on the course.
by M. James Ward
Some people need some time after their flight arrives to destination on the first day. It is not my case, despite a 4hs delay in the Long Haul Flight and after 24hs travelling I landed 4pm at Cabo San Jose Airport and 5:15pm I was on the first tee at Cabo Real.
It is the other course visited in 2014 which we could not play due to the Irrigation System Smash by Hurricane Odille. It happened in September but still in December the repair was not completed, so then we were only able to see the Club House and 18th green (a huge 100yds wide green).
When I planned the trip for my group we decided not to included as I had not played it, but felt it necessary to test it in order to include it in future trips to Los Cabos.
It was a very fast 2h15min round in a nice sunny afternoon, but good enough to evaluate it and confirm it is a great course to be played at least once when travelling to the low end of the Baja California Peninsula.
It has only one hole close to the Ocean but fatnastic views from all of them and the best part of the course is when you get to the highest end and start to go back towards the Club House who has the best fajitas in town!
Paspalum Grass coast to coast kept in amazing condition, this course surprised me really a lot. RTJ II has done an excellent work taking advantage of the views, the natural contorns of the land and the highest parts of it which give you some very nice downhill shots specially in par 3 15th, par 4 17th and the finishing hole.
Is it as great as Quivira, Diamante Dunes or Cabo del Sol Ocean? NO! But it is a great test, a fun course and a very well operated facility. Is it worth a replay on next trip. ABSOLUTELY!