The El Cardonal course at Diamante debuted at the end of 2014, one of the very first fledgling designs from Tiger Woods to open for play. After the unqualified success of the Dunes course in the global rankings, some might be inclined to feel sorry for anyone following Davis Love III with a new layout at the same location.
The Dunes is a hard act to follow, especially as this new track now occupies more of an inland, less visually exciting portion of the property. Sensibly, rather than copy the “Scottish links” aspect of the Dunes, Tiger constructed El Cardonal in the style of a “traditional California course,” one that would complement the other, not compete with it.
This design gives golfers a number of options when playing, allowing sound strategic decision making to be rewarded. Existing arroyos and fairway bunkers are some of the risk-reward hazards to be overcome and choices have to be made whether to carry an obstacle for an easier approach angle or play safe and leave a longer shot to the green.
As Tiger explains: “I set up the golf strategy to make golfers think and make choices. Regardless of your handicap, there are going to be different ways to play every hole. Angles of approach are going to be very important and will dictate the type of shots you should consider. I love this kind of golf.”
El Cardonal is a stout test from the back tees (measuring all of 7,363 yards and playing to a par of 72, with a slope/rating of 140/75.9) but there’s lots of fairway width to allow for the strong winds that often blow here. Greens are rather distinctive and they come in a variety of forms, like the T-shaped one on the 8th or the three-tiered version on the 18th.
Fairways are routed around several sandy arroyos – such as at the par three 9th hole – and a number of natural hazards have also been assimilated into the design, evidenced by the large specimen desert plum tree that sits to the right of the green at the par five 14th and the big Cardon cactus that lies short and right of the green at the following hole.
I have to agree with the other reviewer in that this is a course where little stands out as memorable. While you get frequent ocean views I preferred the Desert course at Cabo Del Sol, despite the nearby highway, to this as the 2nd course at either resort. Again, despite the Ocean views, it felt as if it could be one of many courses in Arizona and didn't really capture my imagination. Green complexes were huge (some 30-40 yards long) but unlike the Dunes they were not bowled so this course played more difficult (although the wind was up that day). Similar to the Dunes the service, caddies, food and drink stations, etc., were all top notch. Perhaps the course will grow on me but compared to the dramatic routing in the Dunes Tiger's effort was good but not great. It will also be interesting to see how his next course at Diamante compares to his first effort in course design.
El Cardonal is Tiger’s first effort as an architect or better said the first course he’s stamped his name on in hopes to increase housing and timeshare sales. The course was not really my favorite. They went for big and bold, the scale of the course is huge and you can play it back to about as long as possible for a mere mortal. Unfortunately this course falls into the slog category for me but I think there is a market out there for it. Young guns and big hitters may love that you can pretty much take out driver on every hole (except the par 3’s of course) and swing as hard as you like.
The greens are large and present many options for pin positions. For me two holes really stuck out, the par 3, 16th and par 4, 17th. Both had a unique character and interesting approach shots. The green on 17 also plays a bit like a Redan which is a fun aspect on this mammoth par 4.
As a side note it’s important to realize opinions differ highly. In the clubhouse I spoke to a couple guys who claimed to be excellent players and they both said they loved Tiger’s course because they both hit the ball so far – a comment that I can neither confirm or deny – but as I said, clearly that’s the market for this one.
I have high hopes for Blue Jack National in Texas, Tiger’s second effort, so I look forward to one day comparing the two.