Jack Nicklaus worked on his first ever Latin American project in 1993 when he laid out the Arroyo and Mountain nines at Palmilla Golf Club. Since then, he’s been the designer of choice for many developers in Mexico, constructing more than twenty courses across the country.
At the end of 2014, the Golden Bear completed work on Quivira, his sixth Los Cabos layout, which is located on a truly stunning property at the end of the Baja peninsula, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Focal point of an 1,850-acre luxury resort, this fabulous 18-hole layout is reputed to have taken around eight years to construct at a cost of $40 million.
“This is one of the great pieces of property in the world,” Nicklaus said. “We tried to create some excitement on the mountain and in the dunes, and I believe we’ve created a golf course that plays as spectacular as it looks.” With ocean views on all eighteen holes, Quivira has more coastal exposure than any other course in the region, even though a number of holes twist their way through dunes and desert.
The course starts out from the shoreline, with the opening three holes heading inland before switching direction at the par five 4th, which plays over a pond to a wide, rolling fairway framed by dunes.
A three-quarters of a mile ride then follows to the short par four 5th, as the cart path crosses arroyo-spanning bridges on a switchback ride up the side of a cliff to arrive at the tee. Measuring only 310 yards, it’s also rated stroke index 1 as it’s fraught with danger from start to finish.
Perched almost 300 feet above the waves crashing onto the rocks below, the tee plays down to a sliver of fairway that clings to the side of the granite cliffs before falling further to a small green that somehow defies gravity by not falling off the precipice onto the beach below – a truly stunning hole that’s one of Jack’s best ever designs.
The par three 6th and par four 7th continue to hug the strand before the routing moves inland, returning briefly at the short 13th, where an all-or-nothing tee shot is required to find a tiny green sitting on a granite shelf above the beach. The only par three on the back nine, this 148-yard little beauty is a real test, especially when the wind is up.
The 14th is a delightful hole, its bunkerless fairway doglegging abruptly to a long, thin “peek-a-boo” green that’s hidden in the dunes. After reaching the highest point on the course at the par five 15th, it’s downhill all the way to the finish, where the 18th returns to the beach.
In 2014 I posted the first Top 100 Player Review for Top 100 after a 6 days Fam Trip with other gellow TTOOs. It was then when the course had just opened a few days before and it was literally "brand new" with no divots on fairways, no pitch marks on greens, all carts with almost no use, club house just "learning" and a little bit influenced as I played great that day.
3 years later I led a 40 golfers group and it was my decision to end the trip playing 2 rounds at Quivira. In December 2014 it was a calm day with almost no wind and very nice temperature while this April it was extremely windy (in the 160yds par 3 6th I hit a great stinger with the 4 iron to reach the green) and I have to say course had got enough maturity and play.
As the group had handicaps going from 1 to 30, I decided to play middle tees and try to make it enjoyable. It was a wise decision as from a further tee it would have been a real nightmare. We played 4 previous rounds and the higher team and individual scores were registered at Quivira although we played "easier" tees, that much is how the wind was blowing as in the lower parts of Los Cabos (Palmilla, Cabo del Sol and Puerto Los Cabos) wind was not that strong. And it was even cold! We used sweaters in both days while for example at Palmilla it was around 30°C.
My game was not as good this time but not bad, but I have to put this apart to describe my renewed sensations at Quivira. It was great to play it twice on consecutive days, it is a sort of rematch with all the mistakes you make the first round. People were extremely happy with the decision of replaying the course.
My first refreshed opinion about Driving Range is it is one of the best I have used. Not only comfortable and well designed, but even nice to watch. The same goes for the putting green, with sort of wild wast bunker sorrounding it in the same feel as Diamante Dunes. And you have the breakfast comfort station to enjoy a drink, coffee and a small bite before the round.
Club House is a typical tropical building with straw in the ceiling and open spaces, decorated with very good test and as we had all inclusive from the Hotel a great place to lunch!
Directly from the Club House you are sent to the tee by the starter which is a 300mts drive from the carts area. And it is not the only long drive in beteween holes, being the longest from 4th to 5th which is at least 1500mts uphill to the spectacular first comfort station where you will have tequila (the waiter complained all argentines asked for Diet Coke instead of alcohol!) and something fresh to eat.
The second one is at tee 9th and hot food (mini burgers and wraps) waits for you ready when you arrive. Third comfort station is just a small refuel before getting to play the final 3 holes. All in one it is not only a golf round, it is a food and beverage experience!
About the course, the 4 opening holes in the wind will play as the easier ones and where you should get some good notes before you get to the high part of the course.
In 2014 I drove 5th and made birdie, this time it was 2 bogeys as the hole was playing into a very strong wind. Same for 6th, it seemed easy in 2014 and this time it was a killer. Even 7-8 into the wind played extremely tough from the middle tees, hitting 5 iron in both ones to the green.
Par 5 10th which we reached in two in 2014 was a long 3 shot one this time (put me 2 bogeys!) while for example 11th downwind was a lot easier this time. 12th was reachable in 2, but as wind was across in the second shot, it was not easy. But short par 3 13th (128yds) which played easy in 2014 this time was huge downwind with almost no chance of holding the ball. I hit both times 58° and ball rolled twice to the end of the green and I saw many balls flying the green to the rocks or even the water.
My only weak comment here goes for 14th (a 235yds par 4, stroke index 2!) where there is nothing you can guess from the tee although you can go the safe way to the left and then hit a 60yds shot. No single digit golfer able to carry 210yds will want to lay up but the real fact is you cannot guess where pin is or where the ball lands. There is space to change this, I love short drivable par 4s and fee this one needs to be improved.
After nice and typical links golf par 5 15th you go down and around the mountain to 18th green which is just 30mts short of the beach.
Do I have the same love for it than I had in 2014? Yes, even more. The place is one of the nicest I have visited. Has the Course Operation managed to match the level of what people expect? Yes, definitely.
How good is the thing about comfort stations? PERFECT. Due to long rides from green to next tee and slow play due to toughness it is a 5h30min round but it is still enjoyable, where food and beverage is necessary and a Beverage Cart would drive crazy and for miles here.
If you travel willing to play the best courses in the world, this is one you have to play for sure. Just be aware of wind and don't play tougher set of tees unecessarily. This is not a place where you have to seek for a championship round of golf (I would have to play middle tees in any course in the UK), just enjoy the views, have some drinks and food, get some birdies and get a big smile at the end of the round.
Quivera is a recent Jack Nicklaus project and while spectacular and even breath-taking in places makes me feel that Nicklaus might have been better just sticking to being the greatest player to ever hold a club. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of his courses or architecture outside of a few gems like Muirfield Village.
At Quivera he has put together a course that’s first of all literally impossible to walk. The 5th and 6th holes are high up on cliffs overlooking a couple hundred foot drops down to the ocean and rocks. The routing becomes seriously disjoined after hole 4 and there is about a ¾ mile cart ride up a steep winding path to the first pit stop and snack shack. There they welcome you with excellent snacks and serious drinks, think margaritas, tequila, beer and other hard drinks. After that you play the 5th which is perhaps the most failed golf hole I can remember running into. I would venture to say this one should not have been built and is literally on the reckless side. The tee box is high up on the edge of the world. The green can be partially seen along the cliff perhaps 80-100ft below. The drive is blind to a fairway that is quite narrow and at about 200yds out doglegs severe to the right and then straight down hill and at a literally dangerous grade to the green which is laying on the edge of the world high above the rocks and ocean below. It’s spectacular, yes, however, don’t forget the setting I described and the fact that golfers have just been liquored up and are driving carts. Where the fairway doglegs the cart path heads straight down the steep grade. Granted they have placed a net there to catch runaway carts but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. I’m holding my breath for the first tragedy here as if it hasn’t already happened it will. Spectacular, but in my view it’s a completely useless golf hole that should never have been built.
The following hole is an incredibly spectacular one shotter, from a high tee box located on the cliffs you play a medium length drop shot par 3. Ocean crashing far down to the left and the view is amazing. Still as amazing as it is it’s very hard to argue this works from a golf routing perspective as it creates such a disjointed and arguably unsafe routing only for the spectacular. On top of that it takes away any option to walk the course which in my view is a shame.
The holes on the top and back side of the hills are pretty good actually. One exception is the par 5 13th which is another miss in my opinion. The tee shot is ok but the second shot on this par 5 again plays blind and so steeply down hill that it makes for a very awkward hole. It’s a long par 5 so there is little hope for reaching the green in two for all but the longest hitters.
There are more spectacular holes on the back 9. The par 3 14th is another spectacular hole along the cliffs only this time with the cliffs to the right of the hole.
The par 4 16th is another spectacular hole which has a hugely elevated tee box basically up on this ridge and playing back down towards sea level.
The question is, should you play this course. My answer is absolutely but it won’t be for the architecture it will be for breathtaking spectacle and yes you might just love it and be blown away. The views are that good. My only recommendation would be to enjoy it and drive safely!
Among world golf destinations Cabo San Lucas Mexico is clearly at the very top of the charts for the overall interest it creates on a range of fronts. Located at the far southern tip of Baja California where the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez intersect -- the area has become a hotbed for golf course development and the main man responsible for playing such a leading role in elevating the area's presence is none other than 18-time major champion and course designer Jack Nicklaus.
Located on the Pacific side -- Quivira is just minutes from the core of Cabo and it immediately near the noted Diamante facility which gained stature when opening just a few years prior.
Quivira allows players to stretch the muscles with a fairly rudimentary opening hole. The par-3 2nd is one of the most underrated holes at the course with its smartly designed putting surface. The short uphill par-4 3rd is nicely done but not especially compelling. The long par-5 4th doglegs slightly to the right and takes you back in the opposite direction. It's a good hole but Nicklaus has done better.
When you finally get to the par-4 5th you come to the hole that has been photographed numerous times -- especially in the club's own promotional efforts. The par-4 plays 310 yards and you start from an elevated -- the Pacific Ocean hugging closely to your left and roughly 100 or so feet below. The hole dog-legs left and the landing area is hard to discern -- literally requiring a guess on the player's part to decide just how far to play. The turning point comes at roughly just over 200 yards and going too far is a possibility -- save for the days when the wind is blowing from the north which can be rather significant given the high bluff from where you stand. The green sits well below the fairway and from the tee there is a direct line to the green -- albeit all carry and with the slightest of errors a quick donation to the Pacific Ocean golf ball fund. One will never link the 5th at Quivira with the likes of such stalwart great short par-4's as the 10th at Riviera or the 9th at Cypress Point, to name just two examples. Playability is clearly an issue with the 5th -- the views are clearly the elements that capture one's attention -- but with the present set-up the 5th at Quivira can be an instant card wrecker -- mandating a number of reloads for the player failing to execute to any real degree.
The 6th also follows the coast and is a dropshot par-3 hole. Instead of having a more natural appearance the 6th is overly shaped and clearly stands apart from the land -- rather than blending in with it.
Once you get past the 6th the qualities of Quivira emerge in a much consistent and thoughtful manner. The shotmaking challenges that Nicklaus brings forward is varied and well done. The 7th is a good uphill par-4 and it's followed by a superb par-4 that on the card says is only 399 yards but can play exceedingly much longer when the prevailing wind is blowing hard.
At the 8th Nicklaus provides for a bottleneck fairway that comes in at 266 yards from the tips. Players need to be mindful of this and stay to the right. The green is beautifully situated on a knoll high above the fairway with a false front which will repel any approach not hit with enthusiasm. A top quality hole through and through.
The par-3 9th at 222 is clear in its demands and unyielding without top tier execution. At the dog-leg par-5 10th you have a clear birdie opportunity but one that is not easily supplied.
The uphill 11th may not be endearing to many players because the hole is not so well defined when standing on the tee. Playing 375 yards the facility often has a staff person positioned halfway up the hill in order to better assist where balls land. I liked the hole because it clearly stands apart from the others one has played.
The sweeping downhill dog-leg right 12th at 635 yards is just glorious in its strategic qualities and overall beauty. The tees are perched high above the fairway and the turning point of the hole lures players into believing they can cut-off more than they think. Don't be misled. Keeping the tee shot to the left provides a safe haven and even though the second shot is longer it does play downhill. The green is well-protected and gauging the distance is central to securing par or birdie.
The 13th, unlike the 6th, is a riveting short par-3 that's just under 150 yards. The hole provides for a much more natural appearance and there is an opportunity to use the left side of the hole as a sideboard to propel one's ball to the green.
The short uphill par-4 14th at 355 yards is a good change of pace hole. The temptation is to play close to the right side where the hole turns at roughly 300 yards. Be wise and stay left -- the green is wonderfully situated in a slight bowl area and the more you play left the more open the target becomes.
The par-5 15th at 564 yards is another well done hole. The tee shot can be unnerving because the landing area is hard to discern. Playing up the right side looks to be the bad call but in reality is the best way to set up one's second shot. The green is set slightly below the fairway and will not yield to anything but well executed shots.
The final three holes at Quivira are all long par-4's -- the 16th and 17th both play downhill with the former having an exquisite putting surface protected by massive mound which shields the green. The closing hole provides a wide fairway but it is the approach that must be solidly struck as whipping winds can easily steer half-hearted plays to places with little hope of success.
Quivira does have its lapses. Like other area courses Quivira opted to use paspalum grass as its main surface. The reasoning is fairly straightforward -- paspalum provides an ideal green color which provides a unique contrast to the desert areas surrounding the main playing areas of the course. In addition, paspalum uses far less water that other surfaces -- from a cost effective perspective the logic is unassailable. The main argument against the surface deals with its inability to work in concert with the architectural necessities when having a course routinely impacted by varying wind velocities. The existing paspalum I encountered at Quivira doesn't provide any real ground movement upon a ball landing on it -- most notably on tee shots. Quivira would play even better with truly firm and fast conditions but the nature of paspalum works against that, and, as a result, the golfers who would most certainly benefit from having some sort of rollout is penalized even more so than lower handicap type players who can consistently fly the ball to the desired areas.
For courses to be define as "great" there must be an incorporation of both flying the ball certain distances and being able to gauge how the ball reacts once it lands on the ground. Being able to gauge the bounce of the ball is the highest art of superior shotmaking -- witness why The Open Championship is so rightly regarded. Courses that limit or have no real bounce can still be solid courses but they fail to elevate themselves into the discussion at the elite level of design complexity and richness in shots encountered and holes played.
Can paspalum play at such a firm and fast level? For Quivira that remains to be seen but in all likelihood highly doubtful.
The other related issue deals with related elements of conditioning. For those spending $300+ to play in high season the detailing of the playing areas is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, during my visit a number of the tees were either not level or so soft as to allow for footprints to be made with one's golf shoes. Tees are the starting point of any hole -- they need to be no less in overall quality than any putting surface. Tees which are cut tight and provide for a firm foundation of one's feet are an absolute must.
On the flip side Quivira does have a number of marvelous putting surfaces -- credit team Nicklaus with creating a wide range of shapes and contours. The club is also smart in keeping green speeds manageable given the skill level of those playing daily.
While conditioning can be enhanced -- the more concerning issue at Quivira is the endlessly long power cart rides one must take when playing. I am fully aware the usage of carts is a necessity for many clubs -- especially Quivira as the overall site is sprawling. However, the Nicklaus team used cart path rides as a massive connector to get players from one hole to another. The overall rhythm of the round is needlessly disturbed as the round mandates several rides between holes which can only be charitably described as inordinately long.
The first four holes are sheltered away from the bulk of the course and after leaving the 4th green you have to ride for no less than a mile -- no misprint -- to the tee at the 5th. In so many ways the ride is akin to the build-up one gets when taking a rollercoaster ride at an amusement park. Quality routings do not permit rigor mortis to set in between shots.
There are other such rides between holes at Quivira -- albeit not of the length encountered from the 4th to the 5th but causing such an unnecessary delay in playing the round. There is also the inclusion of several refreshment stands placed specifically to cause players to stop during the round. Clearly, a facility such as Quivira is keen to provide a high level of satisfaction and getting various food / drink items is most welcomed to a degree. But the disruptions only cause the overall pace of play to suffer and I have to wonder if the purpose is to provide for a large scale picnic area for players at the expense of the overall golf experience.
During my visit there was talk of a second course for Quivira. Nothing determined as of yet -- including if the Nicklaus team will do the work. If a second course comes into fruition the key unresolved question is can that design alleviate the scatter shot nature of the existing routing. Possibly a routing can be done more in harmony with actually playing the game without excessive cart riding happening. Ultimately, that may mean some of the existing holes are merged into a routing with a second course.
I've played roughly a dozen courses in the immediate Cabo area and I have read the glowing accounts some have said of Quivira. There's little question a course abutting the Pacific Ocean is intoxicating for the views of land and water merging together. But Quivira does not build upon what Nicklaus did so spectacularly with the likes of Cabo del Sol's Ocean course just a short ride away. That iconic layout is one of the Golden Bear's all-time bests and remains so. While Quivira is entertaining in spots -- it's saddled with a discombobulated routing featuring a turf type mandating one specific way in playing the course. Alas -- elasticity -- a core ingredient in course greatness -- is missing for now.
By M. James Ward - photos courtesy of Quivira Golf Club