Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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Swinging in Los Cabos

Mexico's Baja Peninsula has more PGA-worthy courses than you can shake a stick at

The towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo act as bookends for the 33-kilometre corridor of hotels and golf courses known as Los Cabos on the southern tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Hollywood stars such as Bing Crosby and John Wayne, lured by the legendary sport fishing, initially put Los Cabos on the tourist map back in the 1950s. And while fishing still draws avid anglers to what’s called “marlin alley,” Los Cabos has also become one of the world’s top golf destinations.

Next June, Los Cabos will bask in the limelight as official host to the G20 Summit. And if those world leaders get any free time, they will no doubt head for the links. Several top-notch facilities presently dot the strip with more on the way by acclaimed designers who happily compete for the opportunity to ply their art on such a stirring canvas, where the desert coastline meets the Sea of Cortez.

Jack of all plays

My favourite is the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol (cabodelsol.com), opened in 1994. Jack Nicklaus clearly succeeded in creating the Pebble Beach of Baja as he intended on what he described as “the best piece of golf property I’ve even seen.”

The 7047-yard, par-72 layout boasts seven fairways that nudge the jagged coastline of the azure Sea of Cortez. It’s one of the few layouts on the planet to embrace ocean, mountain and desert environments. All kinds of cacti and desert flora, stunning taffy-coloured rocky outcrops and the surging surf compete for your attention.

In late 2010 some major improvements took place, including replacing back-to-back par-threes on holes six and seven with a pair of seaside par-threes. Number 17 has always been considered the signature hole here, but the new number seven is a beguiling competitor. From tees perched above a tidal inlet, you play a short iron across a beach to a double-plateau green tucked among dunes and rocks that have been sculpted by the waves and wind.

After you finish number nine, an inviting halfway house serves up complimentary fish, beef and shrimp tacos. Now, fortified with a snack and a cold one, you’re ready to take on the back nine. From the highest point of the course on the 15th, the par-five plunges more than 100 feet down the side of a mountain to the Sea of Cortez. Number 16, a dramatic par-four tumbles further downhill to a green teetering over the coast.

Though it’s really difficult to name a signature hole on the Ocean Course, I’d have to cast my vote for 17. The 500 Greatest Golf Holes book describes it as “an intoxicating combination of beauty and strategy that demands performance and judgment.” And a camera! Par this baby and just try to wipe that smile off your face. The dogleg left-to-right 18th traces the curve of the rocky shoreline to a green prettily perched over the frothing surf. It’s a dazzling climax to an unforgettable round.

Also at Cabo del Sol, you’ll want to tackle the Tom Weiskopf-designed Desert Course. Bring lots of balls as there are plenty of forced carries.

Duffer's paradise

Jack Nicklaus has certainly left his mark on the Baja Peninsula. His 27-hole Palmilla (palmillagc.com), was the first Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in Mexico and home to the Senior PGA Tour’s 1997 Senior Slam. The Ocean, Desert and Mountain nines are brilliantly routed layouts over ponds and around desert scrub. You might find yourself teeing it up here with celebrity swingers Michael Douglas and Billy Crystal.

The newest of the Nicklaus courses is Club Campestre San Jose (questrogolf.com), a par-71 measuring 7055 yards with ocean vistas on every fairway. Puerto Los Cabos (puertoloscabos.com) offers the unique chance to play a composite 18 holes by both Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

Eventually each designer will have his own signature 18 holes, but for now it’s fun to sample their contrasting styles. In my opinion, Norman got the best tract of land for his Mission Course, currently the front nine. His par-three sixth is a dizzying drop from elevated tees to a bunker-ringed green with miles of spectacular coastline beyond. The 18th on Nicklaus’ back-nine Marina Course is a tricky dogleg left around a lake to a multi-tiered green.

At Cabo Real (caboreal.com), a Robert Trent Jones II championship design, the first six holes wind their way up the mountainside, before gradually meandering back to sea level. Finally, at Cabo San Lucas Country Club (golfincabo.com) (formerly The Raven), Roy Dye’s layout is the most forgiving of the lot and a joy to play, especially the vista of the Sea of Cortez and Land’s End on the 18th.

Tale of two towns

Along with its world-class golf, Los Cabos also boasts a dazzling assortment of accommodations, nightlife and restaurants — from funky to fabulous. Part of the fun comes from exploring the region’s two dramatically distinct personas, the more sedate San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas which is party central with funky bars and the slick Luxury Avenue Mall centered around the marina.

Set in Cabo San Luca, the colonial-style Sheraton Hacienda del Mar (starwoodhotels.com)*, just down the road from two Cabo del Sol courses, is ranked as the number one golf resort in the area. Bedrooms and public spaces are decorated with Mexican antiques, wrought-iron chandeliers and hand-painted tiles. A series of swimming pools and lush gardens separate the hotel from the beach.

I normally steer clear of all-inclusives because I dislike resorts where you need a map to find your room, where the humungous buffets all start to look the same after a few days, where you're stuck with ersatz-themed restaurants and the cocktails are generally pre-mixed and diluted with ice.

So I was surprised to find that at Hacienda del Mar everything is done on an intimate scale. The main restaurant, Tomates, offers a terrific breakfast complete with made-to-order eggs and omelets and a smoothie station where you can whip up your own fresh fruit drinks in an industrial strength blender. Or, help yourself to sparkling wine and orange juice or a Bloody Mary.

Lunch can be enjoyed à la carte wherever you choose from the property’s many beach bars and eateries. Depending on the chef’s inclination, dinner might be a gourmet buffet, or, you can order from the Mediterranean menu. Once every four nights, you can dine at the five-star beachside D Cortez Grill, where Argentinean steaks are the sizzling specialty. Whatever you choose, the service is professional and personalized and the food is fabulous. And this is the kind of place where the waiter remembers your name.

Whale music

While in Cabo San Lucas, don't miss the boat ride past Lover’s Beach, the basking sea lions and El Arche, the remarkable rock formation that has become the iconic landmark of Cabos. Forget the pricey sunset cruise. Instead, go for a glass-bottom boat tour for about $10 per person per hour from the marina. You might want to make a day of it by taking a picnic and snorkelling gear and arranging for your captain to pick you up at a designated time.

Happy Hour is the best time to hit the local watering holes around the marina. At Cabo Wabo Sample a Cabo Waborita and dance ’til the wee hours, or try to avoid being strung upside down at the Giggling Marlin where the motto is, “If our food, drinks and service are not up to your standards… please lower your standards.”

From December to April seven different kinds of whales, including grays and orcas come to these waters to feed and give birth before heading back up to Alaska. Take an intimate whale-watching excursion with Cabo Expeditions (caboexpeditions.com.mx). Request Captain José, otherwise known as the “whale whisperer” due to his uncanny ability for finding the great leviathans. On my trip, he brought the Zodiac so close to a mother and her two babies we could look into their eyes. The interaction between the mom and her young was so fascinating, we didn’t mind getting drenched by their tail splashes.

Luxe on the beach

On the other end of the Cabo highway (called the corridor), the town of San José del Cabo has retained the look and vibe of a traditional Mexican town. Cobblestone streets, intimate restaurants and boutiques radiate from the central main square and mission church. It's also the site of the British One&Only chain's Palmilla Resort (oneandonlyresorts.com). In all my years of travel, I’ve yet to find an establishment that rivals the for spoiling its guests. The resort recently made Condé Nast Traveler’s 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards “Best in the World Top 100 list,” so I’m obviously not alone in my infatuation.

It starts with the salutation you’ll receive from every staff member — from waiters to gardeners. They bow slightly and place their right hand over their heart. The resort’s general manager borrowed this endearing gesture (meaning that the hospitality is from the heart) from the Otomi hill tribes that live in the state of Jalisco.

At the outdoor reception lounge, you’ll be given a mango or watermelon popsicle and golf-carted to your casa, all of which overlook the sea. Your personal butler will unpack your clothes, bring cocktail snacks in the afternoon, set out breakfast on your terrace and light your choice of aromatherapy candle in the evening. Would you like your shirt pressed? It shall be done.

A stroll around the meticulously landscaped grounds is especially romantic after the sunset when the palm trees are festooned with millions of white twinkle lights and torches lead the way to the resort’s restaurants. For fine dining head to Market, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Next to it, Suviche serving sushi and ceviche, boasts an extensive rare tea menu and a sake sommelier. Perched on a bluff with grand ocean views, Aqua bills its menu as “Mexiterranean.”

Crafty streets

A the One&Only Spa, one of Mexico’s finest, I recommend the Watsu water massage. Your therapist will take you though a series of gentle yoga-type stretches in a private pool heated to body temperature. Some describe this graceful water ballet as a “return to the womb” experience. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was profoundly relaxing.

If you can pry yourself away from the pampering, head into San José del Cabo. Thursday night is Art Walk from November to June. Studios and galleries around Alvaro Obregon stay open until 9PM. They encourage guests to browse and buy by handing out free libations and snacks. You’ll discover a high quality of paintings, sculpture, jewellery and local handicrafts.

Later, dine al fresco in the romantic courtyard at Tequila Restaurant (tequilarestaurant.com), which lives up to its name with a lengthy list of the finer brands of Mexico’s national liquor. The house specialty is jumbo shrimp smothered in (you guessed it) tequila, lime, butter and garlic. Ask co-owner Enrique Silva about tours to his organic farm and cooking school, Huerta Los Tamarindos, just outside of town.

If you’re looking for a bargain week in the sun, Los Cabos isn’t the answer. But if your wish list includes golf you’ll be bragging about for decades, a spectacular mix of mountain, desert and ocean scenery and resorts that excel in exceeding guests’ expectations, this is the place to head.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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