Golfers teeing it up in Los Cabos have always held onto one high standard when it comes to where they're playing: They want ocean-front golf.
The sight of golf's shades of green shaking hands with the sandy white beaches and blue waves of the Pacific Ocean or the Sea of Cortez distinguishes the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula over many of the world's other luxurious golf destinations. More holes rest peacefully near the shoreline in Los Cabos than any other golf hotspot except Hawaii.
But as development has crowded out the beach, golf courses like the Club Campestre San Jose must prove their worth away from the surf. Campestre is the fifth Jack Nicklaus design in Los Cabos, opening in 2007. Playing on the ocean at celebrated places like Palmilla and Cabo del Sol will cost you. Playing just off the ocean at Club Campestre, while still enjoying similar views on the horizon, won't. Campestre's greens fees are generally 10 to 20 percent cheaper than its competitors.
"It's a nice course, beautiful," said Los Cabos resident and golfer Marcos Cauduro. "The holes are interesting, and the price can't be beat."
The layout at Club Campestre
Think of Campestre as more of a country club in Arizona than a Mexican resort track.
It's arguably the best conditioned golf course in Los Cabos. The tees, fairways and greens tend to be consistently good; even manicure-obsessed golfers from north of the border will notice. Operator Questro Golf takes good care of Campestre and its sister courses, II's Cabo Real and Puerto Los Cabos designed by Robert Trent Jones.
"The maintenance is superior," noted Dan Kash, a visiting player from Los Angeles. "The greens don't lie. If you go in the sand, it's well raked."
The 6,966-yard Club Campestre is dressed head to toe in seashore paspalum, the revolutionary grass that flourishes in extreme climates with salt water. "It's like playing on carpet, the density of the grass is so thick," said golf professional Adrian Salum.
Diagonal hazards pepper the Campestre course. Water pinches holes between the seventh and ninth, as well as the 15th. Players must carry arroyos or bunkers cutting through fairways on five holes, four on the back nine. Subtle elevation changes force tough decisions about what club to pick. The par-4 fifth and 10th holes trudge painstakingly uphill.
Play here won't batter guests or their egos, Salum says.
"It's quite a friendly course. There are wide fairways. It's the greens where the course shows teeth," he said. "We rarely get them above nine-and-a-half on the stimpmeter. Otherwise, it would be too tough."
The practice area makes a strong case for ranking as the best in Los Cabos, too. That will serve the club well if it follows through with the plans to eventually go private. Real estate and membership drives remain ongoing.
Club Campestre San Jose: The verdict
When it comes to golf in Cabo, you get what you pay for. Club Campestre is the most affordable Nicklaus course in the area, mainly due to its lack of ocean-front property. That said, strategic routing and the premier conditioning more than make up for the loss of the beach. When it comes to a "bang for your buck" course in a typically expensive destination like Los Cabos, look to Campestre for relief.
Club Campestre: Where to stay in San Jose
There's no shortage of luxury hotels in Los Cabos. In that ilk, the 375-room Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort shares the ocean with several holes of the Cabo Real Golf Club. Its infinity pool looks down on a sprawling beach, with a protected rock cove for swimming, one of the few swimmable spots in Los Cabos. Nothing is short of extravagant here, from the lobby anchored by two giant fish tanks to the décor of the rooms and spacious bathrooms. And yet, it's the service that stands out. The housekeeper left me welcome and goodbye messages spelled out in decorative pebbles on my bed.
The Playa Grande Resort & Spa, located on eight acres of beach along the Pacific Ocean just steps from the Land's End and the famous natural arch, is a charming, hacienda style all-suite resort within walking distance of downtown Cabo San Lucas.
Club Campestre: Where to eat
Grab a hardy breakfast at the buffet at the Hilton's El Meson. The resort's Madero Bar and Grill offers casual fare like tacos and wood-fire oven pizzas.
The Tequila Restaurant in downtown San Jose offers an intimate retreat with a secluded courtyard for outdoor dining. All the restaurant's organic vegetables are grown locally. Drinking house wines pared with entrees off an exotic menu satisfy after a long day in the San Jose sun.
The beach-front Brigantine at the Playa Grande serves fresh seafood, steak and its specialty - molcajete stuffed with lobster, fish filet, shrimps, avocado and melted cheese.