Hurricane Odile turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Los Cabos, the mega-luxurious golf and fishing destination at the tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula.
The storm in September 2014 battered area hotels and resorts, causing extensive damage. In fact, the Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos, one of my favorite resorts in Cabo, remains closed for an ongoing renovation.
Tourism suffered throughout 2015 as the region picked up the pieces. Heading into high season in 2016, Cabo -- where the sea, ocean and desert collide in spectacular fashion -- has never shined brighter. Many top resorts used the opportunity to renovate and rebuild better than ever. Golfers now have an array of premier places to stay.
I'm always asked where to play golf in Cabo, but I think the more appropriate question is: Where should you stay? The highway corridor connecting Cabo San Lucas, the hub of the party closer to the airport, and San Jose del Cabo, the more laid-back Mexican fishing village on the Sea of Cortez further east, is more than 30 miles long. Cab rides are very expensive, so it's best to pick where you stay based on where you want to play. Ask if a hotel or course has a complimentary shuttle before you book tee times or rooms. The truth is that only half of Cabo's 14 courses are open to the public no matter where you stay.
I've stayed at, dined in or toured many of the best resorts/hotels Cabo has to offer golfers. Here's a look at each of them and the courses aligned with each property:
Where to play: The Palmilla Golf Club, a 27-hole course by Jack Nicklaus, is right across the street.
Comment: The 170-room resort underwent a $140 million recovery renovation after the hurricane, reopening in 2015 more luxurious than ever. A new spa, new restaurants and updated rooms are heavenly, but it will always be a relentlessly dedicated staff that sets the One&Only apart.
The historic chapel at the One&Only Palmilla
JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa
Where to play: The Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club, a Nicklaus/Greg Norman hybrid course that is close to finishing a third nine, is nearby.
Comment: The recent openings of the JW Marriott (November 2015) and the 500-room Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort have breathed life into the Puerto Los Cabos development closer to San Jose del Cabo. Secrets is an adults-only all-inclusive resort that opened in December 2013 and reopened again in December 2015 after the hurricane. Meanwhile, the JW Marriott, stocked with 299 ocean view rooms/suites and seven restaurants/bars, offers a "hotel within a hotel" concept. The Griffin Club is an ultra-luxurious 45-room boutique hotel within the resort. Griffin Club guests enjoy exclusive amenities such as a movie theater, private beach and pool, reserved Jasha Spa areas, the Mayma Lounge Bar with a fireplace, and a private business center with meeting rooms and an event space.
Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort Los Cabos
Where to play: The Desert and Ocean courses at Cabo del Sol are located in the same development. The Ocean Course by Nicklaus remains my favorite course in all of Mexico.
Comment: This luxury 270-room escape on 28 acres was modeled after a Colonial seaside village. Walking along the brick-paved paths through jungle landscaping to the hacienda villas, guests can discover hidden fountains, plazas and hot tubs and infinity pools. It was chosen one of the six host hotels of the 2012 G20 Summit of world leaders for its secure location and 1,200-person conference center, the largest in Cabo. The resort's two five-diamond restaurants, Pitahayas and the De Cortez Grill and Restaurant, remain two of my favorite all-time dining experiences.
Grand Fiesta Americana Los Cabos All Inclusive Golf & Spa
Where to play: The Desert and Ocean courses at Cabo del Sol share the same development.
Comment: An all-inclusive setup at this 249-room resorts ensures you'll never go hungry or thirsty. The restaurant specialties range from sushi, Mexican and Italian to Asian cuisine. The SOMMA WineSPA is the only spa in Mexico that uses the benefits of wine in its treatments.
The Ocean course at Cabo del Sol
Esperanza, An Auberge Resort
Where to play: The concierge can arrange golf at Palmilla, Cabo Real Golf Club, Cabo San Lucas Country Club and Cabo del Sol (which is closest).
Comment: This intimate 57-room beachfront boutique hotel earned a fifth star from the Forbes Travel Guide in 2016 thanks to a magnificent hurricane-induced renovation. It reopened in June 2015 with completely transformed guest rooms, a revitalized Cocina del Mar restaurant and Lounge Bar, the introduction of a new Pesca Ceviche Bar, an enhanced pool and terrace with new cozy lounge spaces and cabanas, a refreshed spa and comfortable public spaces.
Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
Where to play: Cabo Real by Robert Trent Jones Jr. is right across the street overlooking the hotel from higher ground.
Comment: All 375 rooms in this AAA Four Diamond Hilton have private balconies overlooking one of Cabo's rare swimmer-friendly beaches. It reopened after the hurricane in 2015, debuting three reimagined dining options (the Mio swim-up bar, Azul lobby bar and La Onda beach bar), 65 new club-level suites and the new 7,000-square-foot spa and salon. Both tennis courts are lighted. Better yet, both pools have swim-up bars.
Cabo Real Golf Club overlooks the Hilton
Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas
Where to play: Quivira Golf Club by Nicklaus is on-site.
Comment: The only way to play Quivira -- maybe the world's most scenic course -- is to stay at one of the four nearby Pueblo Bonito resorts. The 154-room Pueblo Bonito Pacifica, an adults-only all-inclusive right on the beach, and the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach, sitting higher up on the bluff overlooking the beach, are adjacent to the course. The Pueblo Bonito Rose Resort & Spa and Pueblo Bonito Los Cabos, two all-suites resorts, are located along El Medano beach closer to downtown Cabo San Lucas. Pacifica is probably the pick of the litter.
Pueblo Bonito Pacifica
Las Ventanas al Paraiso
Where to play: The concierge requires all reservations be prepaid by credit card and a contract to be completed online to confirm tee times at Puerto Los Cabos, Cabo del Sol, Palmilla or Cabo Real (which is closest).
Comment: This Five Diamond Rosewood resort ranks among Cabo's swankiest. With the hotel closed during a post-hurricane renovation, the entire workforce stayed on salary for further training. That's part of the reason why the service remains legendary. Golfers shouldn't hold a grudge that the resort's expansion in 2012 stole one of Cabo Real's seaside par 3s, forcing a redesign of the back nine to make space for 12 new villas with private pools unveiled in December 2013. All the other 83 suites feature butler service, spacious living areas, wood-burning fireplaces and exquisite décor. Private airport transportation in a Suburban or Mercedes G500 SUV is complimentary for guests.
Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas
Where to play: Guests get 20 percent off at the three courses run by Questro Golf: Puerto Los Cabos, Cabo Real and Club Campestre San Jose (Nicklaus). The resort is also right across the street from the Cabo San Lucas Country Club, the best bargain play in town.
Comment: This all-inclusive resort -- the most luxurious hotel within the RIU brand -- sports a party vibe, fueled by the shot dispenser with four bottles of premium liquors ready to pour and a mini-fridge stocked with alcohol in every room. It is popular with golfers. Every day during my 2015 visit, I saw several dozen golf bags in the lobby, ready for transport. The food served at the resort's buffets is very good and its reservations-only steakhouse is even better. It's also only a three-mile walk/cab ride to downtown Cabo San Lucas.
RIU Palace Cabo San Lucas
Casa del Mar Golf Resort & Spa
Where to play: The nearest course is Cabo Real, but the resort also sells packages with the other Questro Golf properties: Club Campestre San Jose and Puerto Los Cabos.
Comment: The 54-room boutique hotel feels like an old-world hacienda, even though it was built in 1995 and renovated in 2015 after the hurricane. That Mexican heritage is furthered by the food in its restaurants and bars. Casa del Mar is owned by Grupo Questro, the same company that owns and manages the three Questro Golf courses. It is located adjacent to the Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa, another option that also has been upgraded after the hurricane.
The Chileno Bay Resort & Residences
Where to play: The resort is the only one offering limited tee times to the Chileno Bay Club, a private course designed by Tom Fazio in 2013.
Comment: This 60-room Auberge Resort, which opens Feb. 1, is located on one of Cabo's largest swimmable beaches in a protected cove. The highlights of the immaculate rooms might be the outdoor spaces, including an outdoor shower and large terrace. The resort's three-tiered pool shows off an imaginative design.
The Resort at Pedregal
Where to play: The resort offers "exclusive" rates at Palmilla, Cabo Real, Puerto Los Cabos, Club Campestre San Jose and Cabo del Sol.
Comment: The hurricane forced not only a reconstruction of this AAA Five Diamond property, but also a name and management change. The resort, which reopened in February 2015, is only accessible by a long tunnel at the tip of the peninsula. Emerging from the darkness, guests are greeted with a 24-acre Shangri-La of 66 rooms and suites and 21 villas, along with multiple restaurants and a spa. Its location is ideal to enjoy downtown Cabo San Lucas but isn't as convenient for many of Cabo's courses. The closest is the Cabo San Lucas Country Club. Surely resort guests will be expecting more than this budget-friendly play can deliver.
Ones to Watch
Rancho San Lucas, a 834-acre master-planned community featuring 1.2 miles of beachfront complemented by dramatic succulent forest, will debut its first phase this December with a Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas and The Residences at Rancho San Lucas resorts. Its Norman course won't open until 2018, though. The 600-room Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos and the 200-room Nobu Hotel Los Cabos are scheduled to open in 2018 inside the exclusive Diamante development, offering limited access to the El Cardonal Course by Tiger Woods and the Dunes Course at Diamante by Davis Love III. Also, Twin Dolphin Golf Club, a project by Fred Couples with Todd Echenrode's Origins Golf Design in California, broke ground in 2017 with a target finishing date of 2018 that will likely extend into 2019. The course will be available to residential owners within the Twin Dolphin Community, including Maravilla Los Cabos and Montage Residences Los Cabos, as well as guests at Montage Los Cabos, which could open early in 2018 according to its website.