Diamante raises the bar in Cabo
CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico – Three years ago, during my first visit to Mexico’s Los Cabos, I jumped on an ATV and drove across enormous dunes to see the planned site for two Jack Nicklaus golf courses. The site for the still-stalled Quivira development, which sits high above the point where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, remains perhaps the most spectacular setting I’ve ever seen for a proposed course.
From that hillside, another course was visible just to the west. It appeared to be nearly completed, but was sitting dormant. No workers were in sight, and certainly no golfers.
Work on the Diamante Dunes Course and the entire 1,500-acre development had been halted after Lehman Brothers, a key source of financing, crashed and burned in September 2008. I assumed the project was dead in the water, but fortunately, I was wrong. The Dunes Course has been open since October 2009, and I finally got a chance to see it up close on Dec. 10.
First impression: Even in the crowded Cabo golf market, Diamante stands out as a special experience. Part of that stems from the fact that it’s the lone Cabo course located on the Pacific side of Baja California. I heard some suggestions from Diamante’s competitors in Cabo that the cooler Pacific location would hurt real estate sales. Any new real estate project is a tough sell these days, but my hunch is that the more temperate climate will instead provide a valuable point of differentiation. I also doubt that prospective buyers will be turned off by the cooler Pacific waters. Let’s face it, hardly anyone swims in Los Cabos because the waters are so dangerous. Everyone sits in infinity pools and hot tubs and stares at the ocean.
At Diamante, they also can ogle the fabulous Davis Love III design, which sits amid some of the biggest dunes this side of Ireland’s Island Golf Club. Because I’m directionally challenged and managed to get hopelessly lost on the back streets of Cabo San Lucas, I arrived late and started my round on No. 10 before finishing on the front side. As good as that was – and I’ve described it to others as one of the finest golf experiences I’ve ever had – I’m sure it would have been even better had I played the course in the proper sequence.
The front nine plays through lower, more secluded dunes land before the expansive back nine opens up to the ocean. I hate to use the building-to-a-crescendo cliché, but I really did get that sense as we played the back nine. The setting and atmospherics take the experience to a different level, particularly when the whales are putting on a show just offshore.
The only weak spots on the back nine – and frankly, I wasn’t that troubled by them – are Nos. 12 and 13, which wrap around a lake and sort of impede on the player’s building relationship with the ocean. That’s going to change. Plans are in place in 2012 to throw a new par-5 12th and reachable par-4 13th out on the beach. With the par-3 11th perched on a large, beachside dune, there is the potential here to create an extraordinary sequence of holes.
Diamante went private at the start of 2011, but the club has a fractional ownership component. The Dunes Course currently is rated 13th on the list of Golfweek’s Best Caribbean and Mexico Courses. No disrespect to my fellow Golfweek course raters, but that’s like saying that Brooklyn Decker is only a seven. If you say that, you’re bound to get a few sideways glances from your buddies, just as you should if you suggest that there are 12 courses throughout the Caribbean and Mexico that are better than Diamante. There aren’t.