Story & Photos by: Larry Mayran

The Baja Cantina
Photo courtesy of the Baja Cantina

“Forty miles of bad road” was my favorite menu item at the Baja Cantina, a  spirited Mexican hangout in Marina del Rey, California back in the early 1980’s. The owners were unabashedly infatuated with Cabo San Lucas, a wild, remote and seldom visited town at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Slap dash mementoes like rusty Cabo San Lucas license plates with bullet holes alongside broken car fenders, and yellowed pictures of fishermen posing with a giant marlins were plastered on the walls.

Devouring the “Forty Miles,” a huge flour tortilla loaded with tomatoes, onions,  peppers, and pico de gallo on a bubbling pillow of hot jack cheese while sipping margaritas and gazing at this whimsical flotsam was the hook that lured me to visit Cabo San Lucas.

I first ventured down the long, thin, strip of land called Baja that edges down about 1,000 miles from the U.S. border in California to the dusty, fledging resort town of Cabo San Lucas in the mid-1980’s. Only a trickle of hardy vacationers braved the bad roads and barely functioning tourism infrastructure to fish, snorkel in the turquoise waters, lie indolently on the white sand beaches and occupy the few available hotels.

Uniform of the day when in Cabo San Lucas.

But that was then and now Cabo San Lucas surely rivals any travel destination in this hemisphere. After spending a full week with my wife Julie in this once remote and sleepy region, I was awed by the array of top shelf Mexican, American and International hotels, golf courses, vacation villas, time share condos, shopping centers and restaurants of every stripe, all honeycombed between the two main towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo..

More than 1 million vacationers including thousands of golf enthusiasts from across the globe ensnared by this unique desert-ocean landscape annually pour into the Baja ranking it among the most attractive centers for tourism in Mexico. All that is necessary is a wallet with non-maxed out credit cards, and a valid passport.

Situated right on the beach is the  lovely Pueblo Pacifica Golf Resort & Spa.

A gallery of golf courses are centered along an 18 mile arc called “The Corridor” that links the municipality of Los Cabos two main towns, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo on the southernmost point of the Baja peninsula, where the desert runs into the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean.  The area is a scenic tour de force with bone dry mountain peaks above long and broad white sand beaches, turquoise and dark blue waters, and a relentless, thundering surf that crashes against craggy rock formations flinging white spumes skyward.

All the resorts are within a time frame of 30-40 minutes from the top golf destinations whose architects constitute a who’s who of the world’s greatest course designers. Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Weiskopf and Tom Fazio have all left their imprints here.

Ernesto Coppel Kelly, a pioneering owner and operator of the Pueblo Bonito group of resorts and spas in Baja has four properties in Cabo, one of which, the Pueblo Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort was our favorite. Exclusively for adults, the Pacifica is a wellness oriented resort that sits regally on a raised tier of sand facing the beachfront.. The resort exteriors colors of ochre and sand are set off by varnished cedar pergolas shading the terraces that provide poetic views of the Pacific Ocean. The 154 rooms and suites are minimally dressed but could not be more comfortable and charming with Zen inspired amenities commensurate with a stellar resort.    

Pueblo Pacifica Resort with casual dining lounge atop infinity pool.

Two contoured, infinity style swimming pools, one with a swim up bar and grill and zero edged whirlpool that overlooks the sea. Armonia, the resorts luxurious spa, offers a wide variety of indulgent spa treatments that may be taken both indoors and outdoors. My wife and I booked the couples massage on a set of canopied beds located directly on the beach. The gifted hands of the therapists crafted heavenly massages surely not designed for mere mortals, but a spa rapture fit for the gods.

A staff member from Pueblo Pacifica made arrangements for me to play the next day at nearby Palmilla Golf Club a Jack Nicklaus championship layout. Pamilla is divided into the 3,337 yard Arroyo nine, the 3,602 Mountain nine and the 3,548 Ocean nine. (Editor’s note: Following my visit, Quivira a spectacular new 7,130 yard Jack Nicklaus signature was completed and added to the Pueblo Pacifica’s resort amenities for their guests. In 2014 Quivira was named Best New International Course by GOLF magazine.)

Now back to Palmilla, I opted to first take on the Ocean course and then play the Mountain track. T.J. Spenser a visitor from Virginia was my playing partner. He smacked his drive on the 300 yard, par 4 first hole a long way down the fairway and I followed suit with an equally fine drive, albeit 20 yards shorter. My 7 iron shot was straight and true, landing on the green about 25 feet from the pin while T.J. was just off to the right. Geez, the first hole and I’ve already got a chance for a birdie. But this is not a fairytale and in truth I three putted for a bogie and T.J. recovered nicely for his par.

Writer Larry Mayran shows typical amateur form driving on number 6 hole at Palmilla.

A signature hole on Palmilla was #3, a long 414 par 4 hole where you drive from an elevated hole toward a distant green framed by the Pacific Ocean. My early successes with driver continued but then I miss hit a 3 wood, skunked an 8 iron and limped in for a double bogie. T.J. confidentially played the hole in par.

Working our way around to #6, stood a pretty 150 yard par three that played like 170 yards with the wind in your face and water on the left. My 5 iron collapsed in the wind and landed woefully short of the green. But a deft wedge had me up on the green with just 20 feet of carpet to the pin. My firm putt hung on the lip of the cup and then, whoopee, it dropped in for another par.

The remainder of the front nine was fun playing against some daunting challenges thrown up by Jack Nicklaus’ cleverly designed holes that lure you in like a plump female Praying Mantis until she bites your head off when your shots go awry. My scores edged up rapidly as a couple of double bogies replaced my early pars.

.Along the Mountain course, was a different set of challenges and number #1 started off with a doozy. After a good drive on this 350 yard hole which required  considerable carry across a desert scape to a landing area and then another mid iron shot,  dog leg left, across a gaping arroyo to a big green guarded by a couple of bunkers, I was laying three just 14 feet from the pin and damned if I didn’t three putt.

A 486 yard par 5 on #4 looked dramatic with two lakes on the right and an elevated green protected by sand traps right, left and center. In other words anything but accurately placed balls could spell disaster. Luckily I blasted out of the left side trap to within six feet of the pin picked up my par.

Welcoming bedspread display  at Pacifica resort crafted from tiny sea shells and sun flower seeds.

We finished the Mountain course playing our way to the final hole with T.J. doing mostly par and I waffling between five bogies and two pars.

There is an old adage in golf that says no matter how badly you game is on a particular day you will hit at least one memorable shot that will bring you back to play another day. For me that was on #9 as I struggled on this 400 yard hole communing with nature and waste areas until at last my ball rested in a deep bunker where I could barely see the pin. With my sand wedge blade wide open I blasted out. Carrumba! Choking on a facefull of wind blown sand I did not see where my ball landed but T.J. yelled, “Great shot, three feet from the pin.”  I sunk the putt for a 6  but who cared—it was the shot from the trap was all that mattered.

Later the first magnitude stars had just arrived, flashing their twinkling lights across the twilight sky as my wife and I settled down for dinner at Siempre, Pueblo Bonito Pacifica’s prime restaurant which features succulent offerings of Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Expansive picture windows with views of the tranquil pool and graceful oceanfront setting endowed our dining experience with a spiritual as well as physical grandeur. Our dishes of Chilean sea bass and plump scallops were perfectly cooked and achieved elegance without attitude. Like our dinner our total resort experience was so exceptional and so comfortably relaxing,  I have a feeling that in a few short years from now my travel compass will refuse to point anywhere but south and we’ll know the gods of Baja are calling again.

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