The golf writer wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday by, atypically, not playing golf. And that’s how she ended up playing one of the most unforgettable golf courses in the world, Jack Nicklaus’ cliff-hugging Quivira Golf Club.
THE JOURNEY BEGAN last fall, when I realized that I wanted to celebrate this zero birthday in a special way. All birthdays, mind you, are worth celebrating. Yours, mine, his, the dog’s. There’ve been many rounds of golf, and rounds of adult beverages, in honor of my birthdays and any other occasions that warranted a toast or an outing.
But, 60, wow! I looked at my husband and thought, “We are both thriving like never before. We have strong health, deep love, meaningful work. If ever a birthday deserved a special celebration, it’s this one.”
Landlocked in Colorado for two years now, I fantasized about palm trees, umbrella drinks and beach cabanas. And to my surprise, when I told my husband, “You know, I think I can do without golf for once,” he concurred and gave me his blessing to choose a warm and sunny winter destination.
The caveat: He could spare only enough time to take off for a long weekend.
WHERE COULD WE GO?
Hmm. I asked my Facebook friends, where would you go? Florida, Gulf Coast or East? California, San Diego or Palm Springs? Cancun? Bahamas? The Dominican Republic?
I ruled out the California destinations because, been there and done that. I started looking at the flights from Denver and noticed that the eastern destinations required a full travel day, with lost hours en route. Even Cancun, which I thought was not far away, required crossing two time zones. I didn’t mind losing two hours on the way back to winter, but I wasn’t going to forfeit them en route to warm days and nights.
So I looked at the time zone map and studied the odd detours the lines between Pacific and Mountain, and Mountain and Central, take as they meander south into Mexico.
The northern part of the Baja Peninsula is Pacific time, but a horizontal line across the middle puts the southern part in Mountain time. East of that is Mountain time as far south as Puerto Vallarta, where Mexico abruptly goes Central from there, both south and east.
Looking at nonstops from Denver, I pencilled a circle around Cabo San Lucas, and started searching “all-inclusive” resorts, narrowing the search to “adults-only all-inclusive.”
And that’s how I chose Pueblo Bonito Pacifica, along a quiet stretch of the Pacific Ocean just west of Cabo and the tip of the Baja Peninsula. We booked four nights that would include all our meals and drinks for less than $500 a night. The three-hour flight would get us to Mexico on Friday before noon, and the Tuesday afternoon departure let us sleep in on our last day.
I told my friends. And one of them insisted that we play Quivira Golf Club, which offered GottaGoGolf complimentary golf during our stay at the adjacent resort. “We’re not bringing clubs,” I said. “Or shoes.” No problem, the resort had plenty of TaylorMade sets just for people like us. And, it allowed tennis shoes. Lucky for us, we had no other excuses.
Packing tip: If you make a trip like this, here’s what you need: 2 swimsuits, a cover-up or sarong, pool sandals, 4 sundresses for dinners, sandals for evening, a workout tank and tights, 1 pair of shorts (for golf or whale watching) and 2 shirts that work with them. On the plane, wear a sweater you can use for evening, and/or a pullover you can take on a golf or whale watching outing, and, of course, tennis or walking shoes. Throw in undies, socks, and packets of sunscreen, and now you can carry on your luggage.
That way, when your planeful of happy travelers lands at the modern, clean Cabo International Airport, you’ll be able to navigate quickly through a roomful of rowdy timeshare sellers to the curb.
That’s where we checked in with Cabo Shuttle Services for the ride we had reserved.
Timesaver tip: It’s about a 40-minute drive to PB Pacifica, which would be the last stop on the $100-a-couple (roundtrip) shuttle ride. We sprang for another $60 to shorten the trip in a luxury vehicle with a friendly, Corona-stocked driver.
Of course our room wasn’t quite ready, so we headed down to one of Pacifica’s restaurants. The beautifully landscaped property, we saw, sat right alongside the ocean, and the other guests had staked out loungers along one of two pools, either the quiet, circular pool right next to the beach or the big, lively pool with the swim-up bar.
I noticed something else right away: The food was excellent. Nothing like those Club Med all-inclusives of old, where the crab and shrimp on the buffet quickly disappeared. And the umbrella drinks were NOT watered down. This was going to be fun.
I had read so many reviews of the resort, by opting out of the pricier tower rooms we knew to be prepared for a small room in need of some updating that had decorative stones inset in the floor that drove many guests batty. We weren’t planning to spend our four days in the room.
Turns out, we’d have been perfectly happy to do so. We were given a two-room suite with a deck that encompassed both rooms and sat at the edge of the complex next to the beach, with Sea of Cortez sunrise and Pacific Ocean sunset views. The king-size bed, decorated with glass pebbles spelling out “HAPPY BIRTHDAY,” was comfy, and overflowing with pillows due to our responses to the resort’s guest-friendly “pillow menu.” There were beers and soft drinks in the fridge, a room service menu (24-7, included) … and the stones. Silly to complain about, they were easy to avoid after the first hour in the room.
And, with the weather comfortable at 80 by day and 65 by night, it was easy to relax into the rhythms of the resort. Coffee, breakfast, workout, long hours in a lounger or beach bed served by Little Ivan (again, delicious food and substantial cocktails, with bottled water chilled in champagne buckets) and the only big decision we had to make daily: where to eat dinner. Pueblo Bonito has four Cabo resorts, and guests of one may take a free shuttle and dine at any restaurant (with an additional fee charged only at each resort’s primo spot). But with only four nights we were content with our property’s three options: Pescados (Asian fusion), Siempre (a continental spin on the local cuisine) and Peninsula (the most elegant and creative option, with seafood, pasta and beef).
We did notice that each menu had a few dishes that were not included — lobster, for instance, and premium cuts of steak. We enjoyed the included meals, among them the best seabass dish I have ever had and a wonderful pasta for my seafood-allergic husband. Then for our “final final,” we’d head over to the beachside Peninsula Bar for a cocktail from Tall Ivan, whose fun personality and pride in drink-crafting made him a memorable character.
In the mornings, breakfast at Siempre included an omelet station where I would have liked a cooking lesson from the woman who presided. She cracked two eggs with one hand and poured them onto a greased griddle, then added whatever we chose.
On Super Bowl Sunday, my birthday, we had booked a two-hour whale-watching trip with Cabo Adventures. A resort contact had given us a heads-up on the company’s 2-for-1 offer on Black Friday. There were many adventures to be had, including swimming with dolphins and sailing at sunset, but this one seemed short enough and civilized enough. I felt a tad wistful, however, that morning at the resort, seeing women in cute golf clothes at breakfast before their round at Quivira Golf Club, the course we could spot just up the beach.
A shuttle driver took us down to the marina in Cabo, which was waking up slowly after a typical Saturday night of partying, and we boarded an inflatable motor boat with 22 other customers and a crew of three — captain, guide Pancho and photographer. Guests don’t always see whales, they warned us, but they would do their best to find some.
We slowly made our way out of the harbor into the Sea of Cortez, stopping for photos at Cabo’s famous stone arches. Then the captain kicked up the engines and we were flying into the Pacific. The crew of a boat on its way back to the harbor waved to us and pointed out to sea, and soon we were tracking a breaching humpback. Pancho speculated about why our friend kept leaping out of the water; usually, he said, it’s to show off for a female nearby. And after a time, we saw the lucky lady. Now there were two whales frolicking. The couple next to us said they had been whale watching several times and never seen such a show.
On the way back to the harbor, we had a good look at Quivira. Its fairways meandered up and down along the ocean, and one hole appeared to require a downhill tee shot to a little green at the very edge of a steep cliff. Even without clubs and golf shoes, we couldn’t wait to play the course, although by now we had heard that six-hour rounds were the norm there. We would not worry about our scores, we agreed, and just enjoy the experience of Quivira.
The Eagles’ victory and a “real Mexican coffee” fire show by our waiter Lazaro at Siempre topped off a great birthday. But I was ready for golf.
I put on my new Loudmouth Toucan pattern shorts with a bright yellow shirt and my comfy Skechers walking shoes, bringing along hat, golf glove and a few balls. A shuttle took us down the beach to the golf club, a sleek, modern structure with indoor and outdoor dining that includes a highly regarded steakhouse. Pueblo Bonito guests can dine there for a $35 surcharge.
We picked up our TaylorMade rentals and headed for the oceanside driving range, where we had the chance to chat with Antonio Reynante, Quivira Golf Club’s director of golf. The charismatic Antonio assured us that the course encourages rounds of five hours, not six, and that pace-of-play complaints are rare because of 1. Four “comfort stations” that feed and lubricate players, with every morsel and sip included in the $345-rack-rate green fee and 2. Amazing views that inspire frequent photo stops. Women, he said, love the course and especially the 4,763-yard forward tees, although longer hitters appreciate the white tees at 5,458 yards.
I loved the course from the forward tees, which made sense for a vacation round at sea level with rental clubs and “comfort station” stops. The layout was very woman-friendly, beginning with the 261-yard first hole, but man-friendly too, with a clear picture of what we needed to do on MOST holes. We thought the views were pretty good on the first four holes, and then we read the sign directing us to the fifth hole. It recommended we enjoy the long ride to the comfort station en route to the fifth tee.
Up and up we went, switchback after switchback, stopping once, awestruck, to take pictures. Finally we arrived at a little hut built into the cliff where there were quesadillas and a fully stocked bar with a few tables overlooking the ocean. The group in front of us was still on the tee, so we lingered a bit before eyeing the challenge before us: a tiny par-4 rated the No. 1 handicap hole on the course.
It was that hole we’d seen from whaleland a day earlier, with a fairway dipping sharply down and then left to a tiny green on the edge of the Pacific. From the tee, we could see a bunker out to the right offering an aiming point. But we could not see the green.
My husband hit a beautiful drive from the 288-yard blue tee, and I made solid contact from the red tee, on a perfect line to meander down the right side of the fairway and then, I thought, trundle left on down to the green.
We saw no golf balls as we steered the cart toward the green. We did see a golf course marshal, shaking his head and pointing down to the cliff behind the green. We held up two fingers questioningly. Yes, he nodded, both of us had carried the green.
We somewhat happily retrieved our balls, took our drops and finished with pars.
The other most memorable hole followed, the one in the main photo with this post. It’s a short, uphill par-3 farther along the cliff with tee-to-green ocean views.
At the turn, it is the custom at Quivira Golf Club to sit down and enjoy a small burger. Even my husband, who barely eats and never drinks during a round, had a cocktail and a bite in the Oasis comfort station, and then we were off and running for the back nine.
The final comfort station, or tequila stop as I was now calling them, awaited us at the top of 16, another great hole with a big downhill tee shot. A great hole for the men, anyway. Here and at a couple of other holes, the forward tees were set to take all of the carry, and thus the adventure, out of the tee shot for the short hitter. So I’d recommend that Quivira suggest a white-red “combo tee” to make the course a little more interesting and less patronizing for avid women golfers with established handicaps who can tee off capably.
But now I sound like those people complaining about the stones in the floor at Pueblo Bonito Pacifica, don’t I? As we walked along the beach from the course back to our room, my husband and I agreed: Quivira rivals Pebble Beach (and, for those who prefer it, Bandon Dunes) with its well-crafted holes and awe-inspiring views, but its warm weather and four comfort stations put it over the top in bucket-list standards.
Given the choice for future birthdays, I’ll take Quivira.