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A New Duel in the Desert at Mexico’s Cabo del Sol

The resort's Tom Weiskopf-designed Desert course is getting a makeover from Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design that should elevate its status; and more course architecture news.
The Desert Course is getting six new holes as part of a revamped layout. 

The Desert Course is getting six new holes as part of a revamped layout. 

In major championships and in course design, Tom Weiskopf was inevitably overshadowed by his fellow Ohio State Buckeye, Jack Nicklaus. That was certainly the case at Cabo del Sol, in Los Cabos, Mexico. 

Nicklaus was gifted oceanside property for the development’s first course in 1994 and he took full advantage, creating a dramatic layout, the Ocean course, that became a staple of world top 100 lists. 

Seven years later, Weiskopf debuted the Desert course. Attractive and strategic, it would have been the star almost anywhere else. The aptly named layout plunges in and out of canyons framed by cacti and boulders, and while it lacks the in-your-face seaside interaction enjoyed by the Ocean, the memorable long views of the Sea of Cortez occur early and often. 

How times have changed.

Nicklaus’ Ocean course lost two of its ocean holes in the past decade due to a redesign, then was repackaged as the Cove Club, its tee times restricted to members and their guests. In March 2022, Weiskopf’s Desert course partially shut down to accommodate a major makeover. 

However, it’s Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design, led by Dana Fry and ASGCA president Jason Straka, that gets the second bite of the apple. Six holes on the south side of the Transpeninsular Highlway — the portion of the property closest to the Sea of Cortez — will be abandoned, with real estate development and new holes at the Cove Club course replacing them. 

So bid a fond farewell to Desert holes 1 and 14 through 18. Fry/Straka will construct six new holes on the north side of the highway, on higher, more dramatically contoured ground, but farther away from the sea. The remaining 12 holes will stay open until November 2022. 

Afterwards, Fry/Straka will modify those holes to blend with the new ones it is creating. Eventually, the course will close to public access, but be available to guests of the on-site Hacienda del Mar Los Cabos and Grand Fiesta Americana Los Cabos hotels. Two hotels slated to come on board in mid-2023, the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Cabo San Lucas at Cabo del Sol and the Park Hyatt Los Cabos will also have access to the newly renamed Cabo del Sol Golf Club.

Gullane to Get Transformation? Perhaps

Just down the road from Muirfield in eastern Scotland is Gullane Golf Club, a 54-hole complex that enjoys one of the most memorable vistas in Scottish golf, the panoramic hilltop view from the seventh tee at its No. 1 course. 

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From there, you can see Edinburgh, Fife, dozens of fairways and flagsticks and Bass Rock jutting up from the sea. In late March, the club posted on social media that the MacKenzie & Ebert design team were on-site to commence work on a 54-strategic review across all three courses. The club promised “exciting times ahead for Gullane!”

I’ve long felt that Gullane No. 1 is one of the true underrated seaside links in Scotland. It’s understandably overshadowed by nearby Muirfield and North Berwick, and it’s inevitably mispronounced by Americans. It’s “Gill-un,” from what I remember. It proved eminently testing at the 2015 Scottish Open, when Rickie Fowler won with 12-under-par, and played host to the event again in 2018. Its No. 2 course, while not the test No. 1 is, has nearly equal the character and its No. 3 course isn’t far behind. 

Organized golf at Gullane dates to the early 1890s and all three courses bear the architectural imprint of Open champion Willie Park Jr. Part of me doesn’t want to see such ancient holes tampered with, but without question, they’ve retained the right firm whether there are alterations or restorations. 

MacKenzie and Ebert have performed their renovation magic at Japan’s top course, Hirono and at seven of the ten existing Open Championship venues, including Royal Portrush, Turnberry (Ailsa) and Carnoustie. Already the par-3 ninth on Gullane No. 1 has benefitted from a recent face-lift, where an open sand carry has replaced the scrub previously in place between tee and green. We’ll keep an eye on what transpires at this venerable club.

Nearly seven years ago, Bandon Dunes domo Mike Keiser made headlines with his bold intentions to build a course in northern Scotland. Keiser and co-developer Todd Warnock had proposed teaming with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to craft a seaside layout just north of fabled Royal Dornoch, to be called Coul Links. 

Coore had told Keiser that the dune-flecked, beachside setting was spectacular — perhaps the best ever. Having seen the site back then, I can concur. Predictably, fierce protests arose from the anti-development factions and Keiser and Warnock spent the next two years modifying their original proposals. Yet, despite Keiser’s unimpeachable reputation as a steward of the environment, the plans were ultimately rejected by the Scottish Government in 2020. In late March 2022, a ray of sunshine appeared.

As reported in Golf Course Architecture magazine, Communities for Coul, a local organization formed in response to that 2020 decision, has submitted a scoping application to Highland Council, a precursor to the filing of a full planning application. The new proposal offers to reduce the impact on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Coul Links.

 The new plan would reduce the amount of land within the SSSI that would be used for tees, greens, fairways and paths by 40 percent. Under the revised proposal, the only disturbance to the ground at in the SSSI would be at tees and greens. “The fairways, which were originally planned to be stripped and regrassed, as in a normal golf construction, would now be mowed out of the native grasses,” the magazine stated.

This highly unusual mow-out has only taken place at three recent courses, Machrihanish Dunes and Askernish in Scotland, and at Sheep Ranch at Keiser’s Bandon Dunes, designed by Coore/Crenshaw. A spokesman for the project stated, “The beauty of the mow-out is we get to keep all the micro-undulations that are there. It would be a progressive process of refining the turf to make it playable for golf, but we have studied Machrihanish Dunes closely (a David McLay Kidd design) and we are confident it can work at Coul.”

Water usage would be severely curtailed and no herbicides or pesticides would be applied anywhere on the course except for tees and greens. We won’t be teeing it up at Coul Links anytime soon, but at least there’s a renewed possibility it could happen in our lifetimes. And that’s a tantalizing prospect.