Courses and Travel

Mexico's two Glorious Courses

Photo: Tony Roberts

No. 17 steals your heart, then your ball

In Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula, golf and fishing rule the day -- sometimes even the same day. That might explain why nobody blinked an eye when I wheeled up to the bag drop at Cabo del Sol with a 90-pound yellowfin tuna in the trunk of my rental car. The staff, dressed in crisp white shirts, strapped the giant fish to a golf cart and sped off to the kitchen. I headed to the 1st tee. By the time I made the turn, my catch was making the rounds on sushi platters.

That's life in Cabo. You wake up to the sun, have a cup of Mexican coffee (tequila shot optional) and decide where to start your adventure. My assignment was to catch a trophy fish in the morning, then play a round of golf before dark. Would my body hold out? The bar had been set long ago: In 1978 Jack Nicklaus won the Australian Open after landing a record-setting 1,358-pound black marlin off the Great Barrier Reef. Jack lapped the field that week; all I had to do was bunt it around for 18 holes.

FACT FILE
CABO DEL SOL
Greens fees $144-$228 (Ocean), $114-$198 (Desert); 800-386-2465;
cabodelsol.com

FISHING INTERNATIONAL
(Solmar Fleet) 800-950-4242;
fishinginternational.com

At 7:07 a.m. we dropped our lines into the Pacific. Within minutes, pods of dolphins surrounded our boat, the Solmar IV, jumping and back-flipping by the dozen. This sent our intrepid first mate Manuel scrambling for the rods (and me into a cold sweat). I later learned that when dolphins jump, it means big fish are chasing them. This was good news for us. Apparently it was decided that reel-in duties would go to the guy cowering behind his notebook. "No siesta! No siesta!" captain Mario shouted, as I took it slow, pretending to savor the moment like a true sportsman. By fish No. 2 my arms were jelly. I was trembling like a schoolgirl on the chin-up bar. But in less than an hour we had five yellowfins in the cooler.

It was past 3 o'clock when I got to the golf course. After unloading the fish, I set off to play Cabo del Sol's Ocean Course, a world-class Nicklaus design. A few creaky warm-up swings later, I let one fly from the 1st tee. It shot dead right, off a cactus and into a bunker. I wound up saving bogey with an eight-footer, but followed it with a string of doubles and others. By the 6th hole, I'd learned to keep my feeble fade on the carpet, aiming into the desert on the left and letting the ball flutter back into play.

On the inward nine I abandoned the back tees altogether and started pegging my ball a step or two off the cart. Fatigue had set in. My legs buckled on every swing. My back twitched, and gripping the club burned my forearms -- which are more like Olive Oyl's than Popeye's. But I knew what awaited me. Nicklaus has called the Ocean Course's closing trio "the three finest finishing holes in all of golf." Set on the rocky coast, these stunners could bring a golfer back from the dead, which is about what I needed.

After a one-putt bogey on the par-4 16th, I went to 17 on a mission. This hole plays 175 across the beach to a green draped over the seawall. A postcard. I coaxed a 5-iron onto the surface, some 40 feet from the cup. My lag came up six feet short, but I stalked the remaining real estate like the Bear himself. At last I gave it a tap, poised to pull back in horror, but the ball dove into the hole. In a final burst of adrenaline I tore around the green, shaking my first. Pathetic, maybe, but it was my first par -- and on Cabo's signature hole.

After pumping two into the deep blue at the last, I staggered off the 18th green like Ken Venturi when he won the '64 Open. My fishing buddy Brad was there to meet me, all showered and primped. I was a mess -- sore, sweat-soaked, still reeking of fish. But I had that par at 17. Brad drove us to a local beach haunt called Zipper's, where we brought in some tuna steaks and the chef did them up three ways -- grilled, breaded and sauteed. We ate and drank like kings until 10 o'clock, when my body finally shut down.

On the ride back to the hotel, we passed the golf course. I took a long look toward 17, the black ocean behind it. It had been a wild day, and I felt a strange kinship with Nicklaus. I had done what he did (well, sort of) and on his own course. In golf, I thought, you grab your glory any way you can.

4 Fish & Play Hotspots
BANDON, OREGON
Fish the local rivers for rainbow trout, then tee it up at jaw-dropping Pacific Dunes.

BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Haul in a blue marlin before you gaze over the blue Pacific from Mauna Kea.

MIAMI, FLORIDA
Drift the flats for lively bonefish, then tackle Doral's Tour stop, the Blue Monster.

MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA
Bag a barracuda in time for a round at The Dunes, Myrtle's granddaddy.

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