Stop me if you’ve heard this before: I’m paired with Tiger Woods today, and after the first hole, I’m 1 up.
Playing Diamante’s El Cardonal in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the very first completed course from Tiger Woods Design, Woods entertained a handful of golf scribes for three holes, numbers 10 through 12, after regaling Diamante members and invited guests with shot making and design explanations over the front nine. He lipped out for par at the 344-yard, par-4 10th. I bunted a drive down the middle and carved a little 9-iron to eight feet. I yanked my birdie putt so badly it was almost comical, but after one hole, it was Travelin’ Joe 4, Tiger Woods, 5.
It didn’t faze Tiger in the least. Eight years after he began his design career, he finally had a completed project. And suffering from ongoing effects of a stomach virus of some kind — he said he’s lost roughly 15 pounds in the past two weeks — he wore a big grin. Tiger Woods was a happy guy.
After ongoing projects in Dubai, Asheville, N.C. and elsewhere in Mexico had fallen through, most of them victims of a real estate collapse, Woods seemed positively giddy that his El Cardonal course had finally opened.
“I really like the way it turned out,” Woods told Golf.com. “It evolved. The arroyos (dry creeks) became more of a factor in the strategy and playability. We widened them and cleaned them out, so that people could challenge them and recover from them.”
Woods reaffirmed his commitment to building this course, and others, with an eye towards walkability and an emphasis on options and the ground game.
“I wanted to provide many different ways to play the holes,” he said. “I didn’t want a lot of forced carries and wanted almost every hole to allow shots to run onto the greens.”
Mission accomplished. Diamante’s El Cardonal is a sturdy test from the tips, at 7,363 yards, par 72, with a slope of 140 and a rating of 75.9. From the middle set of the five tees, however, it’s a very manageable 6,291 yards, with a 70.9 rating and 127 slope. Fairways are wide (“it’s windy here,” Woods said, “so we provided width”), greens are large and sport of variety of shapes and contours and recoveries are easily in reach, even with the desert framing most of the holes.
Smartly, the Woods design team of Beau Welling and Shane Robichaud, along with Ken Jowdy, developer of Diamante and Bryon Bell, president of Tiger Woods Design, knew that the site for El Cardonal couldn’t compete with Diamante’s existing, right-on-the-ocean Dunes course for sheer drama. Consequently, they built El Cardonal to complement the Dunes, not to compete with it. Thanks to its attractive desert setting, long views of the Pacific Ocean, excellent, if subtle risk/rewards and tremendous variety, Woods succeeded. Tiger Woods’ first design is a winner.
And, alas, so was Tiger. After a dismal double-bogey 5 for me at the 189-yard, par-3 11th, I chipped in Dubuisson-like fashion to save my par at 12 — but Tiger ran home a 30-foot birdie to beat me. Well done all around, Senor Tiger.