The spectacular dune landscape found on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is where American developer Ken Jowdy decided to locate his latest project, calling in the design partnership of Davis Love III and architect Paul Cowley to transform the hilly desert terrain beside the new residential development into one of the best golf courses to open for play around the world in 2010.
It’s the 20th layout that Love Golf Design has built in recent years and the first time the company has moved outside the USA to construct a course. In total, 84 acres of paspalum-grassed fairways weave around a series of enormous sand hills with the back nine – which touch on the residential element of the project between holes 10 and 14 – measuring a meaty 4,010 yards, some 700 yards longer than the front nine.
Diamante Golf Club played host to the ninth edition of the World Club Championship in November 2012. Considered by some to be the best amateur event in golf, players waxed lyrically about the Dunes course and it was David Abell and Kelly Miller (representing Seminole) that lifted the trophy.
The 5 star hospitality starts the minute you pull up. Each group has a chaperone that escorts you into the pro-shop, then to the locker room and then escorts you to the driving range. It’s all very formal, but it’s a novelty worth enjoying. No money was spared at this place, and the isolated location of the club attracts the world’s wealthiest – and with Tiger stamping his name to the place, the club should flourish. The Dunes course was available to the public for a while when it opened to assist with selling properties, then it closed to members only, and now you can book tee times on the website again. We could tell that they would take money from anybody in order to keep revenues up. The driving range has all the luxuries one would expect at a place like this. Pyramids of Pro-v1s for as far as the eye can see, comfort stations and perfectly manicured lawns and greens. If you don’t mind having iguanas hanging out on the rocks nearby, then you should be able to blend in with the environment. The first hole is a par 5 to get things going. There’s about 150 yards carry over waste land to a generous fairway. It’s reachable in two shots for the longer hitters, although the hole does move right to left with plenty of obstacles in the way. The greens on the Dunes course are noticeably large and this characteristic continues throughout offering plenty of pin placements. Unlike other golf clubs down in Cabo, this course has a reputation of being excessively windy, and the day we played was no different. Davis Love’s opening stretch is a par 5, par 3, par4 and a par 4. There’s a slight back and forth feeling, but the challenge is thrilling. There are more hump and bumps in the fairways, changes in elevation, playing between v-shape valley dunes, teeing the ball across diagonal lines and hitting knock-down shots to keep the ball under the wind than you can keep up with. It’s like elements of Sand Hills and Royal Birkdale were given a work permit and moved to Mexico. The feeling of links golf is tremendously welcome and monumentally different than the other courses in the area. I found myself hitting the ball into punchbowls, playing bump and run shots from 60 yards out and compressing iron shots off my back foot more times than I could remember. The only difference with Scotland is that I was putting on factor 50 sun cream in between holes like it was going out of fashion.
The par 5 6th hole was most memorable for me on the front side, although many other holes impressed me. You tee off over a large waste area to a diagonal fairway moving right to left. The ball seems to hang in the area longer than you’d like, but if you’re fortunate to catch the fairway, you’re then left with a uphill approach shot through a narrow gap to a green surrounded by high dunes. It’s really well designed and everybody in the group greatly appreciated the architecture. The 7th is a long par 3 which moves away from the water to a large punchbowl green 210 yards away. It reminded me a little of the 5th at the Kingsley Club. The 8th is the weakest hole on the front side with its oversized fairway and not much more than a wedge for an approach shot. The course jumps right back into top 100 status with the long par 4 9th hole. Avoiding the well placed bunker complexes leaves you with the toughest decision you’ll face all day. The green has two tiers, but the top tier is about 10 feet above the bottom tier. With the pin on the back on the day I faced it, getting the yardage absolutely perfect was a must. If you miss that green or don’t get on the correct level, you’ll need to pull something out of a hat to make par.
The 10th hole is arguably a par 5, but it’s a par 4 on the card. The hole has no bunkers, but plays to a fairway the size of an aircraft carrier and goes uphill to a green 500 yards away. With the prevailing wind not really assisting, I hit a driver and 1 iron and just came up short. To the average golfer, this hole is not fair. The 11th is a world class par 3 playing uphill to a two tier green, similar to the likes of Ballybunion. You can already tell from this review that elements from around the world were nicely incorporated (if you can spot them), but NOT copied. I can’t stand golf courses which copy holes from around the world. Davis Love leveraged his international experience superbly at this venue and it certainly does not feel fake or forced to mirror the giants in Scotland. To the right of the 11th green is a sea of undeveloped sand which looks like the gates to heaven. It’s vast, untouched nature takes your breath away and is Diamante’s best kept secret.
The biggest news at this venue is what to do with the 12th and 13th. They are on a stretch of land which is wide open and doesn’t offer much in terms of excitement. 12 is a par 5 that plays down a slight hill, and 13 turns right around and comes right back up again. There’s a water feature in between the fairways, but the holes are pretty bland and forgettable. The club has decided that these holes will be taken out of commission in the near future and they will route 12 and 13 over the undeveloped land on the other side of the par 3 11th, which should be impressive beyond all levels of the imagination. Seeing that piece of land is a sight I will never forget. The 14th and 15th bring you back towards the Sea and gear you up for a strong finish. The 16th is a short signature par 3 playing straight towards the water and truly remarkable. You really feel like you’re sitting at the edge of the world just standing on that green. As always, the wind blows at you all day and club selection to this small target warrants the 6 man discussion on the tee box. From the 15th and 16th holes, you get a front row seat of Tiger’s course and how the land is being shaped. You can see where he has the fairways routed and we can only hope that it’s a success for him. The 17th is a par 5 which heads back towards the clubhouse. It’s all about the second shot here. The green sits up on a heavily guarded bluff 25 feet above the fairway and is as tempting as an ice-cream on a hot day. Shall I go for it and eat the Cornetto? Or lay up and settle for the boring ham sandwich? Let’s just say that I like ice-cream and my 3 iron was given the full treatment. It’s a really impressive hole and it’s all there in front of you. By laying up, I witnessed my fellow players struggling with judging the wedge shot and the green almost plays away from you which only adds to the difficulty. Top marks.
The 18th is a cape style hole which dog-legs right to left and requires you to carry over a ravine onto a small landing area (you can’t see much from the tee but there’s ample fairway once you get there). The danger is all below you to the left, so don’t get quick hands! The green plays downhill and to the left and with the wind blowing in your face, nobody had less than a 5 iron into this final target. A running theme on the Dunes course is that it’s demanding, punishing, rewarding and overflowing with outstanding design variety. It was our favourite course on the trip and we certainly would play it again at a moment’s notice. It’s a course you really want to play well on as you can tell it’s a world class venue, most notably as it recently hosted the World Club Championships. There are some golf courses worth the extra effort to find, and Diamante (Dunes) is on the short list.