An exclusive look at the new Tiger Woods course at Diamante
Eight years after setting up his design company, Tiger Woods will unveil his first-ever golf course next fall at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas. What’s the steak behind the sizzle?
There’s not an awful lot to see at the moment besides a half-dozen dirt fairways, acres of scrub, coloredstakes marking the position of tees and greens, and a maze of tracks left by a fleet of heavy machines and ATVs. Construction of Tiger Woods’ first-ever golf course is well underway, however, and plans call for it to be open by this time next year.
That’s when the world will finally see if Tiger Woods the designer can possibly be as good as Tiger Woods the golfer.
Golf fans have waited for years for Woods’ design company to complete a project (courses in Dubai, North Carolina, and a second in Mexico have all fallen foul of the stagnant economy) giving us plenty of time to speculate over what the number-one player in the world’s method and design philosophy might be. Would he work remotely or would he be more hands-on? Would he prefer excessively long tracks with forced carries, deep bunkers, and insidious water hazards—courses so demanding, in fact, only he and other elite golfers could hope to score well on them? Or would he build something everyone could play? Would his style be penal or strategic, heroic or minimalist?
Photos of Woods dressed in jeans, T-shirt and boots wandering the site at Diamante, an upscale resort/residential community five miles west of Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, as well as frequent visits to the property to check on progress, suggest he definitely hasn’t taken a back seat since signing the contract with Diamante owner Ken Jowdy a couple of years ago.
“I cannot say enough about how great it has been to see Tiger’s level of passion and involvement,” says Jowdy. “It has been clear from our first meeting that this is a very important part of his career.”
As for the type of course Woods is building, a map of the most recent rendering offers up one or two clues. First, the irrigation pond, full of gray water pumped in from the Cabo San Lucas sewage treatment plant and which slicers will find off the 3rd tee, is the only significant water hazard on the entire course. Second, there are fewer than 50 bunkers, most of them positioned to the sides of generous fairways and staggered to challenge shotmakers but also spaced sufficiently far apart to give inconsistent drivers a good chance of finding the short grass.
El Cardonal—the course is named after the ranch that once stood here—won’t be easy by any means, but it is clear, even now, the emphasis will be on enjoyment. “The variety of holes and strategic options will promote shot-making while still creating a very playable experience,” says Woods. “I hope the course will be memorable, challenging, and fun. As a player who has always focused on course management, I want it to be strategic with risk-reward opportunities.
“I grew up playing some of the great, old-style golf courses of the West Coast,” he continues. “I feel they helped shape me as a player. They used bunkers and other hazards not as a deterrent, but instead to force players to make a decision. After seeing the El Cardonal site for the first time and being reminded of those courses, I wanted to incorporate this element of strategic decision-making.”
After touring the site and reading Woods’s words, there’s an unmistakable feeling of relief. Given his number of achievements and global superstardom, it’s conceivable the man regarded by many as the best golfer in history might have let his ego run wild and felt inclined to create courses that somehow reflected his greatness and which didn’t necessarily lie naturally on the land.
Instead, Woods and his design associates Beau Welling and Shane Robichaud, both former Tom Fazio employees, are moving relatively little dirt, and using the natural arroyo that bisects the site sparingly and sensibly. Others might have been tempted to rely heavily on this feature, crossing it from several tees or forcing numerous aerial approach shots that could sink golfers unable to loft their ball very high. Woods brings it into play on only seven holes—three on the front, four on the back—making its appearances stimulating and exhilarating rather than repetitive and tedious.
The exhilaration begins amid the dunes with a birdie opportunity on the 555-yard par-5 opener, followed by a meaty 205-yard par-3 and the aforementioned risk-reward par-4 that tips at 360 yards with a water carry to a wee welcome mat of a green. Throughout the course Woods gives the bunkers a traditional look and feel, and his use of them as decision-makers reveals itself in earnest on the uphill 469-yard fourth, the No. 1 handicap hole, which insists on a tee shot to bisect the bunkers staggered on either side of the ideal landing area. Ditto the tricky 422-yard fifth, where six strategically placed hollows of hostile silicate await. A large bunker fronts the boomerang green on the 586-yard par-5 sixth, making an eagle—and even a birdie—hard earned.
You could say the same for El Cardonal’s third and final par 5—the 563-yard double-dogleg 14th featuring 10 bunkers—and its dramatic beauty of a finisher, a 491-yarder with an ocean backdrop that won’t easily be had in fewer than four strokes.
El Cardonal, which cost roughly $12 million to build, boasts ocean views from every hole while preserving the terrain’s existing, irregular contours. It will be sprigged with Platinum Paspalum, a new turfgrass developed by Fort Myers, Fla.-based Turf Ecosystems. It has a slightly darker shade of green than other cultivars of the salt-tolerant species, and will provide consistently good fairway lies and flawless putting surfaces. It will also help Woods and his team meet Jowdy’s instructions to the letter.
“Very simply, I asked Tiger to design the best golf course possible,” says Jowdy. “I didn’t make any specific demands beyond that because I trust his vision and passion for what makes great golf.” Bryon Bell, President of Tiger Woods Design, says Jowdy and Woods were very much on the same page. “They really had a shared vision,” he says. “They both saw a course people would love playing and want to go back to time and time again.”
Diamante is a very private domain offering a number of luxurious residential and vacation club options. Lots range from about $300,000 to $2 million. Not surprisingly, everything is first-class—from the service in the Dunes Clubhouse to the resort’s amazing man-made, ten-acre, salt-water lagoon; to the oneand- a-half-mile-long private beach from which you’ll spot California Gray whales breaching between October and March.
Diamante Cabo San Lucas opened in late 2009 almost five years after Jowdy, a native of Connecticut who had lived and worked in Mexico since 1998, first saw the land. The previous landowner had worked the 1,500- acre spread for 40 years but, at the age of 89, finally decided to sell. Jowdy was on his way to catch a plane to the U.S. when his broker let him know the land had just been made available. “I told him I would be back in a few days,” says Jowdy. “But he said that if I got on the plane the property would be gone before I returned.”
Jowdy turned his car around, and agreed to a deal with the owner that day, eventually closing in March 2006 with a loan from Lehman Brothers. Two years later and four months from the date Diamante was set to open, however, Lehman filed for bankruptcy and everything stopped. When the dust cleared, Jowdy learned that his loan was now in the hands of Danske Bank, headquartered in Copenhagen.
“I believe the single most important factor that convinced them to restart our funding was the fact we had what could be a world-class golf course that was very nearly complete,” says Jowdy. “If it did not get maintained, the property’s biggest asset would turn back to desert.”
The world-class golf course to which Jowdy refers is the Dunes Course designed by Davis Love III, a surprising choice for such an enviably sandy site. Architects such as Bill Coore, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, and David McLay Kidd—all of whom had produced instant classics from similar terrain—were surely more obvious options.
But Jowdy says he had known Davis and Mark Love as well as their Senior Design Associate, Paul Cowley, “for several years. I spent a lot of time with them on a project that didn’t actually get built,” he explains. “After getting to know them, I really began to appreciate their approach to designing and building golf courses.”
When he first saw the land at Diamante, Jowdy instantly thought of Love. “I knew this was exactly what they were looking for,” he says. “And I knew they would put everything they had into making it as great as it could be. They always made me feel like this project was just as important to them as it was to me.”
Love described the site as one of the ten best in the world, and 18 months after it opened, Golf magazine ranked his Dunes Course at Diamante an incredible 58th in the world. Two years later, it rose to No. 52.
Can El Cardonal achieve the same stature on a far different tract of land?
Jowdy is confident it will meet or exceed all expectations. “I’ve brought many people out here who know a lot more about golf than I do, and every one of them is very excited to see how it turns out,” he says. “We feel it will be the perfect complement to the Dunes Course.”
That is undoubtedly true. With views of the ocean, natural arroyos, plenty of interesting movement in the ground, and the odd cardon cactus dotted about, the site for El Cardonal holds great appeal. And though the course is still one year shy of being ready for play, it appears as though Tiger Woods is certainly making the most of it.
Tony Dear is a regular Colorado AvidGolfer contributor. Though not open to the public, El Cardonal can be played by prospective property owners and those renting a condo, villa, or house on the property. Visit diamantecabosanlucas.com or call 866-901-1456 for more information.