There’s an island in the Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Baja, with rocks. Not just any rocks. “The faces of gods.” The faces had names I don’t remember and stories that I forget, but the island itself bore a name I’d hear all week: Danzante.
We cruised around Danzante Island in a souped up Zodiac, on a snorkeling expedition to the adjacent isle of Catalina, a site with crystal-blue transparent waters from early January to late December. Always up for adventure, one willing idiot (me) somersaulted from the raft into the icy seas to the cheers and jeers of my boat mates.
“What could you see down there?” one asked, as I dragged my numb, blue body back on board.
“Everything,” I chattered.
It was, to not be hyperbolic, cool and awesome!
Coral shelves with colorful arrays of fish and a rather large and menacing eel. An assortment of minnow schools, and a particularly slow submarine sloth (puffer fish). I saw many of the region’s 1000-plus species and explored the Islands of Loreto from above and below -- “The Aquarium of the World,” according to Jacques Cousteau. Back on land, I played 63 holes of golf in a five-day visit with way more highs (scores) than lows, and in the process I can fondly say...it was a great stay of days at Danzante Bay.
The 734-acre, 188-room Villa del Palmar Loreto sits 300 miles north of Cabo on the sandy shore of Danzante Bay, with activity exploding from that cool coast in every direction; from the kayaks and boats heading out, to the spectacular Rees Jones golf course heading up, up, up into the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains. Lines of Adirondack chairs sit along a beachside boardwalk, with other sets on clifftop porches—purposeful props for taking in Mexico’s “First Billion Star Resort.” (Look up at night!) Sprawling sandy beaches, a handful of all-inclusive and a-la-carte eateries (all sharing one TV remote incidentally), pools arranged in the shape of a ginormous turtle and the Sabila Spa for that long lasting magical touch…that’s the Villa del Palmar Loreto.
Less than a two-hour Alaska Airlines flight from the In-N-Out Burger at LAX, and a comfortable 40-minute ride from the airport, the oasis in Loreto gives you everything you could want, especially great golf. “Great” is a generic and overused word for “pretty good” in most stories. The new 7,237-yard Danzante Bay Golf Club, opened in December 2017, is something more than that -- quite a bit more than just “great.” Owner and mega-developer Owen Perry said, “The golf holes here were built by the land.” (That “land” should build more courses then!)
Similar to Quivira in Los Cabos, Danzante Bay was built on land a golf course architect would seldom get a shot at in America. More Cabot Cliffs than Pebble Beach, and more remote than Bandon Dunes, you can’t help but marvel hole-by-beautiful-hole at what “The Open Doctor” pulled off. I admittedly get caught up on Signature Holes, and could honestly give the front nine four to six. The par-3 sixth and ninth holes dominate the front, with the former a cliff-backed cavern-carry with a superbly shaped green, and the latter a panoramic tee shot that would yield frame-worthy pictures to a 2-year-old. The scenery on the front nine alone is so intense and diverse. Riding through those valleys in a plush new golf cart you get the eerie sense you’re being watched by something. It’s classic Lone Ranger (the better, black and white, version) without the ensuing attack. The mountains tower above you, littered with cacti and caves. It’s almost Arizona, except for the ocean. Imagine standing on the tee box at Troon North or Quintero and seeing waves rolling by in the distance. Makes quite an impression.
“You nervous?” the bartender asked me, at the turn.
“For the back nine?” I replied.
He laughed. “No,” he pointed at the Patriots logo on my shirt.
“For tonight’s game?” I shook my head. “Hardly.” (Except for when Josh McDaniels forgets who he has at quarterback.)
“You a Pats fan?” I asked him.
“Yo soy fiesta,” the bartender replied -- a familiar tribute to Rob Gronkowski -- then added. “Everyone here loves the Patriots.”
While I’m pretty sure that’s not true, it was true I wasn’t nervous about the Patriots-Titans playoff game. (An easy win.) I was way more nervous about Danzante Bay’s back nine.
The back nine had been given a lot of hype, especially the 172-yard par-3 17th. Hole 17 was the leading factor in getting me on this trip, yet I remember thinking it couldn’t be real. Those images had to be Photoshopped.
“17 is beautiful,” the bartender said. “The Tom Brady of golf holes,” he added, perhaps with a monetary agenda, prior to receiving my tip.
“Let’s hope I’m that clutch then.” I replied, and he laughed.
“Caracola,” he said. I just nodded. (Pretty sure “clutch” didn’t translate correctly.)
Somehow I missed the sign to 10 and 11, and proceeded to the 12th hole by mistake. I was so wrapped up in the incredible seascape before me (on 12 and 13) that I didn’t even notice my misstep until hole 14. I didn’t make the same mistake my other rounds but, full disclosure, I rather enjoyed the (hole 9 to hole 12) transition the “mistake” way.
My favorite hole at Danzante Bay Golf Club is not the famed No. 17, even if that is by far the most beautiful. I preferred the short par-3 13th. A straight, short shot at the bay to a huge, rolling green. The amphitheater setting is overwhelmingly cool and, played from four different tee boxes, I loved it every which way.
But, getting to No. 17. This hole, with its green perched 257 feet above the Sea of Cortez, is so surreal from the tee boxes, and from any number of vantage points on the cliffs around it, that I could have spent an entire 24 hours sitting on the bench or rocks up there just watching the waves kick up spray, the golfers hit their many mulligans, and (eventually) the whales swim by (so I’m told). I was fortunate enough to be “clutch” on the Tom Brady of golf holes -- birdied it, legitimately, with an audience -- but I took far more away from the opportunities to play that hole than a penciled-in score. The view from 17’s many epic tee boxes, without a doubt, is top 10 of all time of the thousands of holes I’ve played. Does that make it worth a trip down here for you? For anyone?
It sure did for me.
Where It’s At: Loreto, the fishing town of 15,000 or so, sits 300 miles north of Cabo San Lucas on the Gulf of California in eastern Baja California Sur state, Mexico. (You’ll see the sunrise on the water. The sun sets behind the mountains.)
Ideal Stay & Play: 3-4 nights. 55 holes of golf. Play the course three times and the 17th hole one extra time, just for fun.
What It’s About: A high-end remote getaway with all-inclusive and a-la-carte dining options.
Family Focus: Swimming pools, kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling and buffet breakfasts. Definitely more of an adult and golfer escape than a kids one.
What I’d Change: Hmm...tough call. Not much to pick on. I guess, as a golf architecture student I might tweak the Danzante Bay routing a bit. I’d like to see the current 12th hole as #2, and the current 11th hole as #3, then have the course continue on to the current second hole as #4. Yes, I realize that would mean not returning to the clubhouse until after #11, but I believe that would maintain an incredible crescendo effect for the entire round—an uninterrupted path to the pinnacle at #17.
Day GolfGetaway: There’s only one other golf course nearby (Loreto Bay Golf Resort & Spa), and the thrilling, scenic, difficult, David Duval-renovated track has certainly seen better conditioned days. (Best hole: #15)
Photography: Aerial Photo of resort and Danzante Island by Jon Whittle (Courtesy of Hunter PR). “Room With a View”, “17 from Side”, and “Hotel from 9 Tee” photos by @mobilegolfer on Instagram.