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March 26, 2010

Ask Travelin' Joe: Cabo San Lucas, Pinehurst and Tucson

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at askjoe@golf.com.

Hi Joe,
Do you know of any decent quality courses in Cabo at an affordable rate?

Jeff Gilman
Via email

I get asked this question as much as any in my mailbag and every couple of years, I respond the same way: Sorry, the answer is no. They just don't exist. As superb a golf destination as Los Cabos is, its glaring weakness is that it lacks mid-priced and bargain/entry-level courses where one can sample the game without taking out a second mortgage.

I always start with the course formerly known as the San Jose del Cabo Municipal, which is now on its fourth name. It's a nine-holer that's presently called Punta Sur and it's usually under $100 for 18 holes, but I can't recommend it. It's barely 3,000 yards from the tips, it affords just one view of the Sea of Cortez — and that's right from the first tee — and it's practically suffocated by condos.

Better you should spend the extra pesos and play Puerto Los Cabos ($110-$195; 877-795-8727, puertoloscabos.com) where the afternoon rate in high season is $140. Intended to be 36 holes, it's 18 for now, with the front nine by Greg Norman and the back nine by Jack Nicklaus. With its rolling desert setting, a fistful of holes that edge of the Sea of Cortez and a couple of the most stunning par-3s in Mexico, Puerto Los Cabos is currently the region's best value.

Hello Joe,
I'm planning a golf trip for 10-20 players in mid-April. We're from Florida and want a location including at least one "famous" course. The best option so far is Pinehurst, but I'm concerned about the weather. TPC Sawgrass Stadium is closed and Harbour Town is being played the same weekend. What do you think?

Roy Katzin
Via email

You'll have a great buddies trip to Pinehurst in mid-April. I've done the same dates four times, never been rained on, mostly played in shirtsleeves and basked in the "Springtime in the South" aura that pervades, thanks to the profusion of dogwoods in bloom. The average daytime high for the dates you're thinking of is 72 degrees.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of quality options in and around the Pinehurst area, but if you're gunning for that special trophy course, such as Pinehurst No. 2, you'd best stay at the Pinehurst Resort (800-487-4653, pinehurst.com). Several lodging and package choices awaits, but one that might be a good fit for your group is the Buddy Trip of a Lifetime Package.

Included is three days/two nights, Villa accommodations (four guest rooms connected to a central gathering parlor), wet bar stocked with beverages of your choice, plus snacks, for your stay, unlimited golf, a round on No. 2 with single caddies who wear your name on their bib, breakfast and dinner daily, plus gifts, spa access, photos, tips from a Pinehurst pro and more.

OK, it comes with a cost: $2,300 per person based on double occupancy. But this is pretty close to the ultimate in pampering, camaraderie and a special day on No. 2.

Dear Joe,
Four of us from Denver did 36 a day for three days last March at We-Ko-Pa courses and Eagle Mountain. Back to that area again, or should we give Tucson a try? I read your reviews about the Phoenix area but I'm wondering which courses you like in Tucson?

Jeff Lindquist
Denver, Colorado

Travelin' Joe is partial to Phoenix, Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun — after all, I live here — but variety is the spice of golf, so by all means give Tucson at least one go-round. If you're into courses such as those you've listed above, then we're talking high-end, very scenic tracks, of which Tucson has plenty.

The hot course in town these days is the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain ($105-$195; 520-572-3500, ritzcarlton.com), the Jack Nicklaus-designed 27-holer that hosts the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Lush desert flora frames every fairway and the mountain vistas are superb. Bring your sand game and a putting touch, because the bunkers are huge and deep and the greens, even after a Nicklaus renovation right after the 2009 event, remain vexing to even the game's best.

Personal favorites include both the Mountain and Canyon courses at Ventana Canyon ($100-$175, 520-577-1400, ventanacanyonclub.com) a pair of mid-1980s Tom Fazio gems and La Paloma Country Club's ($85-$205; 520-742-6000, westinlapaloma.com) three nines, though you've got to stay at the adjacent Westin to get aboard.

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