[Editor’s Note: We interrupt Jay’s series on Casa de Campo…again…for another installment of his Golf Rum Diaries, this time on Cabo del Sol (Part 1). The Casa series will conclude shortly, further continuing his analysis of golf in the Mexico/Caribbean/U.S. Offshore/Central America region. In the meantime, here’s the first piece on Mexico. As for the end of the Casa work: Jay get your laptop humming!]
[Author’s reply: Yes, Dad…]
CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO – The Mexican sunrise over the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar silhouettes tall swaying palm trees and swerving sea gulls in tableau against a rainbow palette of pastel colors: soft pink, burnished gold, velvety purple, and soothing aquamarine. All the beach lies in restful silence, hushed before the coming morning. With the Sun still waiting to crest over the horizon, all you see is shadows – just serene outlines of the shapes of the leaves of the palms, the perfect curve of the hotel dome soaring to its apex, and the rugged, rocky promontory topped by the lighthouse standing sentinel over the majestic Baja cape.
It’s just after six a.m., and in exactly six hours I will be winging back northeast to the frantic mania of New York City and the breakneck pace of an American law practice, but for a few more blessed minutes I can hear absolutely nothing but the whisper of the world as the waves of the Sea of Cortes crash in their tumult against the surf, as they have since the Great Deluge receded and the Baja Peninsula was raised from the depths. Despite the excellent golf, the incomparable weather of this tropical paradise, and the accommodating generosity of my hosts, right now is the moment of grace, the blessed peace I sought most earnestly in this assignment, solace and solitude amidst the traffic of the World, exactly what one looks for in a vacation destination.
When you stop and listen, you can hear nature speak to you, and that’s worth more than any oro y plata.
It’s been a schizophrenic whirlwind of a trip. Six rounds of golf over five solid golf courses in five days, but also a series of interminable dinners, whirligig tours and lockhorn tests of will with one person doing her best to starve me to the point of absurdity, foisting upon me some of the zaniest food options the region has to offer, culinary terrors so cockamamie they should be banned as illegal human experimentation. But we’ll get to that later…
Cabo San Lucas and its sister city of San Jose del Cabo lie roughly in 22 degrees 53 minutes North, 109 degrees, 55 minutes West, well with in the tropics and also within a region once confusingly referred to as the Republic of Sonora, but unrelated to the Sonoran desert of Arizona. It truly is a paradise, if a hot one. Golden, sun-drenched days fade into peaceful, azure nights and both Sun and moon reflect off the violently churning surf of the Sea of Cortes as it makes its way to meet the Pacific Ocean.
The weather makes it, both literally and metaphorically, one of the hottest tourist destinations in Mexico, (and indeed the Western Hemisphere), and everyone visits, from drunken college students to families seeking a restful respite come to get away from it all to the super-rich who rent town houses and time shares at extortionist prices – sometimes as high as 50,000 USD per week. By way of example, on the plane ride down, several rows of drunken, ugly American touristas were whooping it up loudly and lewdly. The most horrifying was the noisy, morbidly obese women directly behind me, who at one point, in front of everyone, grabbed her boyfriend’s head and smothered in her breasts, announcing loudly enough for three rows either way to hear her pronouncement that, “When we get there I’m going to [***CENSORED***]”
Ever the irreverent wag, I turned around and replied, “Well that would be nice, but I think my girlfriend might object.” Everyone from rows 12-20 then guffawed hysterically, and the guy in the seat next to me bought me a drink for my puckishness. Sometimes it pays dividends to be unfiltered.
By contrast, the more sedate town of La Paz lies 2-1/2 hours to the north a more laid back option – smooth jazz compared to the KISS rock concert Cabo San Lucas can be if partying is your thing.
There is a rich wealth of diversions – everything from undersea exploration, (Jacques Cousteau called La Paz “the aquarium of the World” and the whale watching is among the best on Earth), to surfing, bird watching, fine dining, and just plain raging till dawn. The population of the area exploded a whopping 300% between 1990 and 2000 and still grows at an astonishing rate.
Along with oil and banking, tourism has become the leading industry for the region and one of its hopes for elevating the lives of the locals, some of whom still live humbly and in stark contrast to the uber-rich Hollywood lifestyle of the jet setters who wing there way here for weeks to months at a time. This contradiction lies at the heart of Mexico, (and indeed all of the Western Latin world), as posh five star hotels sit sometimes within mere yards of cement of dirt hovels, a stern division that underscores the love-hate relationship between the locals and the gringo and the working class and the well-monied jefes, some of whom, according to iconic and iconoclastic writer Hunter Thompson, keep pistols on their desks – ostensibly as paperweights, but really to intimidate everyone into seeing that they mean business.
As an illustration of the dichotomy, here is a sure bar bet winner for you: Did you know the richest man in the World is from Mexico? Can you name him? (The answer is Mexico’s Carlos Helu, the Telcom baron.)
Where once the Mexican government and its pet developers were rightfully accused of land rape in the name of tourism and expansion, the reproach of the World’s disdained eyes has achieved great change of late, and now the ecological and archaeological wonders of the area are more strongly protected, but the battle still must be fought with diligence and vigilance.
The climate is unique. It’s the only place in the world where desert flora bloom so close to the sea or ocean, making its natural setting one of ineffable, yet stark beauty – it’s Scottsdale-by-the-sea. Cactuses, palm trees, agave, and succulents, sit beside sandy beaches and rugged rocky shores while some of the most violent waves in the world crash against steeply sided beaches, making swimming in the ocean a dangerous proposition a times due to a viciously churning riptide. But hey, why swim or snorkel when you can play golf at some of the best courses offshore of the U.S.?
Golf has exploded in the region. Over a dozen resort courses or private reserves have opened in the last 20 years and it takes at least two trips to play everything of architectural importance and properly classify them in the Caribbean/Mexico/Atlantic/Central America region. This trip, we here at Cybergolf/AWITP played five of the major destinations. In order of quality, they were:
1) Cabo del Sol (Ocean), (Nicklaus)
2) Diamante (Dunes), (Davis Love, III)
3) Costa Baja, (Player)
4) Cabo del Sol (Desert), (Weiskopf)
5) Cabo Real, (RTJ, Jr.).
CABO DEL SOL (OCEAN COURSE)
Usually the name Jack Nicklaus and the term golf architecture are linked together in some sort of joke. The book on Nicklaus is that he designs for himself, with a heavy emphasis on natural setting and difficulty, (and expense!). Of all the myriad designers to study under Pete Dye, it’s astonishing how little of Dye’s talent for designing strategically got passed on to Nicklaus.
However author Darius Oliver called the Ocean Course Nicklaus’s best and while I haven’t played an extensive amount of Nicklaus courses, I can’t disagree with him. The greatest credit should go to Nicklaus’s design associate Jim Lipe, the real architect here, with a long nod and round of applause to CDS Director of Golf Greg Tallman, himself an excellent student of architecture and perhaps the most reliable, indeed invaluable source for all things Cabo – from golf to dining to diversions.
The Ocean course is wider, and therefore more forgiving, than most Nicklaus courses. Better still, it has slightly more undulating fairways, more interesting greens, and a solid routing taking good advantage of both the terrain and the coastline. While Oliver is wrong in saying it has eight oceanside holes, (it has four), the combination of routing and natural setting make it the equal of anything in Mexico, it’s the varied playability of the turf that places it above the prettier Diamante (Dunes) and Costa Baja. With Bermuda grass you can play the ground game. With the well-watered paspalum at Diamante and Costa Baja, you can’t, and that limits options for non-expert golfers, an important strike against and the main reason they must be ranked beneath CDS Ocean.
The axis of several greens point perpendicular to the fairway, not parallel to it, so some holes test distance control, while others test accuracy, an excellent and intelligent feature. The strongest stretches on the course are four through eight, and 13 through 17. Each side plays to and then along the seaside, balancing the adventure. The course has two par-3s and two par-5s on each side – following the tired, but sadly still in vogue Doctrine of Symmetry – but happily the two par-3s on the front are back-to-back and beachside, similar to Tom Doak’s routing of Pacific Dunes. It’s a trick more designers should employ when the terrain calls for it. The more you break outside the box, the more interesting a golf course becomes.
Your author’s favorites are four, (a reachable, but dangerous par-5 with an arroyo bisecting the fairway in front of the green. Indeed, besides the beach holes, the par-5s have the most interesting architecture), the long par-4 fifth playing down to a beachside green, the par-3 seventh, a short hole with elements of both a Redan and a Biarritz, (with a shallow swale in a green set idyllically amid the sand dunes), 15 and 16, playing to the water with three-masted schooners sailing by, and the par-3 17th, the closest thing to any of the gorgeous seaside par-3s Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog has to offer.
Your author’s other favorite moment – and all the other golfers agreed with me – was the taco stand at the tenth tee: fish, beef, and shrimp, habaneros, pico de gallo, and guac, corn or flour tortilla, however you like ’em.
“Now this is more like it!” gushed one starving golfer, who was almost relegated to bread and ice cream the night before. (But we’ll get to that later…) One bite and you understand why the club had to remove the chairs and couches they one had set up there so people could sit down.
“They’re so good, people would just sit here for 45 minutes, and we could never get everyone back into place,” recalled Greg Tallman with a grin. We agreed, and happily devoured our tacos like velociraptors mawing down on a hapless Jurassic era herbivore. Your author may have even given him an idea for a catchphrase: Putting a sign on the seventh tee that reads, “Three holes to tacos!”
If there are drawbacks, there are several forced carries and uphill approaches. Moreover, the course is almost prohibitively expensive, anywhere from 230-355 USD per round. Further, the reason why we here at AWITP rank both Dye Fore and Teeth of the Dog higher in the Pantheon of great off shore courses is because both play more strategically than CDS Ocean, and because, while really good, CDS Ocean doesn’t show you anything you haven’t seen before, it just does what you’ve seen before extremely well.
People always get dazzled by the natural sand dune setting of the extremely private Diamante (Dunes) and its perfect green fairways, undulating greens, and All-world stretch of 14-17, and deservedly so. But 1) Natural setting only counts for 25% in our rating system (otherwise we’d be ranking the courses exclusively by beauty, and that’s just wrong…), and 2) while the Dunes looks like a links, it doesn’t play like a links. You can’t play the ground game over the spongy, clingy, grabby paspalum turf at Diamante, and that is why we have grave objections to its being somewhat overrated in rankings.
Is it outstanding? Of course. Is it unique and a bucket list course? Definitely. Will the finish thrill you to the depths of your golfing soul? Absolutely.
But the way the wall-to-wall paspalum turf is maintained here is a serious drawback, because it limits both the ground game and greenside options, making it tougher for the average golfer.
“If you manage it correctly you can keep paspalum firm and fast,” explained architect Bruce Charlton. “But a lot of people over water it and that’s when it gets especially clingy. At Princeville we have it fast and firm, and the same is true of other places in Hawaii. But also other courses, in the name of beauty and color, overwater it and then you’re stuck playing the aerial game. It’s a maintenance issue.”
“Paspalum is stickier than any kind of grass, it’s really tough to get it firm and fast like fescue,” agreed architect Mark Voss. “It’s not as sticky as kikuyu, but its also not bent. You need a magician super to get it fast and firm.” Indeed, maintenance may be the issue, only time will tell, but as players start to see more clearly than through the dazzling opening look of its superficial appearance, more even-keeled reviews may be less gushing than the hosannas given the course due to its physical appearance.
Moreover, while there are some holes that are among the best in the World, (most notably the par-5 17th), there are some abominable holes as well, i.e. the ludicrous 568 yard par-4 10th, a green straightaway with no bunkers, a hole which even Diamante looks to change or eliminate, and the disappointing denouement of the jackknife-shaped 18th hole, a bland finisher after the pure adrenaline rush of 14-17.
The rest of Diamante is mostly hits, but with a few swings and misses as well. Architect Paul Cowley, who was lead design associate for Davis’s’firm, is an interesting cat to say the least.
“He’s a character, he’s definitely outside the box,” said one architect who knows him well from ASGCA meetings and from Paul’s prominent participation on golf bulletin boards.
But as Chief Inspector Dreyfus rightly noted in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, quirkiness does not preclude achievement, and although Cowley is as quirky as his work, the depth of his talent shows. As a designer, Cowley is an obscure, yet creative guy who clearly knows what good golf architecture looks like, and tries to reproduce it. Sometimes he hits a home run, and sometimes he grounds out to the second baseman. His work at Albany’s Orchard Creek ranks among the worst courses I’ve played in years, but much of the work at Diamante is excellent. You can’t believe the two were designed by the same guy.
Superficially, it looks like a sort of Mexican version of Ballyneal or Kingbarns. You play out into the heaving sand dunes for the front nine, some of the most wild, windswept terrain for golf anywhere. You just want to get lost out there and never return to the world, it’s primal and exhilarating…
…until you start losing ball after ball in the scrub and brush covering the dunes, and your scorecard looks like a phone book listing. If you miss a fairway, it’s a 50% chance you’ve lost the ball, a further 20% chance of an unplayable lie, and only a 30% chance of playing back to the fairway. It’s penal architecture on a links setting – the antithesis of the links golf concept.
Among the good features of the course, it’s clear they used the natural features found there and played into the teeth of the most interesting and difficult parts of the property. The routing is, happily, asymmetrical, 35-37, with three par-5s on the back, but also the insane 568-yards par-4, really a par 5, so there are, in truth, four par-5s on the inward nine for what plays to a weighty par-38 for nine holes.
Nevertheless, the par-5s are the best work there, along with several excellent diagonal hazards to be traversed off the tee. The green contours range from good to terrific, with spines, hogs-backs, and bowls. There is a lot more right to left than left to right and far more uphill than downhill on the approaches. There is even some reverse camber with the fairway turning one way, but the natural landscape running in the other direction, limiting technology effectively, yet naturally, much like Olympic Club, the 2012 U.S Open venue.
The course is an engineering marvel, and state of the art, so long as they can get the paspalum more playable, but the penal nature of missing a fairway and lack of ground game make comparisons to Kingsbarns, Ballyneal, or Ireland slightly hyperbolic and definitely superficial. Anyone can tell you what a golf course looks like and state the obvious. The important thing is to explain how it plays and whether the playability accomplishes the designers goals and intent.
The Dunes is also a murderous walk, with extremely long walks between greens and tees, (especially to the tenth tee you need a cart or you won’t get to the tenth tee box by the time the group behind catches you.).
That needs to be changed for another, far more important reason: the 10th hole is a bad joke and needs to be replaced immediately. A 568-yard par-4, straightaway with no bunkers? Paul and Davis, what were you thinking? How is that good for golf? How is that good for golf architecture? How is that fun? Or even reasonable? The best solution would be to break it into two holes – a par-3 and a par-4, and end on the incredible 17th, (which would become, in the re-sequencing, the 18th, and one of the best finishing holes in all of golf).
Finally, on summer afternoons you play the best holes, 14-17, directly into the blazing face of the setting sun, so visibility gets tough the later it gets. It’s the same reason you don’t build a ski slope on the western face of a mountain, (much more dangerous, but equally tough on the athlete).
Still, everyone likes Diamante, and it is rightfully at the top of everyone’s list of courses to play in Cabo, a feather in its cap since it only opened in 2009. It’s really good and a bucket list course, but Teeth of the Dog and Dye Fore are both far superior.
A second course at Diamante, El Cardonal, (a type of cactus), will open next summer with Tiger Woods’s signature on it. Won’t that be interesting…
Okay, so architecturally it’s a little rudimentary, but so what? The mountainous terrain makes it unique even among the Cabo courses, because nowhere is there as much up and down as at Costa Baja. The views are even better than at Diamante, (and rival Casa de campo in the natural setting category), and it’s short with really wide fairways, so you can score well. It’s a great change of pace course, low impact and really fun! It’s a cross between Coeur D’Alene and Bayonne – part CDA for it’s short, quirky, forgiving nature and unbelievable waterside setting, and part Bayonne for the industrial back drop that actually adds to the character of the place, if somewhat left-handedly. If you “just go with it,” you’ll find it neither distracting, nor detracting.
Like Nicklaus, Gary Player designs courses for his own golf game.
“It’s draw, draw, draw,” explains Head Professional Luis Rangel, as affable, colorful, and laid back a playing partner you could ever have. Heck, we cranked rock and roll and jazz all away around the back nine. Everything turns to the left, and where there are any shot requirements, a draw is called for almost exclusively.
Much like the wonderful Rockaway Hunting club, the first hole takes you straight to the sea, with the harbor, ships and the Sea of Cortes as a backdrop on this downhill hole, a wonderful opener. Holes 2-5, the “Gauntlet” as Player calls them, climb uphill to the highest point on the golf course.
“Gary thought those were the hardest stretch on the course,” notes Rangel. After that, the remainder of the front nine is three short, downhill par-4s with epic views of the sea, and a tricky par-3 eighth hole that plays much longer than it looks. The green shape and bunker placement are an obvious recreation of 12 at Augusta National, (6:00 in front of the green, 10:30 and 1:30 behind it).
Once again there was a taco shack at the halfway point, (with a dazzling former “Miss Baja California” serving them up along with bright eyes and a demure, winsome smile). They come in handy, as Costa Baja features an out-and-back routing, returning to the clubhouse only at 18, so it’s your only chance to fuel up for the climb up to the magnificent panoramic view from the 14th tee. Indeed, everyone must climb to the back tee box at 14 for a look-see and a photo. Yes, natural setting only counts for 25% in a proper rating system, but you still can’t helped be deeply moved. From a dizzying height of several hundred feet, the fairway winds below you in the valley floor, with the hotel set in tableau against the sapphire waters of the Sea of Cortes.
When God looks down to Earth from Heaven, this is what His view must be like.
Yes, Coeur D’Alene and Costa Baja aren’t places where golf architecture junkies will congregate to discuss minutiae of excellent design principles, but if there are any places where it’s okay to say, “It’s worth coming here just for the views,” those are two.
From an architecture standpoint, there isn’t a lot that’s noteworthy. Fairways are so wide, you’d have to be hitting looping hooks or goofy slices to end up in the desert, and there are a few 90-degree doglegs, (seven and 11, which both turn hard left, so you better be able to draw the ball hard a la 16 at Olympic Club), and some strange arroyos bisecting fairways in awkward places, (again seven and 11). It’s a murderous walk, with long distances between tees and greens, (some might even call it “cart golf,” and they would, in this instance be right. You need the cart to get from seven to eight, nine to 10, and again from 13 to 14).
Still, it’s a Troon Golf facility, and as everyone knows, Troon does their places right, (if a little expensive).
As a side note, I couldn’t resist asking people their opinion of Gary Player posing naked in a magazine.
“Ego!” offered one person. “Ego, ego, ego…” Many others agree. Some shake their heads, some laugh out loud, and I have to wonder if this won’t haunt Player going forward. Is it possible he’ll never get away from it? Already some in the golf industry are ridiculing him to his face. Peter Alliss, the great ABC broadcaster saw Player at the British Open just a few days ago and greeted him with a snide, “Oh…I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.”
I understand the talking point of fitness. Yes, many Americans eat too much junk food and exercise too little. But a 77-year old golfer posing naked isn’t going to be the inspiration to an inner city kid to put down the French fries and Little Debbies and slowly back away. I ask again, qui bono? Who benefits?
“Qui gives a shit?!” retorted my girlfriend Britt. “Naked men! Woo hoo!”
And with that, I put my face in my hands and shook my head. I love ya, Britt, but God help us all if that’s what we’ve devolved into…
CABO DEL SOL (DESERT COURSE)
The Desert course is exactly like every other Tom Weiskopf course I’ve ever played: the first five or six holes are nothing to write home about, but the back nine is good. I don’t care where you are – Nevada, Michigan or Ohio, The Falls, Forest Dunes, or Quail Run – Weiskopf employs the same obsolete tenet Trent Jones, Sr. used: give them a few holes to get warmed up. The only exception to this your author has seen anywhere is at Troon North in Scottsdale. Both the Monument and Pinnacle courses are good from start to finish, but the same can’t be said anywhere else about Weiskopf in our experience.
The same is true at CDS. The front nine underwhelms, the back nine is much better. There is a great stretch of holes starting from 13-17 which showcase excellent strategic ideas and showcase panoramic views of the sea and shoreline, but the 18th doesn’t fit the rest of the golf course. A miniaturized version of the 18th at Carnoustie, a burn crosses the fairway in three dangerous places. There is a pond right if the green and desert underbrush left.
Moreover, where the Ocean course is walkable, the Desert course is not. There are too many hills to climb, arroyos to traverse, and looooong walks between tees and greens.
As everyone knows, I’m good friends with Bobby, have written some poetry with him, and even offered him legal advice from time to time. Therefore, any questions as to my objectivity should forever be put to bed by this next sentence, (if they haven’t already been put to bed by things I’ve written about other courses of his I didn’t like…):
Cabo Real isn’t his strongest course. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
Cabo Real was built just before Bobby had his “links epiphany” and designed Chambers Bay: his greatest masterpiece, host of the 2015 U.S. Open, and the springboard for his new direction a designer, a direction that vaulted him into the conversation of the generation’s greatest designers, along with Dye and Doak, (and a few others…).
Bobby has never been a better designer than he is right now. Chambers Bay is stratospheric, almost universally acclaimed, n instant classic and a time capsule moment in the game’s history. Following similar themes of maximizing coastline golf, allowing for the ground game, and infusing strategy on every shot as opposed to his father’s penal architecture style, the course Bobby submitted for the 2016 Olympics in Rio was nothing short of genius, and had they picked it, that design would have far outstripped the one Hanse submitted and is trying to build. He gave them, in essence, “Chambers Bay South America.” It was rejected by Rio, but Bobby employs similar themes at his planned new West course at Dorado Beach, and it will be a complete game changer in the offshore U.S. region, resonating all the way from Baja to Bermuda when it opens. It’s possible that Peter Dawson never made a worse mistake than turning up his nose at Bobby’s Olympics design. (But with all he problems they are having down there with land disputes and old unpaid environmental fines, it may be the best thing to happen to Bobby – and the others who weren’t picked – it may be for the best that they didn’t get the gig…)
That being said, Cabo Real is only pretty good, not truly great. Good terrain, a fistful of good holes and interesting ideas, like the long thin green at 18, the dunes guarding the second green, and some interesting tee shots are the highlights.
So after having played much of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, and half of Cabo, here’s what the leaderboard looks like so far:
THE OFFSHORE U.S. SCORECARD (So far)
1. Dye Fore (Marina-Chavon)
2. Teeth of the Dog
4. Diamante (Dunes)
5. Cabo Del Sol (Ocean)
6. La Romana Country Club
7. Dorado Beach (East)
**Dorado Beach (West)
*Tucker’s Point is in the midst of an excellent restoration/renovation by golf architect Mark Fine and Director of Golf Paul Adams. Initial indications are excellent, and Tucker’s looks to break into this in a particularly high position.
**Dorado Beach (West) is in the midst of a complete redesign by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., with the intent on this being Bobby’s masterpiece, a course worthy of being considered his legacy and lying side-by-side with one of his father’s greatest accomplishments. We have seen the initial payout plans of the golf course and everything points to this being considered a proper rejoinder to Bobby’s instant classic, Chambers Bay. Initial indications are that the new West Course will break into the list in an extremely high position. Get ready for a game changer, because that is exactly what Bobby intends to deliver. We have yet to play Punta Espada, Corales, and the north shore of Puerto Rico, along with the other half of the Cabo courses.
The Sheraton Hacienda del Mar was quite comfortable and convenient. It had much more warmth and charm than some huge concrete monstrosity you might find in, say, Cancun. The staff was great – accommodating and intelligent. The villas all have Jacuzzis, (a huge plus!), there was plenty of beachfront, several large pools, and an Old World mission-style feel to the place. There were several restaurants on site offering sushi, Italian, fine dining, and breakfasts. It was a comfortable, if expensive place to stay. It’s Cabo, so expect everything to be ridiculously priced no matter where you stay. Wherever you go, sodas are 5.00 USD, rolls of sushi are 10-20 USD, personal pizzas are 18-20 USD, and fine dining will be a 50-100 USD night for the food alone. Drinks are outrageous. A double shot of tequila and a coke cost me 25 USD. And if you want wine, the bill can skyrocket quickly. Resort pricing has increased steadily and significantly in the last few years alone and certainly more than doubled in the last twenty years, while everyone’s disposable income has decreased, so inquire into all inclusive plans wherever you go. They’re your best bet. Even so, the most important consideration was comfort and convenience and the Hacienda scored high points for both.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD, (WE’RE ANXIOUS TO TRY IT)
Dan Jenkins, the greatest golf writer in history, is right: the worst words in the English language just might be, “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering for everyone.” With that, at various points in his life, Jenkins was served prairie oysters, liver and onions, tripe, haggis, and sushi tacos. On each occasion he gave the waiter fifty bucks, had him order up a cheeseburger and fries, and told him to keep the change. Numerous people joined him.
Now I’m a foodie. I live in NYC, the culinary capital of the World. I’m known for hitting every sushi, Mexican, Greek, and Italian restaurant of any note in Manhattan, so much so that my friends jokingly call me “Jaygat’s” (a riff on Zagat’s), and my phone goes off like clockwork once a week with a friend on the other end inquiring where to eat. I know my food, and I’d love to tell you about the food in Cabo…but I never got to try any of it!
I had Dan Jenkins’s worst nightmare come true: Our tour operator picked the places where we ate, as well as the “limited menus” and “tasting menus” we had to endure, menus that were weighed heavily in favor of the spa people we did the tour with. As such I lived in constant fear of the next gibbering horror to come belching forth from the kitchen in all its apocalyptic wrath and vengeance. Over the course of three days, I was served the following hare-brained, half-baked contraptions:
A carrot juice margarita;
One baby shrimp tempura topped with prickly-pear cactus foam in a shot glass of coconut milk gazpacho;
One oyster smothered in watermelon foam and mint;
A rice cake topped with microgreens, (microgreens??!!), dried apricots, and syrup;
Green apple slaw;
Beets, field greens, and dried apple salad;
Squash blossom soup;
Shrimp and lettuce pizza; (no sauce or cheese);
Risotto poached in mushroom broth swimming in chorizo foam. Yes, like a slasher in a horror movie the foam returned. How does the song go?
I’m looking through
And it all would be so crystal clear
If it wasn’t for the foam!
But the foam keeps getting thicker!
And it just keeps getting harder!
And I’m falling into a deep well…
In another debacle, the first night was all seafood and one writer, Tony Korologos of The Golf Space, can’t eat seafood, so after five courses went by and he ate nothing, he had this humorous exchange with the waiter:
Tony: Does the bread have much fish in it? (Laughter)
Waiter: Yes. (More laughter)
Tony: I think I have some Tic Tacs in my pocket.
The next day we had a three and a half hour tour and dinner at Flora Farms, the “Farm to table” commune where rich SoCal posers spend 25,000 USD per week to live in faux Amish condos. I could go on and on about how passe both the “Farm to table” and molecular gastronomy crazes (foams and flavored droplets), have become and about how much of what is attempts to pass itself off as culture is really just a commercial, but I’ll sum up Flora Farms this way: If you like having a free-range art sculptor or an out of work ballet dancer serve you organic, grass-fed nonsense, Flora Farms is your place.
The spa girls were dazzled however.
“I’m having food orgasm right now,” moaned one of them rapturously. Well in that case, make sure you’re facing away from me.
“You’re crazy, Jay. I love Flora Farms,” gushed Nicole the lawyer form NYC who ate there, calling it one her best meals ever. Fine, duly noted counselor, but given the choice, I’d date Crazy Agatha, (the clingy girl from Hell), before I’d eat another meal there again. I ate Dominican creole in the D.R., I ate Jamaican dishes in Jamaica, and I had down-home gumbo in Mississippi – and they all were awesome. But only the golf courses had the sense to serve me Mexican food in Mexico.
So happily here I am, safely back in New York City, culinary capital of the world, where I get mussels marinara at Nick’s or Girello, fresh fish at Milos or Avra, and the best wood-fired brick oven pizza in the World, and I don’t have to worry about getting cold-jumped by a watercress-maple rice cake, an asparagus droplet, or the “foam of the week.” As for you foodies, you’re all invited over to my place for dinner…I’m serving you haggis. I’m eating steak.