The PGA Tour will debut a new tournament venue this week when it brings the World Wide Technology Championship to the El Cardonal course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas. It will be an intriguing star turn for El Cardonal, a course that usually plays back-up to the Mexican resort’s other course, the Dunes, ranked 50th in the Golf Digest World’s 100 Greatest Courses.

Though El Cardonal lacks the sensational seaside setting and prolific sand dunes that border the holes of the Dunes course (designed by Mark and Davis Love III, with associate Paul Cowley, in 2010), it has a notable caché of its own as the first course that Tiger Woods and his TGR Design studio built. Opened in 2014, El Cardonal sits in the desert uplands above the sister course with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and holes that run primarily north-south, meaning the prevailing coastal winds are typically crossing.
The fifth hole at El Cardonal. [Photo courtesy of the club]
Completed early in Woods’ architectural career, El Cardonal strikes chords that the 15-time major champion has continued to use in his subsequent designs at Bluejack National in Texas and Payne’s Valley at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri (Beau Welling was Woods’ lead designer at all three projects). The common theme at each course is playability, as Woods generally gives golfers plenty of space off the tee to find different routes to the hole and forgiving short-grass areas to miss shots coming into the greens. Woods’ courses are far from the early-Jack Nicklaus-style designs conceived with PGA Tour-player shot-making in mind.

This week, however, PGA Tour players will be competing on the course and, unless the wind is especially fierce, they should feel like they can go on the attack at El Cardonal. The generous fairways, many set diagonally to the tee shot, will entice drives to cut corners of sandy arroyos and fly bunkers.

The greens are varied in size, shape and orientation—some are curved or heart-shaped, others long and narrow—with small contours and ripples that can provide challenging hole locations and multi-break lag putts, an underrated facet of the game where Woods excelled. Players who miss greens will have a variety of recovery options off the fairway-cut surrounds, though most may choose to hit a higher, spinning pitch off the sticky seaside paspalum grass.

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The cascading nature of the property, falling more than 60 metres from its highest to lowest points, will generate exciting play. Seven holes run downhill, but these are usually longer while the shorter par 4s play uphill. All the par 5s should be easily reachable for the pros, even the 550-metre (601-yard) uphill sixth, and players may have short irons into the pair that slide downhill. The final five holes should provide a spectacle, starting with a short par 5 going up and over an arroyo, a stout par 4 that’s likely to play into the wind and a wedge par 3 to a slender ‘island’ green propped above desert.

The scenic par-4 17th plays dramatically off the site’s highest point followed by another steeply downhill par-5 finishing hole. Similar in playability to the 18th at Kapalua’s Plantation course (site of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii), it’s possible that long second shots that bound onto the putting surface off the contours short-right of the green will result in a potentially crucial eagle putt.