Good vibrations: Escape to Baja’s East Cape where Costa Palmas gently soothes those winter-time blues

The practice area (left) and first hole (right) at Costa Palmas.

The practice area (left) and 1st hole (right) at Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos Costa Palmas.

Evan Schiller

Jimmy Arvanetes greets me in the foyer of the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos Costa Palmas looking every bit the golf pro. He’s a shade over six feet, sharp Greek features deeply tanned by the often-relentless Mexican sun. He’s disarmingly friendly, but don’t make the mistake of playing him for money. When you enter the gates of this desert-ocean oasis, you’ll be wise to remember one other thing: Do what Jimmy says.

“Get the mezcal,” is the first thing Jimmy says.

He’s referring to the house-made hooch they add to the local potion: mango juice, aloe, orange juice, lemon, tonic…and mezcal. It’s offered to every guest at check-in, presumably to lubricate the credit card.

The Four Seasons is the flagship five-star resort anchoring the 1,500-acre Costa Palmas community. It’s as amazing as you’d expect, anchoring the south end of a 2.5-mile stretch of beachfront along the ever-inviting Sea of Cortez. Farther north up the beach, there’s a super-lux Aman Resort under construction, and principal developer Irongate has plans in place for a third high-end hotel/residential community to be built. All of which establishes Costa Palmas as the best place to stay or own not only on the East Cape of Baja, but perhaps on the entire peninsula.

Jimmy Arvanetes’ title is director of golf membership, but that doesn’t begin to describe what he does at Costa Palmas. Courtesy Photo

“Get the stones,” is the next thing Jimmy says.

He says a lot of other things, but these are the directives to pay attention to. Jimmy is talking about the Hot Stones Massage at the Four Season’s spa, located among the resort’s 20 acres of orchards and farmland, where many of the treatments incorporate indigenous techniques intended to connect you with the local culture.

Arvanetes’ official title is director of golf membership, but his role would be more aptly described as Director of Vibe.

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“My primary function is to make sure every guest that comes through here has an amazing time,” he says.

And he means it. You see, Costa Palmas is more than a destination. It’s a sensation. Sure, it’s a resort community, a terrific Robert Trent Jones II golf course (more on that later), amazing restaurants, recreation, but really, the mantra here is to impart a cohesive feeling of warmth, attentiveness, and generosity. Arvanetes has embraced these qualities completely and has a unique way of allowing guests and members to absorb them without really trying. It’s the same with the entire Costa Palmas staff. It’s part of the DNA of the place.

“Get the machaca burrito,” Jimmy says the next morning as we tuck into an outdoor table at Bouchie’s, the open-air café and sundry shop located at the Costa Palmas practice range.

Well, to call this a practice range is like calling the Queen Mary a boat. The massive facility features a 30,000 square-foot Social Putting Green, a six-hole par-3 course, and a short-game area. The entire thing lights up for night play. Some mornings, Jimmy lets Amaya, his boisterous black pitbull/labrador mix, bound around the range chasing birds. You may be tempted to spend the entire day here, but that would be a mistake, because there’s a spectacular RTJ track just over the sand dunes.

“I’m an adventurer. I take risks design-wise,” says Jones. “Then we have to execute it so that you can enjoy it. And I think Costa Palmas is an adventure in golf.”

One in which Jimmy and I were about to embark on.

“Get out the big dog,” Jimmy says as we approach the tee at the 388-yard first hole.

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He’s talking about the driver, not Amaya. In the distance, the shimmering Sea of Cortez mesmerizes. Then, whack! The former mini-tour player rips his tee shot down the left side of the fairway nearly driving the green. He gets up and down for an easy 3. It goes on like this throughout the rollicking front nine. By the time we reach the 10th tee, Jimmy has six birdies and an eagle. Did I mention not to play him for money? As it happens, Jimmy used to be a caddy at Shadow Creek as well as a professional poker player in Las Vegas, so he’s no stranger to high stakes. Dude can play.

Which he does almost every day with a guest or a member or prospective homeowner. It’s Jimmy’s job to make sure everybody has a good time but more importantly experiences the property in the way they want to. And while Costa Palmas can be different things to different people, it always delivers.

“Jimmy is the perfect person for this role,” says general manager Chris Martinez, who along with Arvanetes is currently preparing for the La Carrera Invitational, an annual member shindig at Costa Palmas. “He can introduce possibilities and aspects of the property based on what your interests are and narrow the target to the things that appeal to your experience.”

A look at some of the grab-and-go grub at Costa Palmas. John Ledesma

What’s appealing right now is the golf course. Trent Jones has created a wonderfully playful and playable links layout. Its 18 easily walkable holes are designed into distinctive groups of six. The first half-dozen play out among expansive dunes toward the ocean. The upland six (Nos. 7-12) feature wide-open fairways with several judiciously placed bunkers waiting to swallow your drive, including the Tarantula bunker on No. 9. The final six holes play back and finish at the soon-to-be-completed Costa Palmas Marina Village complex. If you don’t have time or are not inclined to play all 18, each grouping is intended to be enjoyed as its own six-hole loop. According to Trent Jones, this is a design technique pioneered by his team about 20 years ago. It’s just one of the reasons Costa Palmas stands out from other golf courses down in Cabo San Lucas.

“No disrespect, but there’s a sameness about a lot of the courses in Cabo,” says Jones, who designed Cabo Real in 1993. “They’re very well built, but they’re what we call ‘play-it-once’ courses. You play one and then you go play another because they’re right there. The difference at Costa Palmas is that you’re not seeking out the course, you’re seeking out the destination. You want to stay there for a week. You have one course, and you go back and play it again and it’s never boring. It’s changeable. It can be a very different game depending on how it’s set up.”

When I ask him what he’d like golfers who play the course to come away with, his answer is classic Jones. “A margarita!”

“RTJ is incredibly smart and creative,” says Michael Radovan, Costa Palmas managing director. “He’s also pretty unique, and I believe all that comes through in a good way at his courses, especially here at Costa Palmas.”

Jimmy Arvanetes and his trusty companion, Amaya. Courtesy Photo

Arvanetes has played golf all over the world. He might be biased, but he has genuinely high regard for the Costa Palmas layout.

“I love the fact that I haven’t played too many courses that visually look like Costa Palmas,” he says. “I’ve heard a few people compare it to Tara Iti in New Zealand. It reminds me a little bit of Sand Valley in Wisconsin. It just tells a really cool story.”

We’ve just finished what locals call the Lucha Loop (two more birdies for Arvanetes), and I’m about to find out why.

“Get the pastor,” Jimmy says. We’re sitting near the bar at Lucha Libre, a patio-style taco shop complete with Mexican wrestling mural. Chef Gonzalo Cerda brings over the steaming tortillas filled with fresh pork marinated in his secret adobada sauce and two ice-cold Pacificos. Divine. Do we have to go back out?

Thankfully, we do, because I get to watch Jimmy bag a few more birdies coming home. He’s about to card something in the low 60s, but you’d never know it. It just seems so easy and natural. Just like Costa Palmas itself.

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