Greg Norman Golf Course Design: A Legacy of 'Least-Disturbance'

By Brian McCallen Rancho San Lucas Golf Consultant, Rancho San Lucas | August 30, 2020

When Greg Norman established his golf design firm in 1987, he did it with a mandate to preserve landscapes, respect Mother Nature and create enjoyable golf courses.

Fast forward to 2017, when ground was broken at Rancho San Lucas Golf Club. Norman has been a huge fan of the course site from Day 1 and believes he had a unique opportunity to create something truly special: a world-class, links-style course nestled in dunes and carved into desert foothills.

"When we were first asked to build a golf course here, I drove over the top of the hill and saw all the arroyos and dunes set back from the sea, and I said 'Wow, this is the most spectacular piece of property I have seen in a long, long time.'"        

With a current portfolio of more than 100 course designs in 34 countries, Norman's globe-spanning design firm promotes itself as a paragon of environmental stewardship. And while affirming that he takes a 'least-disturbance' approach to golf course architecture,  Norman is quick to point out that every site is different.

"Each course we've done is a true reflection of the region in which it's built, and I feel that sets us apart from other designers," he said. "Sometimes, if we have a good site, we work with the features throughout the construction process and disturb as little as we can."

Such was the case of the Greg Norman Signature golf course at Rancho San Lucas, a multi-themed design that explores coastal and desert environments and offers a thrilling challenge from each set of tees. Rancho San Lucas is an 834-acre resort and residential community fronting a 1.2-mile stretch of beach on the Pacific Ocean 15 minutes from downtown Cabo San Lucas. The Greg Norman Signature course, opened in February 2020, is the showpiece of the resort and further positions Los Cabos as one of the top golf destinations in the world. 

Inspired by the native terrain and featuring splendid panoramic views from every hole, the Greg Norman Signature course at Rancho San Lucas is a versatile 7,210-yard, par-72 course laid out within earshot of the thundering surf of the Pacific Ocean. Spanning three different ecosystems, the intricate routing hugs huge windswept dunes at the start, climbs through a thick cactus forest creased by winding arroyos, transitions across a littoral zone and returns players to the beach and dunes for a rousing finish. Most of the greens are medium-sized and subtly contoured, though four of the putting surfaces exceed 12,000 square feet. Deliberately large by design, these greens give players ample targets on a typically breezy day. The fairways are very broad and welcoming for much the same reason.

Scattered fairway bunkers and a raised green indented by a deep pot bunker at the par-4 16th hole at Rancho San Lucas Golf Club

Solmar Group founder Francisco "Paco" Bulnes relates a story about how the fairways were created. "In the beginning, Greg told me, 'It's such an amazing piece of property, we're only going to clear the fairway corridors 10 meters at a time.' Most designers mass clear a site and then attempt to re-vegetate it later. Not Greg. He was very careful to remove specimen trees and plants and shelter them in a nursery, to be transplanted later. He wanted to work at a very slow rate, so he could evaluate the site's contours and build the course in an environmentally responsible way. This took several months, but that's what his 'least-disturbance' design philosophy is all about: keep earthmoving to a minimum and step as lightly as possible on nature's toes."

Observant golfers will notice that course enhancements at Rancho San Lucas take their cue from nature, starting with a re-vegetation plan that conserved endemic flora. "We look at integrating indigenous landscapes and grass varietals that use the least amount of water," said Norman. "Our goal was to build a sustainable course that is playable from all perspectives, including the forward tees." As is readily evident, Norman and his design team preserved the integrity of the land by building holes that trace the natural flow of the terrain, incorporating native vegetation and natural surrounds into the golf landscape. The end result is a strategic gem that ranks as one of Norman's finest creations.

The layout's defining characteristic is its revetted pot bunkers. These sharp-edged, steep-walled sandy pits were constructed from recycled artificial turf sourced from British soccer fields. Resistant to wash-outs, the club's pot bunkers, a first in Mexico, are nearly identical to the natural sod-walled sand pits found on British seaside links courses.

Featuring a dramatic 300-foot elevation change, the well-strategized course has five holes on the beach, notably the par-3 third, which parallels the sea and gives players fine views of breaching whales during the winter months. There's also a signature island green at the testing par-3 17th hole. The par 5's at Rancho San Lucas, including the first and 18th holes, are brawny.  The par 3's, angled to all compass points, are varied and enticing. The par 4's, the heart and soul of the course, range from long and stout to short and fun.  

Rancho San Lucas is grassed from tee-to-green in SeaDwarf Paspalum, a drought-tolerant, disease-resistant varietal perfectly tailored to the site's subsoils and climate. This emerald-green turfgrass has a lush canopy and perches the ball nicely.

With two on-course comfort stations, each providing Mexican specialties and ice-cold refreshments, players can enjoy an all-inclusive experience during the round. A handsome ranchero-style clubhouse overlooks the fairways and sea. The practice facility features a spacious driving range, an 18-hole putting course, and dedicated chipping, pitching and sand play areas.

Mindful of the seasonal windy conditions along the Pacific Ocean, Norman devised a 12-hole "course within a course" at Rancho San Lucas. This innovative par-49 layout, with five sets of tees ranging from 4,964 to 3,824 yards, consists of 12 low-lying holes drawn from the regulation 18 that are sheltered by the dunes and shielded from ocean breezes. The club's Short Course promises a pleasant outing in the breeziest months, typically May and June. 

An early adapter, Norman several years ago helped to form the Environmental Institute for Golf, an organization created by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) to establish a standard of environmental stewardship. Norman has served as chairman of the organization, recruited high-level board members and facilitated its initial development.

The signature island green at the par-3 17th hole

To demonstrate its commitment to environmental stewardship, Rancho San Lucas Golf Club has applied to join the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf Courses, a non-profit organization that stresses environmental stewardship and sustainable practices. Once the club completes a site assessment and develops an environmental plan, it will earn ACSP certification for the golf course and become a member of Audubon International's growing network of golf courses, schools, businesses and other organizations protecting the environment in communities around the world.

ACSP is centered on six key environmental areas relevant to golf course management. These components form the basis of the program's educational materials and are the focal points for achieving certification:

  • Environmental Planning
  • Wildlife and Habitat Management
  • Chemical Use Reduction and Safety
  • Water Conservation
  • Water Quality Management
  • Outreach and Education

The golf club's enrollment in Audubon reinforces the conservationist leanings of Francisco "Paco" Bulnes, who roamed the site as a child and who rerouted the resort's entryway to preserve a grove of towering, centuries-old cardon cacti.

"To my mind, Rancho San Lucas is nature at its finest," Bulnes said. "There are lots of turtle nests in the dunes. The desert landscape here is incredibly rich. Herds of deer roam the grounds. The variety of birds is amazing." The creation of wildlife habitats on the golf course, he added, have been a boon to the region's native fauna. The layout's water holes have attracted numerous local species, from birds and hares to deer and bobcats, while simultaneously creating pleasant oases for the resort community's residents and guests. In addition, the man-made lake at the 17th hole attracts ducks, cranes, egrets, herons and other waterfowl.

"We've worked hard to preserve what we have," Bulnes explained. For example, 106 acres of the development's total of 834 acres have been left in a natural state. An additional 186 acres is dedicated to the eco-friendly golf course. Together totaling 292 acres, this parcel represents 35% of the development and has resulted in the creation of a low-density resort community, an ideal fit for ACSP's model.

 "Least-disturbance isn't necessarily just about minimizing earthworks," Norman explained. "It's about protecting and preserving what makes a site great and incorporating a golf course into that. This approach really is a pillar of what we do. We take seriously the legacy we create in developing each golf course." His brilliant less-is-more design at Rancho San Lucas is living proof.

Rancho San Lucas is a private club with exclusive golf access available to homeowners and guests of Solmar Hotels & Resorts, including the new on-site luxury hotel, Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas. The low-density community is elevating the standard of coastal living in Los Cabos with The Villas at Rancho San Lucas and the Norman Estates, a pair of residential communities. Real estate pricing ranges from $650,000 to $7 million.                           

Mr. McCallen A native New Yorker, Brian McCallen is a writer and tourism consultant who divides his time between Cabo San Lucas and Stonington, Connecticut. A former Senior Editor at GOLF Magazine, Mr. McCallen has written three golf-travel books for Harry N. Abrams and has produced feature stories on numerous topics for leading magazines, newspapers and digital outlets for the past 40 years. In additional to his freelance output, he currently works as a consultant for development companies, hospitality firms and international resorts, including Rancho San Lucas. He also serves as a golf public relations representative for the Los Cabos Tourism Board. He first visited Los Cabos, Mexico in 1992 and still marvels at the region's unique geography, ideal climate and wonderful people. Brian McCallen can be contacted at +1 860-514-5011 or mccallen.bmc@gmail.com Please visit http://www.ranchosanlucas.com for more information. Extended Biography

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In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

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Revenue Management: Maximizing Profit

Hotel Revenue Management continues to evolve at a blistering pace. Driven by technological innovation and new distribution channels, there are some dynamic opportunities for expansion in this fast-growing field. The technology is primarily designed to help revenue managers further refine their operations and pricing models to maximize hotel profit. For example, hotels can't be all things to all people, so a key strategy is to precisely identify their target audience. By employing geo-targeting techniques and analyzing behavior such as previous bookings, on-property purchases and online shopping practices, there is an increased capability to define guest demographics. By segmenting customers in more specific ways, hotels are able to create more personalized experiences which, in turn, allow managers to optimize their room rates. It is also an effective way to fulfill the unique needs and preferences of the individual. Another methodology is to consistently monitor the competition's pricing strategies. There are software tools that analyze a competitor's current rates, and then allow a hotel to make its own pricing adjustments. It is also a useful means to conduct forecasting models. Other technologies that are being integrated into a revenue manager's toolkit include Artificial Intelligence in the form of automated algorithms, and Voice Recognition (VR) for data inquiries, rate changes, and booking behavior. Predictive and analytic software programs are also being leveraged to provide more forward-looking data, instead of the usual reliance on historical performance. These metrics allow managers to be more proactive - rather than reactive - with their revenue strategy. The October issue of the Hotel Business Review will examine these developments and report on how some leading hotels are executing their revenue management strategies.