Q&A with Brad Wheatley
Director of Golf
Rancho San Lucas
Architect: Greg Norman (2019)
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Interview with Matt Ward
A native of Texas, Brad Wheatley attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he played on the college team. After working as an assistant pro at La Jolla Country Club in southern California, he was hired in 1991 to be the director of golf at Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico. Its Jack Nicklaus-designed course was the first venue in the hemisphere to partake of the region’s unique mountain-desert-ocean environment. He has since consulted with nearly every major new golf development in Los Cabos and currently serves as director of golf at Rancho San Lucas Golf Club.
THE WHEATLEY STORY:
One of the members at La Jolla Country Club was Don Abelardo Rodriguez, son of a former president of Mexico and a Cabo tourism pioneer who built the legendary Hotel Palmilla in 1956. I was giving his wife golf lessons, and when I found out he had sold the Hotel Palmilla to Don Koll, a southern California developer, I asked Mr. Rodriguez if he would intercede on my behalf. I learned Jack Nicklaus was going to build his first signature golf course in Latin America at Palmilla. I had been to Mexico many times on fishing trips to the Sea of Cortes and absolutely loved it. I couldn’t even say ‘No’ in Spanish, but I wanted my own job. And I got it, and I’ve been in Cabo ever since.”
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Driving west across the Baja peninsula from my home in Los Barriles on the Sea of Cortes to Rancho San Lucas on the Pacific Ocean.
What has 2020 been like given the impact of the pandemic?
A mixed bag, and very challenging. Greg Norman was here to cut the ribbon at Rancho San Lucas last February, and a month or so later the destination effectively shut down. But early reviews were very positive, and because golf is a safe social distancing sport, golfers have found their way to us over the past few months.
What key lessons have been learned through this period?
Expect the unexpected — do more with less — weather tough times and come out stronger, and hope a vaccine can be distributed sooner than later.
The Pacific side of Cabo is now home to a few layouts — with Diamante and Quivira preceding Rancho San Lucas. How does the Greg Norman design differentiate itself from the other two?
Even though our parcel of land is relatively close to the other two facilities, our golf course is completely different. A few of the holes at Quivira run along granite cliffs high above the sea. Diamante’s Dunes Course weaves through tall sand hills. Rancho San Lucas, by contrast, spans three different ecosystems. The course rambles through huge windswept dunes at the start, explores a thick cactus forest creased by winding arroyos, and transitions across a littoral zone before returning players to the dunes at the finish.
Who is the customer interested in joining Rancho San Lucas?
The Solmar Group has a great track record with buyers. The accent is on exceptional quality and value. Because Rancho San Lucas is the company’s first golf project, we’re getting interest from a different customer base than usual, namely golfers who want a place in the sun and access to a wonderful seaside course.
How much more golf is likely to be developed along the Pacific coast area of Cabo?
I believe the Pacific coast will continue to flourish. Among other projects on the boards, there’s a fledgling golf development being spoken about near Todos Santos, a charming, historic town 45 minutes north of Rancho San Lucas.
So much of the Cabo golf scene rests squarely on top tier customer service. Define the term and the approach you’ve followed throughout your career and now at Rancho San Lucas.
People come to Los Cabos to relax and have a good time, on and off the course. Our approach is informal, but we deliver first-class service. The Mexican culture takes tremendous pride in their hospitality skills. Our outside staff is very welcoming, as is the golf shop staff. The chefs and servers at the two on-course comfort stations serve excellent Mexican specialties and ice-cold refreshment with a warm greeting and a big smile.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Pace of play. Golf should not be an all-day experience. Our target is a 4 ½-hour round.
The major golf organizations such as the USGA, PGA of America, R&A, PGA TOUR, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players to golf such as Millennials, women and minorities. If you were counseling them what would advise they be doing to achieve that result?
Improve access. Golf is a fraternity with an invisible gate. Many prospective players are intimidated by the rituals. It’s an ancient sport with humble roots. The benefits of playing golf are well documented. Golf should be available to anyone who expresses an interest.
You’ve been active with a number of different facilities in the greater Cabo area. What’s the most powerful and enduring allure for the region and how do you see things emerging when the pandemic is finally in the rear-view mirror?
Los Cabos has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years. This truly is a special place. We’re at the tip of one of the longest peninsulas in the world. The weather is ideal—340 sunny days per year, a dry desert climate with cooling sea breezes. Connectivity has improved tremendously—Cabo is readily accessible from most major U.S. gateways. In addition to world-class golf, we have more top-class hotels than any other destination in Latin America, plus great restaurants and a plethora of off-course activities and adventures. Los Cabos, in sum, is the whole enchilada. I fully expect the destination to rebound quickly in the months ahead as COVID-19 recedes from view.
Photos courtesy: Brian Oar
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