Sun Plus Ocean Plus 18 Holes: The Allure of Mexico’s Golf Homes

Originally published on The New York Times.


On either sides of the country, Los Cabos and Riviera Maya are attracting golfers seeking communities with quality courses at a range of prices.


Mexico has long attracted both vacationers and second-home buyers looking for a sun-filled escape. More recently, the country has become just as popular as a golfing destination and has a solid lineup of properties on both the west and east coasts for buyers seeking a golf home.

“Golf in Mexico is huge and shows no signs of slowing down,” said Josh Sens, a writer for Golf magazine. “It’s a very international market that brings in Americans, Canadians and even Europeans.”

Greg Norman, the retired professional golfer and course architect who has designed seven courses in Mexico and has three more in the works, agreed, adding that prospective buyers may be interested in owning property in the country because it offers enjoyable activities beyond golf. “You can get in great rounds but also have fun with amazing snorkeling and diving, gorgeous beaches, hiking and mountain biking,” he said.

In the time of a pandemic, spurred by the promise of outdoorsy living and open spaces, buyers seem to be more interested in Mexico in the last year than they have been in the past. Home sales in developments where golf is a primary attraction have increased — in some cases significantly — since the onset of the pandemic in Mexico’s two most notable golf home markets: Los Cabos, on the west coast, and Riviera Maya, on the east.

At the 1,400 acre Twin Dolphin, in Los Cabos, for example, sales tripled from Sept. 1 to March 1, compared with the same period the year before, according to the managing director Neil Johnson, and prices for properties increased 40 percent.

“It has been an absolute feeding frenzy since Covid,” he said.

Here is a look at the real estate landscape in the two regions.

Located at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, Los Cabos offers coastline, desert and mountains. It is also home to at least 18 golf courses, with more on the way.

“Cabo is the epicenter of golf in Mexico and the most established market,” Mr. Sens said. “The game is booming there with fantastic courses in swish developments.”

These developments include Cove Club, an 1,800-acre community with a Jack Nicklaus-designed course; Diamante, with three golf courses including two designed by Tiger Woods and Davis Love III; and Cabo Real, a 2,800-acre community (part of Questro Golf, a consortium of three courses) with 3.2 miles of beachfront and a Robert Trent Jones, Jr.- designed course.

According to local brokers, most of Cabo’s real estate communities are upscale with home prices starting at $2 million. “You have the top end of luxury here,” said Saddia Rahaman, a real estate adviser with Engel & Volkers, who resides in Los Cabos. “It’s not uncommon to find listings for $10 million and above that have interested buyers in heated bidding wars.”

More evidence of Cabo’s high prices: a recent survey of 175 buyers from Golf Life Navigators, a site that matches people with golf memberships and homes, found that the average real estate budget for a golf home in Cabo is just over $730,000.

Despite the prices, sales have been flourishing throughout all parts of Cabo.

Ms. Rahaman said that her company saw nearly $141 million in sales in 2020, versus around $103 million in 2019 — despite the fact that Los Cabos was shut down from March to June. “Cabo has always been a popular second-home market, but the pandemic pushed sales to unprecedented levels,” she said.

Querencia, a nearly 2,000-acre community near the airport with a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, saw home sales increase 40 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to Andrea Geisler, who works in real estate sales for the brand. Querencia’s 140 properties face either the mountains or the course, although 30 oceanfront condos are currently under construction. Prices for a 4,000 square-foot residence begin at $2 million, Ms. Geisler said.

“Most buyers come for the golf, although our other amenities such as the beach, two swimming pools and bike trails attract some nongolfers,” Ms. Geisler said.

One of the newest communities in the area, Rancho San Lucas, debuted 32 contemporary hacienda-style luxury homes in 2019 that cost from $3.7 million to around $7 million and 120 villas priced from $425,000 to $1.5 million. Greg Reisdorf, the property’s project director, said that 15 of these properties were sold from November 2020 to February of this year — the busiest period since sales began in January 2019. Rancho San Lucas, which sprawls across 834 acres, has the trappings of a resort: a course designed by Greg Norman; 15 miles of jogging and bike trails; three pools; and a spa with outdoor treatment rooms.

Brokers and developers said that most golf home buyers in Cabo were from California and Texas because both states offer multiple nonstop flights to Los Cabos. However, buyers from the East Coast, Canada, South America and Europe are an increasing part of the mix.

Set on the Caribbean Sea on Mexico’s east coast, Riviera Maya is a region on the Yucatán Peninsula to the south of Cancún that stretches to Tulum and beyond. Visitors come to enjoy the scenic coastline and Mayan ruins like the pre-Columbian city of Chichén Itzá.

Compared with Cabo, Mr. Norman said that the Riviera’s golf culture is still developing. “Golf in Riviera Maya is a byproduct of the success of Cancún, which has little room to expand much more and even less room to accommodate sprawling golf courses,” he said.

Jay Fletcher, the owner of Riviera Maya Real Estate Brokers (he also owned a real estate company in Cabo), said that the area had at least six courses with 18 holes. “All the courses are in residential communities and are becoming a reason why international buyers invest in homes here,” he said.

Examples of those communities include Mayakoba, home to El Camaleón, an 18-hole PGA Tour golf course designed by Mr. Norman, and a golf school from the renowned instructor Jim McLean; Bahia Principe, where the showpiece is an 18-hole course designed by Robert Trent Jones II set amid jungles, lakes and cenotes; and Corasol, a gated beachfront residential complex with three different communities and a golf course designed by the Zimbabwean golfer Nick Price.

So why Riviera Maya over Cabo? For one thing, it’s generally more affordable, Mr. Fletcher said. While luxury properties can range from $2 million to $8 million, there are plenty of two-bedroom, two-bath condos available for $300,000 and oceanfront penthouses for $1.2 million. “In some instances, prices are almost half of what they are in Cabo for comparable properties,” Mr. Fletcher said.

In a scenario similar to Cabo, home sales appear to be on the rise in some but not all instances in the wake of the pandemic, according to brokers and developers.

Mr. Fletcher, for example, said that his business slowed in the first few months of pandemic when Mexico was in lockdown but has since resumed to pre-Covid levels. On the other hand, Jason Waller, the owner of Playa Real Estate Group, said that his company has had record-breaking sales. “In 2020, we had $10 million in sales, and in the first two months of this year, we’re already at $13 million,” he said. “Golf is now a huge attraction which wasn’t the case a few years ago.”

Mayakoba, which has branded residences from Rosewood and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, has also seen an increase in sales, according to Kappner Clark, a spokeswoman for the development.

Rosewood’s portfolio includes 33 villas set along a lagoon and five beachfront homes; prices range from $3.6 million to more than $10 million. Fairmont’s 37 residences are built along the lagoons and the golf course and have a starting price of $1.4 million; they are also available for monthly fractional ownership for a starting price of $219,000. (An additional 33 Fairmont residences, yet to be built, are currently for sale). Although Ms. Clark declined to offer specific numbers, she said that sales were up in the second half of 2020 and the first two months of this year, compared with the year before.

Mareazul, a community within Corasol, had $12 million in sales in 2020, an increase of 25 percent from the year before. The 300 homes range in price from $400,000 to $1.2 million, said Luis Garcia, the chief commercial officer of Mareazul Capital, which owns the community, and have been popular with buyers from the United States, as well as Canada, Brazil, France and England.

“We’ve always had Americans and Canadians but have seen a big influx of Europeans since Covid who want to come here for a lifestyle that includes golf plus the beach,” he said.

Accessibility may play a role: prepandemic and even now, many international destinations have direct flights to Cancun International Airport including London, Lisbon, Paris and Lima, Peru.