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Down Mexico Way

Mexico's Pacific Coast Offers Duffers a Swing at Paradise
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

(continued from page 1)

If you choose not to loll around the clubhouse after your round, it may be that you can't wait to get back to the hotel. Rooms are artistically appointed with Mexican tile, marble, granite and all manner of brick and stone. The hotel has its own swimming lagoon, and if you prefer to swim in the ocean, you can take a quick skiff ride across the bay to Barre de Navidad, where the beach is clean and the bars and restaurants are filled with American fishermen.   Now comes the quick drive north to El Tamarindo. Entering the property off Highway 200, you come to a guarded gate. That gate opens onto a jungle and a drive down a marvelous brick and cobblestone road that twists and turns for miles through the resort. You come to the golf course, first passing by the 17th green and the 18th fairway.  

Already you sense the exquisite privacy. Tamarindo gets even less play than Isla Navidad. The two courses seldom accommodate more than 50 players a day. And at Tamarindo you aren't awed by a gargantuan clubhouse. Instead, you get a tiny palapa, essentially a counter covered by a steeply pitched thatched roof. This is the pro shop and clubhouse, sitting beside a small practice range. It's from here the adventure begins.  

It took architect David Fleming, in the company of machete wielders, four months to stake out the holes on this site. There is considerable elevation change, and Fleming was concerned about saving as many of the imposing trees as possible. Most of the old growth was at the bottom of valleys, so he routed the course on the mid-slope of the hills. You might want to know that during the construction he spotted a jaguar and a boa constrictor, and the area remains densely populated with wildlife. Flocks of parrots will squawk during your backswing and deer might stroll across a fairway.  

The course first collides with the Pacific at the green for the third hole. By then you've already traversed a great deal of jungle. The cart path between holes is in many places a tunnel through the vegetation. When you arrive at the sea, a flight of fancy may allow you to believe that you are the only golfer on the planet's only golf course.  

You head back into the jungle on the fourth hole and burst out of it again on the eighth, a short par 4 that drops steeply down to the cliffs above the sea. You don't even notice the par-3 ninth until you get to the tee. It's a delightful little hole with the green chiseled from the edge of a cliff. Up the hill from the ninth green is one of the game's best halfway houses, a palapa-style building overlooking the Pacific. Given that there is little play at Tamarindo, you could interrupt your round for an hour or two or three for a cold beer or two or three.  

The last encounter with the Pacific is at the par-3 12th, its green suspended above deserted Dorada Beach. As long as you've lagged behind at the halfway house, you might as well spend a little more time splashing around in the surf. Take the whole day, if you must, to play Tamarindo. You won't be holding anybody up. Is this paradise, or what?   And after a round, you can lounge around your casita, listening to the waves. A masseuse from the tiny spa can rub out the soreness of a bad swing, and cooks from the restaurant will, upon command, bring a grill to your front yard and prepare dinner to your specifications. In addition, you can choose whether to close the sliding walls of your casita or sleep exposed to the jungle night.  

Isla Navidad and Tamarindo are among the newest of the courses along the Mexican Riviera, though there have been fine places to play for more than three decades. Acapulco was once the center of golf along the Pacific Coast. The Pierre Marques course was the site of the 1982 World Cup of Golf. The Pierre Marques, the course and the hotel, sit next to the towering Fairmont Acapulco Princess Hotel, which has its own nifty little resort course.  

Canadian Pacific Hotels has purchased the Princess and the Pierre Marques, and vows to be more golf conscious. The Pierre Marques has some very good holes, largely because of a renovation before the World Cup by Jones. The course could stand some conditioning work, and the CP people say that will be a priority as they attempt to make it a golf destination.  

The Acapulco Princess course, just a short walk out the massive entry foyer of the hotel, is in better condition and is a better choice for higher handicap players or those who play only on vacation. It is by no means a pitch and putt course and, like the Pierre Marques, it has several water holes, but it's shorter and more manageable for resort players.  

South of these courses and near the airport is Tres Vidas Golf Club. An air of mystery has surrounded this course since it was opened in the late 1960s. Jones built two courses here, designing it to be an exclusive private club that drew its clientele from Acapulco's international jet set and Mexico City's wealthy upper class. It didn't work. The venture went bankrupt, lay fallow for many years, before being resurrected in the early 1990s with von Hagge brought in to design a single, and totally new, 18-hole course. The new course was built to free up much of the seaside land for development, which has yet to take place. And Tres Vidas is still a private golf club, but it's not difficult to get on, and it's well worth the effort.  

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