Down Mexico Way
Mexico's Pacific Coast Offers Duffers a Swing at Paradise
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00
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Tres Vidas is a tough track, and von Hagge's "vertical expression" reaches its height here. "We built up the edges of the holes to hide housing that has so far not materialized," says von Hagge. "Our vertical expression may seem a little extreme, but it was meant to seem like it was not part of a development. Overall I think we achieved our goal of building a good golf course in a development setting." Yes, Tres Vidas is a good course and when the wind blows, which is often, it's a difficult one. The mounds along the sides of fairways are often carpeted with shaggy Bermuda grass rough, which catches balls and produces awkward lies. A baseball swing with the ball lying at chest level isn't all that uncommon at Tres Vidas, and it's pretty difficult to practice that swing on flat driving ranges.
A fourth course in the area is the Mayan Palace, an amenity of the Mayan Palace timeshare and hotel resort. It's not as interesting as the other courses, though it's less costly than Tres Vidas and tends to be less crowded than the Princess and the Pierre Marques. A terrific amenity of golf in Acapulco is the city itself, at least if you are looking for some nightlife and good food. When you're in the elegant outdoor eating area of El Ovido, watching the surf wash onto the rocks below while hoisting a Margarita on high, double bogeys don't seem as bad as when you marked your scorecard hours before.
Up the coast from Acapulco is Ixtapa, which has two courses. The Palma Real Golf Club, another Jones design, is lovely. It's a development course, but it doesn't seem constrained by the big homes that surround it. Lakes with alligators, flocks of seabirds and closing holes along the Pacific are a treat. Von Hagge designed the other course, Ixtapa Marina Golf Club, which is distinguished by huge bunkers and grassy moguls in the rough.
In Manzanillo is the Las Hadas resort, made famous by Bo Derek running up its beach and cavorting with Dudley Moore in the movie 10. Brothers Pete and Roy Dye designed the resort's La Manterreya Golf Club, which is spectacular in its own way even if it doesn't deserve a 10. The 18th hole plays to an island green that reportedly cost $1 million to build. The course is a worthy destination even if the hotel is getting a little long in the tooth.
For years, Puerto Vallarta got along with one course, the Marina Vallarta Golf Club. Not a bad place to play, it became crowded and expensive even while its maintenance was neglected. Now there is a new course in the area, and two more under construction to feed a golf-hungry crowd of Americans who increasingly turn vacations in Puerto Vallarta into house-hunting expeditions.
The Four Seasons Punta Mita resort an hour north of Puerto Vallarta was opened last fall and has already become a must destination for well-heeled travelers. The Four Seasons's reputation as an ultraluxurious facility with superb rooms, fine dining and a delightful staff is only enhanced at Punta Mita. Its Jack Nicklaus-designed course combines beauty, challenge and playability in just about perfect proportions. Also, it has that island hole that everyone is talking about.
Though Pete Dye made the island green a popular gimmick in golf course design with his 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass, there is no truer island hole than 3B at Punta Mita (that's right, it's comes right after 3A). Nicklaus has placed a green on a rock outcropping about 190 yards offshore from the regular tee on this par 3. At low tide you can reach it along a rock walkway. As the tide moves in, a staff member in an amphibious vehicle will shuttle you back and forth. Sea birds often perch on the rocks behind the green, no doubt wondering what these silly creatures are doing bashing eggs around and rolling them into holes. For the timid, hole 3A doesn't require you to hit across the ocean, but there is a large marshy area protecting the green. Play both holes; everyone does.
Though the Punta Mita course is meant to be private for guests of the hotel and the owners of the upscale timeshare units and private homes being built, it can be played if you are staying at one of the better hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Any savvy concierge will know whom to call.
And soon that concierge will be able to call two upscale courses being built by ClubCorp of America, the golf course and hoteliers who own, among many properties, the Pinehurst resort in North Carolina. Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf are designing the adjoining new courses, set in the mountain foothills east of the city and not far from the airport. ClubCorp has also taken over the Marina Vallarta course, and once the new courses open, it will close down for much needed renovation.
Over the past decade the courses of the Mexican Baja, at Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas, have garnered much publicity, hosted televised events and drawn golfers from all over the world. That hasn't happened along the Mexican Riviera, but that doesn't mean these courses are any less desirable and fun to play. Besides, Mexican Riviera courses are less crowded, often less costly and are attached to many interesting cities and towns that have more flavor of Mexico than the Baja.
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