Puerto Vallarta / Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Before John Huston’s 1964 film, Night of the Iguana, Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy fishing village. Now it’s one of Mexico’s most popular sun and golf destinations receiving more than three million visitors each year. The Puerto Vallarta area and neighboring Riviera Nayarit feature colorful sunsets, the spectacular Bay of Banderas, the regal Sierra Madre mountain range, world-class golf courses and a plethora of après golf attractions.
At Vista Vallarta, visitors choose between two championship signature tracts designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus-both roller coaster courses take full advantage of their setting in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains and both are ranked in the top ten for resort courses in Mexico by the Best Golf Guide to the Mexican Riviera Magazine. Also, in recognition for outstanding design, the editors of Golf Digest Magazine, and its national panel of course raters, named the Nicklaus Course number 79 among the “100 Best Golf Courses Outside the United States.”
Opened in 2001, the Nicklaus Course is located at the property’s highest elevation and therefore affords fabulous views of Puerto Vallarta and the Bay of Banderas.
The Weiskopf Course winds through dense jungles and over deep ravines and creeks. Number 15 is a terrific par three that plays over a deep gulch with only a sliver of a green totally surrounded by bunkers. Scoring a par here is a true accomplishment. Finish your rounds with tacos and margaritas on the clubhouse terrace.
Conveniently located in the Hotel Zone, the Marina Vallarta course was designed by American architect Joe Finger and is the oldest in Vallarta. The course provides a fine watery challenge, especially on the back nine. Thanks to the plentiful natural lagoons, wildlife abounds here and many players bring cameras along with their clubs. In addition to herons and iguanas, Marina Vallarta is also home to a few seemingly docile crocs that are best admired at a distance. As for food, the casita-style clubhouse serves spicy huevos rancheros-the ideal breakfast fuel before starting a round.
At El Tigre in Nuevo Vallarta, golf architects Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril have sculpted serpentine-mounded fairways with devious bunkers and plenty of water, especially on the par-three number six island green. El Tigre is the kind of course that can be played again and again. Good luck trying to tame it.
The Puerto Vallarta area and neighboring Riviera Nayarit feature colorful sunsets, the spectacular Bay of Banderas, the regal Sierra Madre mountain range, world-class golf courses and a plethora of après golf attractions.
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta offers three unique golf experiences. With lush jungle and the Sierra Madre mountains on one side and the Pacific on the other, the Nayar Course is a good test for all. Seven lakes, 49 strategically placed bunkers and constant crosswinds coming off of the Pacific, present plenty of challenges.
The new Greg Norman Signature Golf Course meanders along the banks of the mighty Ameca River with vistas of the Sierra Madre mountains from every fairway. The round starts with a ride across the world’s largest golf cart suspension bridge that spans the Ameca River from Nayarit to Jalisco.
Mr. Norman designed this tract as a resort-friendly course that achieves that fine balance between challenge and enjoyment. His generous fairways become tighter and trickier nearer to the green and are often protected, in typical Norman style, by cavernous bunkers. Along the way, golfers often spot tropical birds, iguanas and a croc or two.
The newest addition to the offerings at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta, is the ten-hole, par-three Lakes Course. It is the region’s only lit course, offering play until 11 p.m.
Located at the south end of Bucerias in Riviera Nayarit, Flamingos Golf is the best bargain in the area. Designed by Percy Clifford, Flamingos’ unique fairways have a bit of everything-from plenty of forced carries and elevation changes, to resident crocodiles. The open-air Palapa restaurant is a convivial place for a frosty Corona and a languorous lunch after a good round.
Litibu, one of the Mexican government’s Fonatur projects, the first of which was Cancun, means “song of the birds” in the language of the local Huichol Indians. With luck, you will be able to chirp about a few birdies on this spectacularly challenging tract that meanders over jungle, mountain and oceanside fairways.
Litibu hosted the International Canadian Golf Tour Tournament in 2010, its inaugural year. This helped to bring much deserved international attention to the Greg Norman (a.k.a. the Great White Shark) design located between Sayulita and Punta Mita.
Norman’s par-threes at Litibu are outstanding. Surf’s up on the fourth: a downhill poke to a postage stamp green with a gorgeous view of Punta Mita at the end of the Bay of Banderas. Another memorable par-three is the eighth where the ball must land on an almost-island green.
The Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita boasts two Jack Nicklaus Signature courses. In June 2008, the Punta Mita Pacifico Course was named the number one golf course in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Pacifico boasts19 fairways and the world’s only natural island green. To play this signature Tail of the Whale third hole, you must carry your drive about 180 yards across the Pacific Ocean. In low tide, you can walk over a rocky ocean-floor pathway to putt. Less adventuresome swingers can opt to play the alternate landlocked 3A. The Jack Nicklaus Signature design takes full advantage of the vistas of the surrounding Sierra Madre mountains, the white coral sand beaches and the tropical landscapes filled with palms and bougainvillea.
Jack’s newer Punta Mita Bahia Course may be less dramatic, but the severely contoured greens will challenge your putting acumen. The grand finale fairways 17 and 18 take golfers within steps of Punta Mita’s famed El Faro surfing beach.
Both tracts are in such impeccable condition, you would swear they trim the fairways with manicure scissors. If you are feeling a bit parched, the waiter at the halfway house provides complimentary iced towels and mango/banana smoothies.
Mazatlán is perennial favorite for snowbirds. The area is endowed with a shoreline sprinkled with beckoning islands, a lovely seaside promenade, miles of golden beaches and a plethora of blue lagoons. It truly lives up to its name: “Pearl of the Pacific.”
Mazatlán is perennial favorite for snowbirds. The area is endowed with a shoreline sprinkled with beckoning islands, a lovely seaside promenade, miles of golden beaches and a plethora of blue lagoons. It truly lives up to its name: Pearl of the Pacific.
Opened in the heart of Mazatlan’s Golden Zone in 1973, El Cid Golf & Country Club features 27 challenging holes. The newest Marina nine was designed by PGA Tour legend and Golf Hall of Famer Lee Trevino. El Moro’s nine holes will challenge the long hitter and reward those with keen aim. Locals call the eighth, a 611-yard, par-five, “the monster.” Castilla offers the most forgiving series of nine holes and is a good place to work out the kinks.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the 7045-yard championship Estrella del Mar on Stone Island has been dubbed the “Pebble Beach” of Mazatlan. Located along the Pacific Ocean, this 18-hole gem boasts palm-lined Bermuda grass fairways, manicured greens and devilish bunkers. Six of the holes play down to and along the pristine beach. The highly ranked course has played host to the Canadian PGA Championship and the PGA Tour Latin-American Mazatlan Open.
The area’s newest Marina Mazatlan 18-hole course was designed by David Fleming and opened in spring of 2009. The course presents a watery challenge, especially on the signature 17th and 18th fairways. Fleming designs his courses with the philosophy that golf should be fun for swingers of all levels.
DID YOU KNOW?
La Patrona Equestrian Center & Polo Club in San Pancho is the only polo club in the state of Nayarit? Aside from polo, La Patrona Equestrian Center offers facilities and lessons for riding, jumping and dressage. Visitors may also arrange to go horseback riding along the beach or through the jungles of San Pancho. Sunday polo brunches at La Patrona take place from November until April.
► Munch and mingle with locals on the VALLARTA FOOD TOURS TACO CRAWL. The dinner includes tastings at several taco stands, a bowl of pozole (a stew of hominy and shredded pork,) a shot of Mezcal and churros or Mexican doughnuts.
► In La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, located in Riviera Nayarit, visit the MERCADO DEL MAR to spot fishermen arriving with their catch of the day. On Sunday mornings, from October to April, this same space becomes a bustling organic farmer and handicraft market.
► VALLARTA ADVENTURES offers thrills and unique experiences all along the Bay of Banderas. Visitors can become dolphin trainers for a day, go extreme zip lining, discover a hidden beach on the Marietas Islands and more.
► ESTRELLA DEL MAR in Mazatlan runs a sea turtle sanctuary supervised by a marine biologist. You can tour the sanctuary and become part of the conservation team for a day.