FORE — With heat roaring out of the Mexican jungle like a hot breath from hell, and with buzzards circling over the 12th tee, we concluded that picking a mid-August afternoon tee time was a very silly thing to do. Leave it to a beaming señorita driving a refreshment cart to provide us the “liquid will” to complete an incredible round of golf.
That would teach us to sleep in instead of hitting the links early. In Puerto Vallarta, the morning is superb for golf, leaving the afternoons for long lunches, lounging by a resort pool or walking along the waterfront of the historic old town.
In spite of the wilting humidity, our afternoon golfing at Puerto Vallarta’s Vista Vallarta was a joyful test of precision. Both its Jack Nicklaus course and the neighboring Tom Weiskopf course provided gorgeous views of Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay, and are set against the majestic green and violet Sierra Madre mountain range. Opened in 2001, the Vista Vallarta championship courses hosted the EMC World Golf Championship the following year.
Scaling Mt. Nicklaus The Nicklaus course lies on Vista Vallarta’s highest elevation. Its layout required us to launch drives up hills, around forests of giant ficus and palm trees, and over creeks and arroyos. Posted signs warned against poking around the foliage after lost balls, lest a rattlesnake be awakened from its siesta. Given the challenging, mountainous terrain, it was little surprise to learn that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator was filmed just a stone’s throw away.
“We only have two man-made lakes on the course,” said David Quiroz, assistant golf pro at Vista Vallarta. “Jack Nicklaus wanted to stay as true to the original contours as possible.” The third hole is a favorite, a par 5 that leaves little room for error to avoid the ball-swallowing rough. Even if you can drive the ball far enough to cross its creek, you can’t see the hole’s elevated putting green from the fairway. It sits up on a ledge, mocking you into launching a blind shot toward the tip of the flag.
“If you get stuck in the rough, you can’t hit anything less lofty than an 8-iron — it’s futile,” said Quiroz. “The hardest thing about that grass is that it grows like a weed. We don’t fertilize it — it just grows naturally. It takes a lot of maintenance to keep it under control.”
The greens provide another source of merriment, since the ball doesn’t always head where you plan.
“Part of the local knowledge is that putts tend to fall toward the ocean,” Quiroz said with a wink.
“Many players on the Champions Tour couldn’t figure out the greens, they’re so tricky to read.” Nicklaus’ other signature hole is the par-3 ninth, where he cut some of the back jungle to create an island for the green. The 13th is a short par 4, where players again can’t see the green. If you hit it right in between the bunkers, then you have a wide, shallow shot, or your golf ball will roll off into the ravine.
Weiskopf offers a gentler jaunt Vista Vallarta’s Weiskopf provides a more forgiving round of golf. The course also has dense jungles, deep ravines and swift creeks, but it doesn’t have the sharper changes in elevation found on the Nicklaus course.
One of its best holes is No. 4, a long par 5 into a southwest wind. With jungle on the right side and a drop-off into a natural water area (not to mention the rattlers), the landing area is just about 20 yards wide. The risk-reward on the hole is huge, as its tiered green has nothing but trouble wrapped around it.
Weiskopf ’s No. 10 is the longest hole in the entire bay: 624 yards dead into the wind. “It’s definitely a three-shot hole,” said Quiroz. “Maybe a PGA player could do it in two, but I’ve never seen it.” Puerto Vallarta’s sun and fun While my favorite part of Puerto Vallarta was driving (and a little slicing) my way around the Nicklaus course, there are few experiences more pleasant than Mexican cuisine, hospitality and accommodations.
A short drive led to the all-inclusive Casa Velas Hotel Boutique. With bright, open Mexican décor, Casa Velas’ walls are adorned with ceramic art, in-room whirlpools and every amenity right on the property.
Plus, to maximize a restful ambiance, nobody under 15 is allowed. Sorry, kids, this is adult time.
Its restaurant, Emiliano, served top-notch fresh fish, steaks and local specialties. While preserving its culinary elegance, Emiliano infused music and fun, courtesy of tableside musicians and magicians. And naturally we had to sample downtown Puerto Vallarta.
In the flea markets and shops along the calles, goods include wood carvings, sombreros, trinkets, blankets and lots of vanilla.
At night the city comes alive with clubs, salsa dancing and locals dressed up for the nightlife.
Walking along the waterfront is fun, strolling by the statues along the ocean and enjoying the sounds of laughing children. Towering over the city is the Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral, which went under construction in the 1900s and was completed in the 1960s.
There are plenty of tours available, most steering to the area where John Huston filmed Night of the Iguana, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. For my money, I’ll just keep heading up to where they filmed Predator and play another round at Vista Vallarta.
AT A GLANCE
Size and location: 4,300 oceanfront acres, 35 miles southeast of La Paz, Mexico.
Golf: 18-hole Tom Doak course scheduled for completion in January 2010. Clubhouse construction to begin in 2012.
Amenities: Planned luxury spa and hotel, private airport, boat moorings and boutique commercial centers.
Real estate: 600 custom homesites, ranging from 1/3-acre to more than three acres and priced from $300,000 to more than $6 million. Also planned are 450 casita-style residences.
Activities: The bay’s expansive hillsides, mountains and coastlines offer ideal settings for big-game fi shing, horseback riding, hiking, wakeboarding, kite-surfi ng, waterskiing, tennis and ATV tours. www.bahiasuenos.com
A new decade not only inspires a look back at important milestones, it also generates excitement over important developments to come. Such has been the anticipation over this winter’s opening of Bahía de los Sueños, Tom Doak’s creation located on the east coast of Mexico’s Baja California Sur peninsula.
The entire project includes Doak’s 18-hole golf course, approximately 600 custom homesites, a bay-view restaurant and an oceanfront hotel, with plans for elite resort amenities, private airport and boutique commercial centers. Bahía de los Sueños — just 35 miles southeast of La Paz and 100 miles northeast of Cabo San Lucas, is characterized by secret coves and magnificent desert sierras, all along a coastline as tranquil and secluded as when Spanish settlers landed there in 1535.
“The first impression of the course at Bahía de los Sueños is its terrific, long and wide beach, which we return to three times over the course of a round,” Doak said. “The magnificent variety of terrain and views sets this property apart from others in Los Cabos. The first few holes play among giant Cardón cacti, before a great uphill, par-5 ninth hole, with a stunning turn working up and around a huge hill. To me, the best stretch on the course might be holes 11 to 14, beginning at the high point of the course and playing back down to the beach.” In accordance with Bahía de los Sueños’ environmentally responsible approach to construction and development, Doak has crafted a habitat-sensitive layout that responds to the bay-view topography and conserves land and water. The course — which will be irrigated by renewable water — uses salt-tolerant Paspalum grass.
Bahía de los Sueños’ developer — Los Angeles-based PCS Development — incorporated Doak’s habitat-sensitive course into the layout of the resort, resulting in homesites and planned casitastyle residences with stunning golf course views.
“The community has the feel of an old Mediterranean fishing village, but it is Baja to the core,” said Charles Freedman, president of PCS Development. “Everything planned here — including the finest services, beautiful hotels, golf and beach clubs, gourmet dining, and state-of-the-art spa — will be offered with the most sophisticated design and elite presentation.
The Bahía de los Sueños Golf & Beach Club welcomes resort guests and homeowners. The Club is now accepting reservations for memberships. Construction of the clubhouse will begin in 2012. A temporary facility to house the Golf Club is in place for this winter’s course opening. Although private, the Bahía de los Sueños Golf Club will offer discretionary opportunities for public play at the course.