By Tom Mackin
When two-time major championship winner Lorena Ochoa is inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame next September, she will become the first Mexico-born golfer ever accorded such an honor. While the country may not have produced many great players, Mexico is home to a stellar roster of courses, especially on its coastlines. Here are the top courses—from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean, across three regions of the country—that are well worth a tee time, plus a sneak peek at three upcoming new course projects.
Everybody wants to play where the pros play. Visiting Fairmont Mayakoba, located 40 miles south of Cancun along the Riviera Maya gives you just that chance. The resort’s El Camaleon Golf Course, ably designed by Greg Norman, has been a PGA Tour venue since 2007. The layout takes you through a forest, mangroves and the beach. Few, if any other, courses can boast of an opening hole that has a subterranean cavern (known as a cenote) right in the middle of the fairway El Camaleon. The colorful Caribbean serves as the backdrop on two par 3s, while some degree of wind is always present. Many of the resort’s 401 rooms and suites come with spa-style bathrooms and furnished balconies or terraces, while a Willow Stream Spa includes a couple’s suite located in the treetops. The resort’s four restaurants were renovated in 2015 and menus were upgraded thanks to a partnership with celebrity chef Richard Sandoval.
The P.B. Dye-designed IBEROSTAR Playa Paraíso Golf Club is located 30 minutes from Cancun International Airport in Playa Paraíso, between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, on the Riviera Maya. Opened in 2005, the layout is highlighted by the par-4 9th hole, where your tee shot must carry a 180-yard-long rock river bed to reach a severely uphill-sloped fairway. A replica of the famed Chichen Itza pyramid (which contains the IBEROSTAR Maya lobby bar) is a hard-to-miss aiming point for your second shot.
Two Jack Nicklaus courses are worth the hour drive west from the Puerto Vallarta airport to Punta Mita, a 1,500-acre resort and residential community. Homes in this gated community range from $700,000 to $14 million, and two world-class resorts–the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita and The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort–offer the expected high level of service.
The par-72, 7,014-yard Pacifico Course has long garnered attention for its unique–and optional–par-3 3rd hole, which is all-carry over water to a green, only reachable via an amphibious vehicle when the tide is in (if you do play it, take an extra club since the green is deeper than it appears). The par-72, 7,035-yard Bahia Course is similar in terrain to its neighbor but with more sharply contoured greens. Before or after your round, make sure to enjoy lunch on the outdoor patio at the clubhouse. Order the camarones fajitas and wash them down with an Arnold Palmer, Mexican-style (made with extra-fizzy lemonade). While dining options abound at both resorts (the Four Seasons beachfront bar is a great place to catch the sunset), an alternative just outside the gates is worth the short trip: the upscale Tuna Blanca by Café des Artistes, part of a beachfront boutique hotel.
A Greg Norman-designed course opened in November 2016 at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta resort just north of downtown Puerto Vallarta, joining an existing Jack Nicklaus Design layout. Offering countless views of the Sierra Madres Mountains, the par-73 course also features a ride over the world’s longest golf cart suspension bridge that spans the Ameca River from Nayarit to Jalisco.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then images of the golf holes at Quivira, a growing luxury real estate development on the Pacific Ocean side of Los Cabos, are worth a book or two. After a benign opening of four holes on this Jack Nicklaus-designed course, a five-minute uphill cart ride takes you to a 310-yard par-4, sharp dogleg left that plunges downhill to a green overlooking the Pacific. Two par 3s (the 180-yard 6th and 140-yard 13th) are other coastal stunners, while the 12th hole is a 635-yard par 5 that tumbles downward from an elevated tee to a green overlooking the beach. The course debuted in December of 2014 and is open to members and guests at the nearby Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort, Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Golf & Spa Resort and the Montecristo Estates Luxury Villas. Guests of both Pueblo Bonito Rosé Resort & Spa and Pueblo Bonito Los Cabos Beach Resort also have access to tee times at Quivira.
The layout is also the centerpiece of a 1,800-acre community, which features a variety of real estate options, including Copala, with seven residential towers, condos and homes; and Coronado, a collection of single-level hacienda-style homes starting at $1.6 million. The Towers at Pacifica—part of the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort—have recently opened and feature three new structures with distinct accommodations and enhanced amenities (including personalized 24-hour British Butler Institute-certified butler service). There’s also elevated dining experiences and exclusive access to a new VIP Towers Lounge, all overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Just north of Quivira is Diamante Cabo San Lucas, a luxury real estate development with two private courses: the Dunes Course by Davis Love III, ranked 38th in the world by Golf Magazine, and El Cardonal, the first course ever designed by Tiger Woods. The Dunes Course recently opened a new par-3 10th hole. The course now ends on the signature former 17th hole while the former 18th hole has been taken out of play. Perhaps more notable is the recent opening of Cabo’s first par-3 course—The Oasis Short Course by TGR Design. There will be 12 holes ranging from 41 yards to 143 yards, plus an alternative three-hole loop within that routing that includes a par 3, par 4 and par 5.
In addition to the several residence club and real estate communities already under development at Diamante, additional future plans at Diamante call for a 10-acre beachfront resort and real estate development, a 90-acre luxury branded beachfront hotel and real estate development, an expansion of the sport and recreation facility, and a “Village” boutique shopping center.
El Dorado Golf & Beach Club is a private members club loaded with high-end amenities. The 7,322-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed course debuted in 1999, but the Discovery Land Company’s 2005 purchase of the property raised both the golf and real estate options to a new level. Comfort stations loaded with food and drink—a hallmark of every Discovery Land Company course, including Estancia in Arizona, The Madison Club in Palm Springs and Bakers Bay in the Bahamas—are essentially mini-restaurants. At El Dorado that means access to local tuna jerky, world-famous chicken salad, an old-fashioned candy store, root beer floats, strawberry “Goose Juice,” homemade fresh fruit ice pops, homemade beef jerky, chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches, chocolate-covered frozen bananas and a supply of Casamigos tequila.
When Cabo Del Sol opened in 1994, the Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course set a new standard for golf in the area. Multiple holes along the ocean on both nines—but especially the spectacular par-3 17th—garner plenty of attention. In 2001, the Ocean Course was joined by Tom Weiskopf’s Desert Course, creating a very memorable 36-hole experience.
Palmilla Golf Club found a silver lining when Hurricane Odile hit the area in 2014, motivation for a $3.5-million makeover of the golf course that includes the renovation of three of the four lakes over the past two years with the fourth lake being completed in 2017. Nearby is the lavish One & Only Palmilla Resort, whose origins date back to the 1950’s when the area was a getaway for Hollywood stars and deep-sea fishing aficionados.
ON THE TEE
Puerto Los Cabos: A second nine holes designed by Jack Nicklaus is expected to open in mid-to-late 2017. Those holes are adjacent to the existing Marina Course nine and will form an all-Nicklaus course. A new clubhouse is scheduled to debut in 2018, while a second nine holes by Greg Norman are planned for 2019. A Ritz-Carlton Reserve Hotel with 120 oceanfront and ocean-view villas is scheduled to open in late 2017. On the residential side, only 12 out of 27 West Enclave, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve Residences remain (at the time of publication), ranging from four- to five-bedrooms and priced between $4.1 and $4.9 million dollars. The next phase of Reserve Residences in The Enclaves will be released in the second quarter of 2017. This next phase will consist of three-bedroom condominiums and four-bedroom penthouses with prices expected to range from $2.5 to $4 million.
Rancho San Lucas Golf Club: This new Greg Norman design located 30 minutes south of the Los Cabos Airport and 20 minutes from downtown Cabo San Lucas is expected to open in late 2017 and features seven holes set in dunes overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The community itself will include The Villas at Rancho San Lucas, two-story single-family residences with golf-, ocean- and desert-views and The Estates at Rancho San Lucas, exclusive single-story beachfront estate homes and expansive luxury condominiums.
Chileno Bay: Discovery Land Company, owners of El Dorado, are injecting new life into Chileno Bay, a 1,200-acre private club and community located a short drive from the company’s El Dorado Golf & Beach Club. A Tom Fazio-designed golf course officially opened on Dec. 30, 2016, while the property will also include Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, part of the Auberge Resorts Collection. Plans call for 425 residential units, including custom home sites and developer-built luxury single-family homes and villas. “My family and I have a tremendous love for this area and the people of Los Cabos,” says Michael Meldman, chairman and CEO of Discovery Land Company. “El Dorado has been incredibly successful and has become a vital part of the larger Los Cabos community. With it nearing build out, we look forward to helping make Chileno Bay one of the most sought-after communities and clubs in North America. It is an ideal location and it has a truly spectacular master-plan under development.”
As featured in InMexico magazine 2017.