THE MEXICAN RESORT PLAYGROUND region of Puerto Vallarta has plenty of challenging golf courses open to the public. You must be a Punta Mita homeowner, a guest of one or a guest of the right luxury hotel, however, to play at the best course in the area: the Pacifico course at Punta Mita Golf Club near the Four Seasons Punta Mita.
This Jack Nicklaus-designed course is one of two in the planned resort community on a peninsula between Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita. The whole project was a massive 1990s undertaking on 1,500 acres of land, which allowed the developers to avoid dense high-rises in favor of open spaces. Guests of both the Four Seasons and The St. Regis have access to play either course. Pacifico has won a whole wall of awards, including being named the best golf course in the world by Condé Nast Traveler two different years.
The 200-acre course benefits from year-round warm weather, and a sea breeze keeps the summer air from getting too stifling. Eight holes lie along the water with stunning views. Between December and March you may even spot a whale.
A small army of gardeners and maintenance workers immaculately maintain the area. Water stations, air-conditioned bathrooms and a roving drinks cart were all there when we needed them. Plus, I got 19 holes for my green fees here, thanks to a bonus offering that’s one of the most photographed holes in the world.
HOLES 3A AND 3B | 134 yards and 184 yards, par 3
I was glad I warmed up well on the driving range before teeing off since the course doesn’t start you off easy here. The first hole is a par 4 of 373 yards and the second a challenging par 5 of 493 yards. The ocean comes into view as you approach the green of Hole 2. After the ocean makes you smile, so does Hole 3, a forgiving 134- yard beauty with the blue ocean water beyond.
I managed to par that one after landing a gratifying drive to the green with an 8-iron, but I wasn’t looking so skilled on the famous 3B bonus hole: The Whale’s Tail. The green lies on a natural island separated by a submerged causeway. During high tide, you simply take a shot at landing your drive on the green 184 yards away. There’s no score since you can’t take a second shot. When the tide is low, however, you ride an amphibious golf cart out to the island to pitch and putt.
I sailed the first shot over the island with a driver, shanked a shot off to the left with a 3-wood and finally landed one just off the green with that same club after teeing it high. I was feeling a little sheepish until my partner — then director of golf Phillip Ferrari — walked up with a 4-iron and promptly donated his first ball to the fish. The tide times were lucky for us, though, and we got to finish out the round with putts on the island.
HOLE 8 | 159 yards, par 3
The course is challenging at each stop, and Hole 7 stretches to 465 tough yards through a narrow fairway peppered with sand traps. The reward came at Hole 8 when we stepped up to the tee box and saw the water spread out to our left, this time on the opposite side of the peninsula. Ferrari managed a birdie while my distracted chip shot led to a bogey. I didn’t mind that or the bogey on following Hole 9, where we had the sea and a beach to our left the entire time. As we headed off to Hole 10, a staffer opened a cooler and handed us mango paletas — Mexican popsicles.
HOLE 18 | 414 yards, par 4
Much of the back nine meanders around the interior of the peninsula, but Hole 13 is a highlight, with a lake running along the fairway. We managed to clear it without giving away any more golf balls. Saltwater came back into view on the approach to the green on Hole 17, the last par 3. The final hole of the course is a real standout, with the ocean off to the right during every shot. I considered it a small victory to keep my ball on the fairway in the wind, especially as we approached the green on a small promontory easy to overshoot.
As we rolled up to the clubhouse and peeled off the golf gloves, an attendant magically appeared again, this time with a tray of cool scented towels to wipe off the sweat and dirt. Suitably refreshed, we headed inside to the Tail of the Whale Restaurant for a well-deserved Negra Modelo. My score was nothing to celebrate, but we toasted a day on one of the most enjoyable courses to play in North America.
Punta Mita Golf Club
Punta Mita, Bahía de Banderas
tel 52 329 291 5590
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