By Timothy Scott
The swing felt just right and my ball went sailing through the air, over the crashing waves, and dropping onto the green at infamous hole 3B—the world’s only natural ocean island green. Sure, I took a double mulligan before making this happen (golf balls made out of fish food would be nice), but I still got a great feeling of satisfaction as I rode the amphibious golf cart through the water to the hole.
Golf at Punta Mita
The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at Punta Mita has been winning praise for a decade now, frequently topping polls as the best course in Mexico and occasionally showing up near the top for all of North America. A second—and very different—course also designed by Nicklaus opened here in 2009, It's certainly hard for any pair of courses to match the stunning panoramic scenery that's the backdrop of many holes here, especially in the winter when whales are migrating past. I missed whale watching season, but I blamed my triple–bogey on hole 15 of the Bahia course on being distracted by the surfers catching big waves just offshore.
The 7,104–yard, par–72 Pacifico course features eight ocean–side holes, plus the signature Tail of the Whale island hole, which is 199 yards from the coastal tee box. The second Bahia course opened in November of 2009 with a more challenging set of undulating greens. Here five holes run along the ocean and two more have ocean views. This 7,035 yard, par–72 course is closer to the St. Regis resort and straddles several newer housing developments.
The Punta Mita Club de Golf feels like a best–of–the–best exclusive country club: only Punta Mita homeowners, villa renters, and guests of either the Four Seasons or St. Regis are allowed to play. From arrival at the well–equipped locker rooms to a drink afterwards at the course–side restaurant, everything is first class. Attendants provide cool scented towels, water, and practice balls and a refreshment cart continuously circles the course. At the 9th hole on each course, an attendant comes to the cart with a cold mango drink, restrooms are air-conditioned, and you can order a hot snack or a beer.
As you would expect at the premier course in such a popular region for golf, everything is impeccably maintained. This doesn’t mean nature takes a back seat, however. Native vegetation is allowed to thrive in areas between the fairways and moisture management sensors keep course watering at only the minimum level needed. Acknowledging the importance of the extensive local wildlife, Punta Mita uses environmentally safe organic fertilizers and uses only biodegradable insecticides on greens bordering the ocean.
I was fortunate enough to play with the resident golf pro, Phillip Ferrari, and have knocked a few strokes off my game heeding his advice. He is available for customized lessons to work on specific areas of improvement. For more information on facilities, greens fees, and rentals, see the Punta Mita Club de Golf page at the Four Seasons site or the Punta Mita Golf site—the latter with a hole–by–hole gallery for both courses.
As I finished up the ninth hole at the Marina Vallarta course, I was wishing I had played this one first instead of second since the comparison to Punta Mita was not pretty. At 4:30 the clubhouse and bar were already closed, the drink cart had returned to the garage, and I had to hop a fence to a nearby coffee shop to buy something to keep me from dehydrating. Better book a morning tee time!
This course, near the Puerto Vallarta Marina and next to the lovely Casa Velas Hotel, has a reputation as being a nature–lover’s golf course and on that note it did not disappoint. I was only three holes in when I had spotted a baby crocodile, egrets, herons, a huge iguana, and ducks. With “crocodile habitat” signs next to all the ponds, this is not a course where you want to fish around for your lost ball.
Only one hole here has a clear view of Banderas Bay, however, and that is over a rocky seawall with barbed wire. Players come here for the convenient location, exceptionally challenging holes, and bird watching.