Mexico – A Land of Opportunity
For the past 20 years or so, the tiny fishing village of Cabo San Lucas has been rising like a meteor
on the Mexico golf horizon.With architects like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Tom Weiskopf and Robert Trent Jones paving the way, gringos have flocked to “Cabo” like lemmings to the sea — or, in this case, the Sea of Cortez. Yes, golf in Mexico has become a magical mystery tour for millions of tourists, especially when one considers other golfing ports of call, such as Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. Acapulco was the forerunner to “Jet Set” golf in the 1950s and ’60s, while Puerto Vallarta’s vast array of links popped up in the 1970s and ’80s, shortly after the Oscar-winning flick, “Night of the Iguana,” was filmed there.
But all is not well when it comes to golf in Mexico these days as a gloomy global economy has buried golf bastions like Cabo, Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta deep in a bunker of uncertainty. Americans are staying home, and the cash flow that comes with all things that are golf has started to dry up like parched earth for the Big Three of Mexican golf. Brad Wheatley, who arrived in Cabo in the early 1990s to help Nicklaus build Palmilla as well as the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, said he’s never seen anything like the current downturn in his nearly two decades of life on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.
“Everybody is crying — the hotels, the restaurants, the golf courses — and making it worse, the predictions on the economy around here for the next year or possibly two are off the charts in a bad way,” said Wheatley, who played golf at the University of Arizona.“It’s the worst crisis since the peso was severely devalued in the mid-1990s. “I know that my home is located near the 16th hole (on the Ocean Course) at Cabo del Sol, and I’ve never seen that course so quiet. And it’s the barometer of golf in Mexico.” Speaking about the Cabo area,Wheatley said it “has just been devastated since Wall Street went south and took its group business with it. The panic has set in, but I’ve noticed that some people are getting smart and backing off their prices and rates. I’m sure there’s a very good chance those bargains from the past will soon be back throughout Mexico.”
Cabo San Lucas
Cabo, with some 20,000 rooms and 180 holes of golf, was built for golfers. For a few dollars more, don’t skip Nicklaus’s Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, which literally dwarfs Weiskopf’s effort on the Desert Course.With seven holes on the Sea of Cortez (and free seafood tacos to boot!), players can survive the $350 green fee to experience one of the Golden Bear’s very best. Some people look at this as they do famed Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula; go ahead and splurge here just once in your life. Everyone, including the Bear, talks a lot about the Ocean Course’s closing stretch and the exhilarating ocean view at the 17th hole, but the front side has four beauties positioned along the beach that will have golfers keeping their cameras at the ready.
Another good bet in Cabo is pristine Palmilla, where the Desert, Mountain and Ocean nines collide gracefully — and the going rate is a few pesos less. Nicklaus also has two new 18-hole
layouts in the area, including Club Campestre and Puerto Los Cabos, and the old RTJ course called Cabo Real also is a treat at $220 as long as you can avoid the diving pelicans at the ninth hole.
The key to thoroughly enjoying Cabo, a village of 25,000, is where to stay with your No. 1 choice being the original inn at Palmilla, the quintessential Mexican retreat. The Westin Regina (big but awesome) and Hotel Cabo San Lucas (small but quaint) also are perfect places to kick back.What’s good is that all three are just a 20-minute cab ride to Cabo’s wild and crazy downtown, where the tequila pours virtually nonstop in party-hearty cantinas like the Giggling Marlin, El Squid Row and rocker Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo.
Most Americans had never heard of Puerto Vallarta until Richard Burton starred in “Night of the Iguana,” which was filmed just south of the city in the mid-1960s. Iguanas actually are the least of your worries, considering there’s a downtown course called The Marina that is loaded with alligators, as well as a Robert von Hagge-designed championship course called El Tigre that also packs some teeth. The course on everyone’s must-play list is Nicklaus’s Punta Mita-Four Seasons, where one hole, 3b, features one of the world’s true island greens. Hole 3b, which the Bear dubbed “Tale of the
Whale” because it actually looks like a whale’s tale from the tee, is accessed by an amphibious golf cart. When the tide is high or choppy, however, land-locked 3a comes into play. Two other superb offerings in the Puerta Vallarta area include Nicklaus’s Vista Vallarta, the site of the 2002 World Cup, and Weiskopf’s sister course on the same property. Of these two jungle-like experiences, stick with Jack’s version, as his course is higher in elevation and boasts views of the Sierra Madre Mountains and surrounding water. Like Punta Mita, both courses at Vista Vallarta are in the $200 range. There are two distinct options when it comes to where to stay in Puerto Vallarta.The Four Seasons Punta Mita is more than likely out of reach for most visitors (at $600 to $900 per room per night), while the Marriott is in the heart of the city, near the marina, and about one-third the price. Nightlife has a feel of yesteryear along a strip of old restaurants and shops that front the city’s flat-as-a-pancake beach. It’s why the Four Seasons remains popular despite its jaw-dropping price.
Sometimes a third alternative can offer high hopes, too, which is certainly the case with Acapulco, a classy city of 250,000 located high on the cliffs above a big bay of the same name.This is where Richard Burton and Liz Taylor once hung out and the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles followed. Even today Acapulco offers trendy attractions like Alebrije (the largest night club in Latin America) and Baby’O, one of the world’s most famous discos. Acapulco’s course of choice is Von Hagge’s Tres Vidas, where the par-3 12th hole plays directly toward the ocean. Five holes are actually on the water in what Von Hagge refers to as his “Mexican string of pearls,”which comes with a reasonable green fee of $195. Even though Tres Vidas is somewhat off the beaten path, about 20 miles south of the city, this unique “almost islandlike” layout is well worth the drive. Otherwise there is no need for a rental car as the rest of Acapulco’s fab four of courses — the Acapulco Princess,Mayan Palace and Pierre Marques — all are near enough the Fairmont Princess Hotel to just jump in a cab. Of the three, the Princess layout is visually alluring. All three are a great value at $125 or less. Another five-star resort that’s a little out of the way but deserves consideration is Las Brisas-Acapulco, where the pale pink-colored bungalows are stacked like a pyramid on the cliffs overlooking Acapulco Bay. Legendary Las Briasa remains one of the most romantic retreats in the world, as every room comes with a picture-window view of the nearby Pacific.