By Anita Draycott
I’m not sure what I enjoy more—swinging or eating. Fortunately, I get the best of both on the Bay of Banderas in Riviera Nayarit, one of Mexico’s top golf and gourmet destinations. Every year, I make it my “duty” to play the Riviera Nayarit’s top designer courses, eat at the best restaurants and report back to my fellow travelling golfers…hard work but someone’s got to do it!
Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic
The Punta Mita resort (about a 45-minute drive north of Puerto Vallarta Airport) boasts two Jack Nicklaus Signature courses. In June 2008, Pacifico was named the number one golf course in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Pacifico boasts 19 fairways and the world’s only natural island green. To play this signature Tail of the Whale third hole you must carry your drive about 180 yards across the Pacific Ocean. In low tide, if you haven’t made an offering to Neptune, walk over a rocky ocean-floor pathway to putt. Less adventuresome swingers can opt to play the alternate landlocked 3A. The Jack Nicklaus Signature design takes full advantage of vistas of the surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains, white coral sand beaches and a tropical landscape of palms and bougainvillea.
Jack’s new Bahia Course may be less dramatic but the severely contoured greens will challenge your putting acumen. The grand finale fairways 17 and 18 take golfers within steps of Punta Mita’s famed El Faro surfing beach.
These tracts are in such impeccable condition, you’d swear they trim the fairways with manicure scissors and sift the sand. And just when you’re feeling a bit parched, the waiter at the halfway house greets you with complimentary iced towels and mango/banana smoothies. If only they could help me to hit that island green.
After our round, we head to the Four Seasons Tail of the Whale restaurant located on the upper level of the clubhouse with views of both courses and the Pacific Ocean. The refreshing green gazpacho combines cucumber, apple, pepper, onion, green tomato, Serrano chilies and fresh herbs. Tail of the Whale ceviche is a magical combo of jumbo shrimp, tomato, olives, avocado and orange segments in a tomato/citrus sauce. Fish tacos are always popular and even the hot dog, decked out with bacon and cheddar cheese, achieves new culinary heights.
Note: The private Punta Mita Golf Club is open only to Punta Mita property owners and their guests, and guests of Four Seasons and St. Regis Resorts. www.puntamita.com
From November 30 to December 30, 2017, The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort and Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in conjunction with DINE, master developer of Punta Mita, and the Riviera Nayarit Visitors and Convention Bureau will host the seventh annual American Express Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic. The extravaganza will be a delicious orgy of gourmet golf on both of Punta Mita’s courses with “putt stops” on various holes to sample food and drink. Before and after the rounds, guests indulge in dinners, beach bashes, wine and tequila tastings prepared by celebrity chefs, sommeliers and tequileros from around the world.
The event supports Ayudar Es Posible, the foundation of acclaimed former professional Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa, which helps underprivileged children through educational programs, sports, healthy living, and self-esteem seminars. If this sounds like your “cup of tee and tequila,” check out details on the website: www.puntamitagourmetgolf.com
Las Huertas & San Pancho
This is my newest golf discovery in Riviera Nayarit. I was told that the owner is an avid golfer who used to play frequently at Punta Mita. When it was decided that the two Punta Mita courses would be available only to resort guests and owners, Senior Hardesty decided to build his own course in San Francisco (nicknamed San Pancho) where he lives. He called it Las Huertas (means the orchards) as the fruity fairways incorporate mangos, grapefruits, cashew nut, cinnamon, tamarindo, black pepper and guanabana trees.
Las Huertas Golf Course is a nine-hole, par-32 track measuring 3,958 yards from the tips. There are only nine holes but sometimes that’s all you want, or you can play the course twice. This is no “cow pasture.” Fairways are nicely maintained, golf carts are state-of-the-art and there’s Clara’s Pub patio restaurant with view of the Pacific while you sip your cerveza and enjoy typical Mexican dishes such as quesadillas, fajitas and nachos.
Carts and clubs are available for rent in case you wish to play a spur-of-the-moment round. Every Sunday in winter you can enter the Fruity Tournaments. Prizes go to those with the lowest score (you need to provide your handicap), closest to the pin and longest drive. Entry fee, about $75, includes 18 holes, cart and chicken fajitas lunch. Reservations are necessary. www.lashuertasgolf.com
When you go to San Pancho, allow enough time to have breakfast at El Cielo Rojo, a cute boutique hotel and organic restaurant located a couple of blocks from the beach (Calle Asia #6). The motto here is: Food is fuel, food is medicine, food is love. Fuel comes in the form of an amazing rendition of huevos rancheros served atop homemade blue tortillas. Green juice made with lime, basil, mint, celery, cilantro, ginger, cucumber, cactus and parsley makes a delicious medicine. Or try the energizing coconut water and turmeric. Hot-from-the-oven scones served with local honey taste like love to me. Cielo Rojo also sells its own brand of tequila and olive oil. www.hotelcielorojo.com
After your round at Las Huertas, head down to the beach, pull up a chair and dig your feet into the sand at Las Palmas. Order the tuna tostadas—carpaccio of the freshest tuna topped with crispy caramelized onions and a secret sauce. They slide down very well with a frosty margarita as the sun sinks into the sea.
There’s been a recent shark siting at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta. The new par-73 Greg Norman Signature Golf Course meanders along the banks of the mighty Ameca River with vistas of the Sierra Madre Mountains from every fairway.
I played with Tom Stickney, Director of the Vidanta Golf Academies and Sales and Marketing. Stickney, named a “top 100 instructor by Golf Magazine,” proved to be a terrific role model as he parred or birdied almost every hole.
But you don’t have to be a scratch swinger to have fun and score well on the new par-73 Norman Course. Chose from four different tee options. You will also have the advantage of a forecaddie (mandatory) who offers target advice, rakes bunkers, repairs divots and helps you line up your putts. Mr. Norman designed his tract as a resort-friendly course that achieves that fine balance between challenge and enjoyment. His generous fairways getter tighter and trickier nearer the greens, often protected, in typical Norman style, by cavernous bunkers. Along the way, you will spot lovely birds, iguanas and maybe a croc or two.
Your round starts with a ride across the world’s largest golf cart suspension bridge spanning the Ameca River from Nayarit to Jalisco States. Hole number one is a relatively gentle handshake to your game. But avoid the huge Guanacastle tree on the right side of the fairway as it can block your second shot. Number three is a 180-yard par-three requiring a carry over a pond. If you suffer from hydrophobia (as I do), tuck an extra Titleist in your pocket. The par-four sixth epitomizes risk/reward strategy. You can hit straight towards two bunkers at the end of the fairway and then a short iron onto the green, or, let it rip toward the palm trees at the corner of the lake and pitch onto the green for a birdie opportunity. Don’t forget to factor in the wind.
Stickney tells me that there are more grand plans for Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta. Currently the facility has the original Jack Nicklaus 18-hole course that Stickney says is for the “average” golfer. He recommends the Norman Course for the “avid” player and another new course (designer still to be determined) will be for the “alpha” swinger. A 12-hole, par-three executive course with night lighting is also in the works. As well, the Cirque du Soleil is contracted to create three “Disney-like theme parks.”
Should you decide it’s time to hone your game, Stickney and his team offer several lesson packages at the Vidanta Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf beside the driving range. They use state-of-the-art digital video analysis and training methods, plus a putter lab.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a taco or burrito and beverage at the Gastro & Golf food truck next to the Academy. www.vidantagolf.com
Try to tame El Tigre. No, it’s not named after Tiger Woods, but for the larger than life rescued Bengal tigers that live in cages on the 17th. You might also spot a cub tethered to a bougainvillea bush near the driving range. Between Robert von Hagge’s brutal bunkering, gorgeous sculpted fairways, and island green and wild cats, El Tigre is the kind of course you’d want to play again and again. www.eltigregolf.com
Located at the south end of Bucerias this is the best bargain in the area. Designed by Percy Clifford, Flamingos’ unique fairways have a bit of everything—from plenty of forced carries and elevation changes to resident crocodiles. Players can save on greens fees by purchasing a package of five or more. The club also provides afternoon shuttles (when available) to your hotel. Their palapa restaurant serves spicy wings and other Mexican favourites. They also do a nice version of huevos rancheros for breakfast. www.flamingosgolf.com.mx
Litibu & La Tranquila
Litibu Golf Course hosted the International Canadian Golf Tour Tournament in 2010, its inaugural year. This helped to bring much deserved international attention to the Greg Norman design located between Sayulita and Punta Mita.
The newest of the Mexican government’s Fonatur projects (the first was Cancun), Litibu means “song of the birds” in the language of the local Huichol Indians. With luck you’ll be able to chirp about a few birdies on this spectacularly challenging tract that meanders over jungle, mountain and oceanside fairways.
From the tips, Greg Norman’s design measures 7,022 yards. Number one is a narrow palm-lined par-four to a green protected by water—an indication that Norman’s challenge will be no walk in the park. You can let it rip on the uphill second par-five. At the number three green, golfers are treated to the roar of waves and beach below.
Norman’s par-threes at Litibu are outstanding. Surf’s up on the fourth, a downhill poke to a postage stamp green with a gorgeous view of the point at the end of the Bay of Banderas called Punta Mita. Another memorable par-three is the eighth where you must plop your ball on an almost-island green.
On the back nine Norman takes you on merry romp toward the undulating foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Sixteen and seventeen are uphill battles fraught with plenty of bunkers. If you can make it through these two fairways without needing your wedge, you deserve a cerveza or three. The stunning grand finale, number 18, brings you to an elevated green with views of the Pacific frothing below. If Miguel is available to caddy your round, you’ll save quite a few strokes. www.rivieranayarit.com/litibu_golf_overview
After, head to La Tranquila Resort & Spa next door for lunch at the oceanside Bamboo restaurant. The WOW factor starts with a walk over water on a glass “bridge” in the impressive lobby. The pool complex has to be one of the largest in Mexico with all sorts of sunken fire pits and niches. Follow the wave music to Bamboo where you must try the tuna teraditas, crunchy crab tacos and coconut shrimp. Ask the bartender to shake up one of his special cocktails.
Allow me to propose a toast: Here’s to great golf, good friends and fabulous food. Viva Riviera Nayarit. www.latranquila.com.mx
More Golf in Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta is located in the Mexican state of Jalisco, just below the state of Nayarit. These Vallarta courses are also worthy of your pesos.
At Vista Vallarta take your pick between the two championship tracts designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus—both roller coasters that take full advantage of their setting in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Both were ranked in the top ten for resort courses in Mexico by the Best Golf Guide to the Mexican Rivera Magazine.
In the hotel zone, The Marina Golf Course, designed by Joe Finger and the oldest in Vallarta, provides a good watery challenge, especially on the back nine, also home to a few seemingly docile crocs. Keep your distance. marinavallarta.phantomgolf.com/