Mexico presents a menu full of tough choices for travelers. Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, or Cancun? Tecate or Corona? Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones II, or Greg Norman? For golfers, our southern neighbor proffers a rare collection of oceanside desert courses designed by the best architects in the game. Wide green fairways cross dusty arroyos, sweep past stately cacti, and often play down to the edge of the ocean—or across crashing surf. Following is a spicy combination plate of Mexico’s best golf venues. Muy bueno!
You Don’t Know Jack
John Wayne loved to stay at the Palmilla Hotel, in San Jose del Cabo, when visiting southern Baja to fish. Today golfers playing the long, difficult Palmilla Golf Club’s 27 holes may find themselves fishing for golf balls along a Jack Nicklaus layout with daunting carries and views of the Sea of Cortez. Palmilla’s 127 lavish suites have earned the highest hotel rating in Latin America. Oneandonlyresorts.com.
Cabo del Sol’s Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course presents a natural, linksy track despite desert, mountains, and cacti, in Cabo San Lucas. Golf Digest ranks this rugged beauty among the 100 best courses worldwide. Tom Weiskopf’s Desert Course, an inland layout featuring desert foliage, elevation changes, dramatic bunkering, and wide fairways is a perfect complement to the Ocean Course. Cabodelsol.com.
Robert Trent Jones II’s muscular Cabo Real Golf Club has hosted two Senior Slams. The first six holes climb through Sonoran topography at the foot of rugged mountains. Free-form bunkers and small, elevated greens combine with fairways rolling across ridge tops to provide an expansive feel at this San Jose del Cabo gem. The back nine is kinder and gentler, with wide fairways playing back down to the sea at the 14th hole. Caboreal.com.
The 19th Hole
Forty-five minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, Punta Mita pairs a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course with a luxe Four Seasons Resort. The golf course features an extra optional hole—The Tail of the Whale— consisting of a small, rocky island with a green that can only be accessed at low tide—and not in golf shoes. Fourseasons.com/puntamita.
At Vista Vallarta Golf Club, outside of PV, Nicklaus took the high road with his layout routed over grassy hillsides through palm forests and giant ficas, across arroyos, and providing views over the colonial city and Banderas Bay. Tom Weiskopf took the low road with a venue playing through dense jungles beside deep ravines and swift creeks. Highlights include the drivable par-four eighteenth. The facility hosted the 2002 World Golf Championships. Vistavallartagolf.com.
Preserving Good Shots
Halfway between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, El Tamarindo Resort is home to an oceanside golf course designed by David Fleming and nestled in a 2,000 acre nature preserve. The course emerges from thick jungle to play along the water with views of the rocky coastline framed by Mojote and Cuba palms. This Yellowstone Club World property has two miles of private beach and oceanside spa huts to un wind after golf has wound you up. Eltamarindoresort.com.
Princess and the Tee
The Acapulco Princess offers play on two golf courses fit for royalty twenty minutes from Acapulco’s hopping downtown. Ted Robinson’s Princess Course boasts narrow fairways lined with coconut palms, and 12 water holes. Approaches to the 18th green may appear to float high above the pyramid of the fine hotel. The adjacent Marques Course was renovated by Robert Trent Jones II to host the 1982 World Cup. Fairmont.com/Acapulco.
Greg Norman’s new El Camaleon Golf Course at the stunning Mayakoba Resort recently hosted the first official PGA Tour event ever held in Mexico. Located outside Cancun, the course wends through three distinct topographies: tropical jungle, dense mangroves, and oceanfront dunes. Limestone canals separate many of the holes. The holes may separate golfers from golf balls. Fairmont.com/mayakoba.
One of only a handful of golf courses in Mazatlan, Robert Trent Jones II’s Estrella Del Mar offers an elegant, palm-fringed parkland course associated with a quiet resort. There’s even a turtle preserve on property, to inspire guests to slow down. Estrelladelmar.com.