Mexico golf guide: Where to play for your south-of-the-border buddies’ trip

View of a golf hole at One&Only Palmilla

Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico, has 27 holes.

Courtesy One&Only Palmilla

It’s shaping up to be a nice weekend in Puerto Vallarta for Alvaro Ortiz, who shot 64 on Friday to climb atop the leaderboard at the Mexico Open. Then again, nice golf weekends aren’t hard to come by in Ortiz’s home country, and playing in a Tour event is not required. The majority of Mexico’s marquee courses are concentrated in three regions: Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Maya. Here’s a bird’s-eye look at the offerings in each.

Cabo San Lucas

Once a sleepy fishing village, Cabo is now home to so many high-end courses that it’s hard to know where to start. The early 1990s is as good a place as any. That’s when Jack Nicklaus cut the ribbon on his work at Palmilla, the OG of big-name Cabo golf designs. Soon after came another Nicklaus project, the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol (now known as the Cove Club Golf Course), followed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Cabo Real. It’s been largely non-stop since.

In 2009, the opening of the Dunes Course at Diamante brought a touch of modern minimalism to Cabo, though the development around it is now maximalist enough to include a Hard Rock Hotel and two courses by Tiger Woods (El Cardonal, which hosted a Tour event last fall; and the Oasis, a 12-hole par-3 layout) with a third Woods design in the works, the Legacy, which will be intensely private. Next door to Diamante is Solmar Golf Links, a Greg Norman design that is part of Grand Solmar Pacific Dunes resort. Just around the curl of the coastline is Quivira, a Jack Nicklaus course that’s accessible to guests of Pueblo Bonito Golf & Spa Resorts. So it goes around the region.

Though many of the courses are part of private real estate developments, nearly all are either public-accessible or “resort private,” meaning you can play there if you stay in a designated hotel. That includes Chileno Bay, a Discovery Land property with a sweet Tom Fazio course, and Twin Dolphin, a Todd Eckenrode-Fred Couples design with a practice range so swish, you get to pick the brand of ball you want to use for warmups.

A view of El Cardonal at Diamante, a Tiger Woods-designed course in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Courtesy Diamante

Puerto Vallarta

Ever since the torrid union of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who met on set here in the early 1960s, Puerto Vallarta has been known as a place of romance. Nowadays, it’s also good for the bromance of a buddies’ trip, thanks to a constellation of stay-and-play escapes. The Greg Norman-designed Vidanta Vallarta course, site of this week’s Mexico Open, is one of two 18-holers at a sprawling resort (Nuevo Nayarita-Vallarta) that also sports a night-lit 10-hole par-3 layout. But other options await nearly everywhere you turn.

To the east, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains, sits Vista Vallarta, 36-hole facility with designs by Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus. Vista is an apt word, as both courses boast great mountain and sea views. To the south, along the water, the Four Seasons Resort Tamarindo combines luxe accommodations with a lush layout stitched through jungle-meets-ocean terrain. And to the north, Punta Mita Golf Club has two seaside Jack Nicklaus designs (it also has a Four Seaons, as well as a St. Regis and St. Regis residences within its gates) : the Bahia course, overlooking the Bahia de Banderas, and the Pacifico Course, which features a spectacular extra hole called the Tail of the Whale — a par 3 with a natural island green, set in the ocean, that can only be played at low tide.

When you aren’t playing golf, you can spend time at Bahia Principe Resort. Courtesy Bahia Principe

The Riviera Maya

When was the last time you were in Cancun? Maybe it was a long-ago spring break so your memory is hazy. College kids still flock here for boozy getaways. But golf junkets are popular, too. While Cancun proper has plenty of options, including the Hard Rock Golf Club and Puerto Cancun Golf Course, the biggest draws lies farther south along the coast. Among them is the Fairmont Mayakoba and its El Camaleon Golf Course, which shifts in character as it moves past dunes and mangroves, blue lagoons and limestone caves.

If those images ring familiar, maybe it’s because you’ve seen the property on TV. A former stop on the PGA Tour, El Camaleon now hosts a LIV event. A bit farther down the coast is the area’s other headliner: the Bahia Principe Resort, home to the PGA Riviera Maya complex, which has two courses by Robert Trent Jones Jr: a relaxing 9-holer, and a stout, scenic 18-hole routing set against the Mayan jungle. Yet another course within easy striking distance is the Nicklaus Par Three Experience at Vidanta Riviera Maya, par-3 course that has 12 holes on the water, including a 17th known as the “donut hole” because it looks the part, with a bunker in the middle of the green. All of these courses are within striking distance of the Cancun airport. But come spring, more flight options will be available when newly opened Tulum International Airport starts welcoming direct service from the U.S.

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