ENSENADA, Mexico -- Patrick Shaw, head professional at Bajamar Golf Resort is quick to manage expectations.
"We're in the possession of the banks right now," said Shaw on a recent visit. "Later this year we'll have a real owner and really start reinvesting in the course."
Shaw's words are understandable, given the stature of Bajamar among its peers, both in Mexico and in southern California. Ambitiously dubbed "The Pebble Beach of Mexico," Bajamar has long fostered high expectations.
While not quite a world-class course, it's long been a favorite of road trippers from California and Arizona. If nothing else, the course features four holes that run directly along the ocean, an hour or so of golf that visitors remember, photograph, and talk about long after their trip is over.
While Shaw's efforts to limit expectations are respectable, he does not have much to worry about. The fairways have some yellowish spots. They can at times be a bit too firm. But these glitches have the desirable benefit of resulting in longer drives, as one typically sees when playing the mountain courses of Colorado. Golfers who typically drive the ball 235 yards are not often heard complaining when their drives approach 280 yards, or even longer with a helping breeze. But that breeze isn't always helping, and some holes at Bajamar play really, really long.
Keith Worrell, a San Diegan who plays Bajamar about once a year, calls it a no-brainer getaway.
"The scenery is spectacular, it's just a short drive, and the cost is hard to beat," he said.
"Bajamar is the type of place where you can come down with your friends, have a little adventure, play some nice ocean golf, and enjoy a margarita or two," he said.
While not Pebble Beach, Bajamar is 27 holes of delightful golf at a great value -- Currently, the course is offering a weekday special that includes a night's stay, all 27 holes, breakfast, and lunch for $99.) Outside of peak weekends, the course is not typically crowded. On a recent visit, this reporter completed a round in three-and-a-half hours, stopping to take plenty of pictures along the way.
The three nine are quite distinct from each other. Lagos (Spanish for "Lakes") is fairly flat, with a lot of water, a sort of Florida meets Mexico. Vista ("View") is a bit more up and down, desert golf, say Scottsdale meets Mexico. The fairways are generous enough but should you miss, just move on. Signs warning of rattlesnakes are everywhere. The serpents themselves are even more common.
While Lagos and Vista are very nice, Bajamar is all about the Oceano ("Ocean") holes. The first few holes of Oceano are nice par 4s, leading in a roundabout way down to the ocean itself. No. 4 forces you to lay up with your drive before clearing a deep canyon with a wedge on your second shot. This is a taste of what's to come.
Hole No. 5 is the focus of the entire Bajamar experience, the signature hole of the signature nine. A spectacular par 3 (185 yards from the tips), the hole is a forced carry over a cove, with surf crashing onto lava rocks just beneath the tee box. If it's a quiet day, drop an extra ball or two and savor the experience. Without question, shoot a few pictures. On busier days there may be a backup here. Fortunately, there's a snack bar, restroom, a small putting green, and a superb view.
The next three holes are a continuation of that experience, two par 4s and a par 5. Fortunately, the prevailing wind is behind you, and the fairways are generous. To the left, you'll see desert rising to cliffs, where a series of villas are perched overlooking the ocean. To the right, nothing but ocean, lava rock and crashing waves.
Take your time, and take some pictures. This is what you came for.
Patrick Shaw is wise to warn visitors about what is going on with Bajamar at the moment. Clearly, he'd rather golfers be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. But unless you have no tolerance for minor imperfections in course conditioning, you'll consider Shaw's cautioning unnecessary. Also, that $99 special including lodging and 27 holes is hard to beat anywhere.
Bajamar's layout would make for a lovely golf experience in just about any location. On the chunk of earth they are fortunate enough to lay claim to, it's pretty tough to fail. You can make the course a solid challenge by playing from the tips, (6,900 yards) or a bit easier closer up.
But the Bajamar experience isn't so much about how tough the course plays, or how it stacks up against its peers. It's about dropping down an hour or so south of the border, staring at the crashing surf, and trying to concentrate on a chip shot while your buddy is snapping photos and talking about the post-round margaritas waiting at the end.
Rates are $79 from Monday to Thursday, and $93 for Friday through Sunday, but there are numerous specials and packages available.
For ease and convenience, you can't beat staying right at the Bajamar Resort Hotel ((800) 434-2252). The property features Mexican colonial style rooms, tennis courts, and a swimming pool. It shares a parking lot with the golf course, so no additional driving is required.
Down the road about 20 minutes, in Ensenada, a variety of other accommodations are available, including large hotels and small motels.
La Fonda Del Rio has great food, atmosphere and view and is adjacent to La Mision Hotel. The Palm Grill features authentic Mexican style breakfast, soups, steak, fresh fish and lobster and is located on Km 29 of Carretera Libre, while La Palapa de Jose has dining on the beach, and live entertainment on the weekend and is located below La Mision.
October 7, 2005
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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