PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - It's not often you find a golf course within walking distance of a marina, but that's exactly what you find in the Marina Vallarta Golf Club in the Mexican port city.
Whether you're getting off a boat at the marina or a taxi at the front circle drive, make sure you bring your clubs because you don't want to miss this tropical paradise. It is a unique Joe Finger layout that integrates the area's natural landscape with a layout designed to test your skills. Tropical plants and an unequaled view of the Pacific coastline often distract golfers from the game at hand.
The par-71, 6,700-yard sits in a dramatic location with the beach on one side and Banderas Bay and the marina on the other. Players feel the breeze of the ocean amidst the natural beauty of the Mexican tropics. Playing the course will test your resolve, with ponds, lagoons and lakes dotting the area. Throw in white herons, sand cranes, ducks, crocodiles and four-foot iguanas, and you have your hands full.
It's one of those places that's so exotic, you don't go looking too deep for your ball. Like the saying goes, if your ball is eaten by a log, and the log moves, take the stroke. The magnificent view of Banderas Bay and the natural obstacles such as palms, tropical plants and abundant wildlife and water fountains have made it increasingly popular in the past few years. It has twice been the site of the prestigious Governor's Cup Pro/Am Tournament and it also has hosted the Copa Jalisco, a state tournament.
This sister property to Vista Vallarta de Golf, which has gotten much more ink lately because it hosted the EMC World Golf Championship in 2002, is an excellent option located within walking distance of the marina boardwalk.
Finger allows opportunities to take advantage of the course, but those who try to go out and break the course with their will, will lose. The precision demands of Finger's brand of golf are no more obvious than at the par-5 10th, a 600-yard stretch that really is a birdie hole. Even though the green is just eight paces wide, it is a fair hole because it's so long, you won't try to get there in two shots. Thus, your approach will be with a wedge, making birdie a legitimate goal.
The 376-yard par-4 11th hole is not an overly long hole, but this par-4 is all about control and strategy because it is dominated by water. Golfers face a 200-yard carry over water that must then not run more than 50 yards without some kind of a draw or you will be left in the trees with no angle at the green. Once there, it is a controlled mid- or short-iron to a green that slopes away and is protected by water on three sides. Chunk a shot or blast it long and your ball will be going for a swim. Execute two decent shots and you will be looking at par or better.
Just off the 12th tee, you can see iguanas sunning themselves on a bed of rocks (appropriate for the city where Night of the Iguanas was filmed). It leads into the signature 13th hole, a par-3, 210-yarder that tracks down the ocean's coastline. With the spectacular views of Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre Mountains off to the left, and an ocean breeze hitting you in the face, it's hard to concentrate on the hole. Putting out is no easy chore either, as waves lap up against the red rocks just four feet off the green. With distractions like this, it's easy to take a little extra time on this par-3.
No. 18, a 418-yard par-4 is a classic finishing hole. After a straight drive, you must negotiate your ball under the overhanging branches of a tree and over the fronting fountain to land on the green. It's a difficult finishing hole, but it is so scenic that you might not care if you lose a ball or two trying your approach again and again. Don't leave until you get it right; they're making new balls every day.
Finger, who passed away near Houston in September of 2003 after a battle with cancer at the age of 85, co-designed the Riverhill Country Club course with PGA Tour legend Byron Nelson. He left a fingerprint on the game few non-professionally playing individuals have.
Finger's design resume includes more than 100 existing courses, most in Texas.
He was a pioneer in green design by getting creative with the greens, which had an art element to them. Years ago designers would make round greens and sprinkle in a bunker, but Finger went beyond that. He may have been ahead of his time in golf course design by taking into account all levels of players instead of just professional and single-digit players.
In the Marina District, a more tranquil and sophisticated ambience can be found. It is worth the effort to visit the lighthouse at night in order to take in a stunning vista.
The course is located just five minutes north of downtown Puerto Vallarta. It features a clubhouse with locker rooms, a full-service pro shop, a lounge and dining facilities.
Located in the prestigious Marina Vallarta area, the Marina Vallarta Golf Club is walking distance from several of the finest hotels in Puerto Vallarta. There are taxis available at all hotels that can take you to the golf club.
The Quinta Real, which just experienced a $6 million renovation, is the finest, intimate spa and golf resort in the city. In addition to its location between the first and 18th holes, it also has a private beach club overlooking the Bay of Banderas and a world-class spa facility.
Throughout much of the course, especially on No. 16, you can spot houses with cathedral-like domes. These are to cover the black water bladders or tanks, which are aloft in most houses because water pressure comes from gravity. The larger and more detailed the dome, the higher the status symbol.
October 17, 2003
Steve Rocca has 16 years of journalism experience, including stints at the Virginian-Pilot, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Palm Beach Post and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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