Viva, Vallarta!

Puerto Vallarta Sizzles With Sand, Surf, Mayan Ruins, And Awesome Golf Courses! Pictured Here: Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Resort

By Joe Passov

Mexico’s Pacific Coast is justifiably famous for its superb beaches, its native jungle and its world-renowned national beverage, tequila, 95 percent of which is produced in the regional state of Jalisco. Today, Jalisco and its legendary resort area, Puerto Vallarta, have achieved world- class status—especially among golfers—while the state directly to the north, Nayarit, also has emerged as a compelling draw, with a resort-rich coastal stretch known as Riviera Nayarit.

Superb championship golf tracts have peppered the Puerto Vallarta landscape over the past two decades, but the most buzz-worthy layout of all is the brand new Greg Norman- designed spread at the Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 20 miles north of the Puerto Vallarta Airport. Interestingly, that new Norman tract will be part of the host course rotation next year for the Arizona Golf Association’s 2018 Canada, USA & Mexico Team Championship at Vidanta Nuevo, which takes place April 27-29.

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Well, part of the Norman Signature Course is brand new, any way. Nine holes opened in the fall of 2015, with the other nine slated to open soon thereafter. After seasonal storms caused major delays, the course finally opened in mid-November 2016. However, as a protection against further weather issues, Norman was gifted a parcel of land along the Ameca River that yielded the creation of five new holes that weren’t part of the original design, which will be fully playable by next month. To accommodate the new holes, which include two water-guarded par-3s and a superb risk/reward drivable par- 4, the course was rerouted with existing holes renumbered, and the original first five holes consigned to history. The result is a dazzling, 7,326-yard, par- 73 layout with an unusual par 35-38 combo for the front and back nines.

Also unusual is the journey to the course itself. Players will arrive via the world’s longest golf cart suspension bridge, a drama-filled, one-lane ride over the Ameca River that takes you from the beehive of relaxed activity at the sprawling Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Resort in Nayarit to a core golf experience notable for its tranquil, natural setting in Jalisco, complete with jungle-edged fairways and panoramic vistas of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

“When designing the course, respecting and promoting the conservation of ecologically sensitive areas was of primary concern,” said Norman at the 2016 opening. “As a result, routing was dictated by nature, according to dense vegetation corridors, streams and wetlands. . . . Ultimately, both high and low handicappers will really enjoy playing (the golf course), as it offers the perfect trifecta of beauty, fun and challenge.”

While Norman’s creation will seldom frustrate resort golfers, provided they pick the proper set of tees, it’s definitely all the modern championship golf you want, thanks to the sophisticated green contouring, artfully placed bunkers and indigenous trees, a plethora of ponds and plenty of yardage from the tips. Two holes that skirt the Ameca River, the 473-yard, par-4 10th and the 549-yard, par-5 16th best illuminate the layout’s virtues.

Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Practice Range
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Practice Range

While Norman’s latest-greatest might be the region’s new must-play, it shares the spotlight with two siblings at the resort. Concurrent to the additional five Norman holes opening on the Championship layout, a brand new 10-hole, par-3 course called The Lakes opened in October. Holes range from 61 to 114 yards, though it’s hardly a pitch-and-putt. The aptly named layout is loaded with stunning water hazards, and boasts bold bunkering as well. Located in the epicenter of the resort, this walker-friendly loop is fully illuminated for night play.

Also not to be overlooked is the resort’s original tract, a 6,668-yard, par-70 funfest created Jack Nicklaus. Emphasis here is on visuals, with roomy fairways, large, shallow bunkers and receptive greens. True, seven lakes await to snare errant shots, but with mountains, ocean and jungle always in view, you’ll enjoy the sensory overload, even if you have to reload a time or two.

As strong as the golf is at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta, the resort itself is the star. Nuevo Vallarta is one of seven Vidanta luxury destinations in Mexico. In particular, Nuevo Vallarta shines, thanks to more than a mile of white sand beach, 27 swimming pools, 38 bars and restaurants and five high- end, high-rise hotels on the 2,500-acre property, including Grand Luxxe, which recently received the coveted Five-Diamond Award from AAA. On the way in 2018 is a one-of-a-kind theme park conceived in conjunction with world-famous Cirque du Soleil.

Arizona golfers will get to sample Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta’s amazing attractions and compete in a unique golf competition as well, when the Canada, USA & Mexico State Team Championship take place in April. Ambitious golfers looking to sample the area’s other top tracts have a buffet line of appealing prospects. Indeed, you can play some incredible golf either before or after the Canada, USA & Mexcico matches.

Punta Mita Pacifico Golf Course
Punta Mita Pacifico Golf Course

The tastiest option is Punta Mita’s Pacifico, a Jack Nicklaus design in Riviera Nayarit that’s affiliated with the much-honored Four Seasons and St. Regis Punta Mita hotels. Eight holes edge or face the ocean, but by far the most well known is Pacifico’s alternate, island-green, par-3 third hole, which is called “Tail of the Whale” due to its distinctive shape. When the ocean surf rolls in, an amphibious vehicle ushers you to the whale tail-shaped green.

Pacifico’s younger sibling, Bahia, is another Nicklaus creation, and is the tougher of the two, owing to the wildly contoured greens. But with six seaside holes, lava outcroppings and Sierra Madre backdrops, there’s eye candy galore. If you’ve been battered with bogies by the time you reach the 571-yard, par-5 18th, take a gander at the nearby El Faro surf break, where the real wipe-outs take place.

Vista Vallarta gets the nod for best in the state of Jalisco. Home to designs by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, Vista Vallarta played host to the 2002 World Cup on the Nicklaus course, where despite a third-round 62 from Phil Mickelson, Japan edged the USA team (Mickelson/David Toms) for the title. The Nicklaus layout climbs into the Sierra Madre foothills and provides captivating views of the Bay of Banderas. Weiskopf’s handiwork is more lay-of-the-land and features low-profile fairways bracketed by dense jungle rough, along with an entertaining drivable par-4 closer.

In a class by itself is El Tigre at Paradise Village Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, a 7,239-yard brute that menaces with 120 bunkers and water on 13 holes. If you bring a single-digit handicap game, you’ll relish the challenge. If not, El Tigre, an incredible design by the late Robert Von Hagge, might devour you.

Wherever it is that your hooks and slices lead you, fear not. Puerto Vallarta and its surrounds offer plenty of pampering resort experiences to ease the sting. Indeed, a pampered day in the spa along with a sip or two (or three) of that smooth, clear local liquid produced in Jalisco, and you’ll be primed to tackle another 18.


El Tigre Golf Course

Nuevo Vallarta Golf Resort

Punta Mita Golf Club

Vista Vallarta

Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta Resort (800) 292-9446

About the Writer
Joe Passov, aka Travelin’ Joe, rates golf courses and travel destinations for Golf Magazine. He lives in Scottsdale.