Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 22, 2022
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Golfing Gold

Revitalize your game with Mexico's triple crown of greens

Seeking golfer's gold, amigo? How about designer courses in a lush tropical setting with ocean views and mountain backdrops? We found them, just south of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico's Pacific riviera. Here are three courses that can cure any symptom of golf withdrawal you may experience this winter.

El Tamarindo
It's a jungle out here and you're going to love it. El Tamarindo is an ecologically designed development project built around a tropical paradise. Golf architect and designer David Fleming had the challenge of preserving the splendour of the site and the indigenous vegetation, including ancient cacti and Asiete palms. "When I started in '93 it was wild," he said. "My nickname was Indiana Jones. We had amazing adventures with the wildlife: jaguars, boars, sea turtles and parrots. But don't worry. The dangerous ones don't golf."

It took Fleming four months to get the lay of the land and figure out a route for the holes while not disrupting the tree canopy. The result is a spectacular championship course which Fleming admits was the project of a lifetime. With five sets of tees ranging from 6682 to 4907 yards, players of all handicaps can enjoy themselves.

Last January, my husband and I checked into El Tamarindo. We had our own palapa bungalow and access to a private pool, a hot tub and a beach that we didn't have to share with anyone. This 826-hectare hideaway is in a rainforest reserve a 40-minute car ride north of the Manzanillo airport.

In the morning we ordered room service. Eggs Benedict, bagels and eco-juice (made from a blend of papaya, orange and cactus) were served at our outdoor dining table. From our casita, it was a five-minute drive via golf cart through a jungle path to hoyo Number one. We might as well have had our own private golf course. Counting the two of us, a total of eight golfers had signed in for the day, four of them from Alberta. Other than a maintenance man who sold us some "experienced" balls and our caddie Jorge, the only sign of life was at the ninth, where, from the cliff-side tees, we had a monkey's eye view of whales breaking the surf in the jagged cove below. You'll want to take a few photos on this par 3.

Later, I asked Fleming to name his signature hole. "There are about 17 of them," he said with a laugh. By the third hole, you begin to get a glimpse of the ocean; eight and nine provide dramatic ocean vistas; 11 is a robust 592-yard par 5 from the back tees, but with a well-struck tree shot it's still possible to get home in tow.

We felt so secluded that we decided to take a quick skinny dip after the 12th hole, where the green is a chip shot from secluded Dorado Beach Bay. After our round, we swam some more, read and sunbathed until margarita hour. Then a waiter appeared with cocktails and a dinner menu. After a Mexican Technicolor sunset he returned with Caesar salad, lobster, focaccia and chilled Chilean wine. El Tamarindo is for tourists who don't want to be in room 1001 and completely anonymous. Rumour had it that Nicholas Evans, author of the best-seller The Horse Whisperer, was one of our neighbours. Maybe that was him and his wife dining each evening at the end of a candlelit path on the beach.

Until last spring, El Tamarindo was a private playground for the jet set. Now under new management with a refurbished main reception area, restaurant and pool, it's being marketed as an upscale resort. But until the word spreads, you can be Tarzan and Jane and have this exotic jungle and 18 verdant fairways pretty much to yourselves.

The golf package (based on double occupancy; all prices in Canadian dollars) starts at $825 per person and includes three nights, four days, breakfast, welcome drinks and two rounds of golf and carts. Caddies are optional. Meals are extra and can be enjoyed in the new restaurant or delivered to your palapa bungalow. A round of golf, including cart, is $79 for guests, $158 for non-guests. For more information and reservations contact El Tamarindo (tel: 011-523-351-5031; fax 011-523-351-5070; tamarindo@;

Isla Navidad
"Hernan Cortés arrived 500 years too soon," reads the promotion copy for Grand Bay Hotel Puerto de la Navidad. The conquistador probably wouldn't recognize the Pacific peninsula today. Only 10 years ago the area was given over to the cultivation of mangoes and coconuts. Now three splendidly manicured nines -- the Ocean, the Mountain and the Lagoon, all designed by Robert von Hagge -- unfold beside pounding surf, dunes, lagoons, marshes and mountains.

After a 20-minute drive north from Manzanillo airport, we turned off Highway 200, passed through security gates and followed an impressive entranceway (full of gardens and fanciful topiary) to the Mexican colonial-style hotel and pro shop. Although it opened in '92, the golf course seems brand new.

The crew quickly shifted our clubs to a cart and waved us in the direction of our first nine holes on Camp Oceano. Holes one and two are relatively straightforward and allow players to ease into their rounds. The third is a long par 3 knockout with the raging Pacific as backdrop to a green cut into beach sand dunes. Hoyo five is a spectacular 418-yard par 4, dogleg left, with the tee pointing towards the ocean. Not until the ninth hole, with its guarded lagoon and mountain backdrop, did we finally see two other golfers.


"I'm always hopeful that we'll get an attractive piece of property and a fair construction budget," said von Hagge, whose design is perfectly maintained. Regarding Isla Navidad, von Hagge said that both God and his client, Sr. Dn Antonio Leano, were very generous. Von Hagge believes that his golf courses must be visually magnificent and never become redundant, either hole by hole or shot by shot. Thanks to his vision and an unlimited budget, all three courses deliver.

On the Mountain course we found majestic views of the distant peaks, plenty of elevated fairways and well-bunkered greens. The most demanding of von Hagge's trilogy is the Lagoon course, where the designer is especially proud of his par 3s. Number six, for example, carries over water and native mangroves onto a peninsula-green with violet mountains beyond. Being a couple of high handicappers with a flair for drowning balls, we found the lagoon, with water on virtually every hole, to be a nautical challenge.

We stored our clubs at the pro shop, headed over to the Grand Bay Hotel and downed a margarita on one of the shaded poolside patios. Elegant furnishings and Mexican craftsmanship fill each luxurious room. Large balconies overlook the mountains and the yacht-filled marina, leaving us with the feeling that money was no object here.

For a dose of the real and rustic Mexico, hop aboard the regular five-minute skiff and cross a narrow inlet to the quaint fishing village of Barra de Navidad. We roamed for a pleasant hour and bantered in our limited Spanish with playful children. Later we bargained for some straw hats and then sought shade in a seafront café to watch daredevil windsurfers.

Golf packages for two start at $525 and include accommodation, 18 holes of golf, shared cart and breakfast start at $525. Grand Bay Hotel (tel: 888-GRAN-BAY; fax: 011-523-355-6071; www.

Mantarraya, Las Hadas, Manzanillo
La Mantarraya's signature 18th hole delivers a dramatic and scenic finale to this course designed by Pete and Roy Dye. On this short par 3 (125 yards) you can usually count on launching your ball into a stiff breeze over cascading waves that crash into the base of a cliff 18 metres below and onto an island green. The tee box sits on a high, rocky promontory that provides a sweeping vista of Las Hadas resort and handsome yachts rolling at anchor.

Las Hadas, the brainchild of the late Bolivian tin king Don Antenor Patino, was built as a private retreat for family and friends. In 1974 it began operation as a luxury hotel in a gated cliffside setting with a variety of boutiques, restaurants and gardens interconnected by cobblestone paths and interspersed with piazzas and fountains. Las Hadas is an architectural marvel, from its white minarets and marbled arcades to its swirling turrets and mosque-like domes. Ask for a room with a terrace overlooking the pools and beach. The hotel has several good restaurants, including the elegant Legazpi and the beachside Los Delfines, offering the freshest seafood and, if you're lucky, a glimpse of some dolphins. Every week the management throws a beach party with a festive buffet featuring regional cuisine, musicians and folk dancers dressed in traditional costume.

Access to La Mantarraya, Las Hadas's on-site 18-hole golf course, is provided every 10 minutes by mini-van from the front lobby, beginning at dawn. Because most guests are here on package deals that include golf, the course gets busy and sometimes seems a bit disorganized. The best advice is to reserve your tee times when you arrive and make them early to avoid crowds and the heat of the noonday sun. You can walk the course with a caddie or take a cart, but beware: most of the carts are relics and might run out of charge.

La Mantarraya is challenging all the way. On the first hole you must cross water twice and the second doesn't let up: 150 yards over more water to an island green with a nasty slope. Between bunkers and water, there's never a dull moment.

Our favourite 19th hole was the swim-up bar at the hotel's pool, complete with waterfalls and tiny islands inhabited by iguanas. You can set yourself up like a sultan under one of the peaked white tents dotting the beach and order some seafood and a tequila cocktail served in a coconut shell. Relaxing? Look across the beach to that 18th hole and contemplate how you'll par it. Manana.

The Sunquest package, including return airfare from Toronto, transportation to and from Manzanillo airport, seven nights accommodation, eight free rounds of golf per room per week (cart or caddie extra), tennis and watersports, starts at $1099. The optional Bar and Meal Deal, $157 per person, gets you seven buffet breakfasts, two dinners with cocktails, one lunch or dinner including a bottle of wine at any of the hotel's restaurants and a $144 bar credit per room per week. Book with your travel agent.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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