ENSENADA, MEXICO–Ken and Sigi Bentham were making the long trek home to British Columbia from their vacation house in Loreto, Mexico when they stumbled upon Baja Country Club, an undiscovered 18-hole, par 72-course than meanders through the San Carlos Valley, 10 miles south of Ensenada.
After their round, the Bentham’s toured the few residences that existed in 2008 and continued driving to Canada. As they made their way through the small desert town of Blythe, California, they abruptly turned the car around and drove four hours back to the Baja Country Club. Within hours, they had purchased a plot of land overlooking the golf course.
Eight years later, the Benthams are year-round residents, owning two homes within the now bustling 250-acre gated community, which offers completely finished custom homes starting at $119,000. The homes feature modern kitchens with granite countertops, laminate flooring and completed baths with modern appliances and fixtures.
Sigi plays golf three to four times a week and participates in a variety of activities–yoga, water aerobics and cycling and hiking in the multiple trails surrounding the course.
“It’s perpetual spring here,” Sigi said. “You can be as busy as you want or not at all. Everyone is here to help everybody else. It’s a very healthy and vibrant style of living.”
The nearly 80 full-time residents (more than half are Americans, rest are Mexican nationals and Canadians) enjoy 70-degree year-round temperatures and the bucolic charm of the San Carlos Valley, located just 25 minutes from the crowded streets of Ensenada, Mexico and two hours south of San Diego.
“It’s a very secure and welcoming place,” said Paula Bowers, who proudly counts herself and husband Jim as the community’s first residents. “If they would build a bank and a Costco, I’d actually never leave here.”
The Bowers relocated here from St. George, Utah, but they also spent a few summers in Bajamar, another golf course enclave, some 50 miles north on the Baja Scenic road, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“That’s a beautiful place too, but we’re 15 degrees warmer here because we sit in the valley and we don’t have the fog in the mornings,” Paula said. “So we can get out and play golf early and we don’t have to wait for the fog to clear.”
Other than Alonso Esquer, Baja Country Club’s director of sales and marketing, Jim Bowers might be the community’s most successful real estate agent.
“We’ve owned three houses in here and sold 12,” Jim Bowers said with a chuckle. “We found out it was paradise and we wanted our friends to experience it too. It wasn’t hard to convince them to buy a place and join us.”
Surrounded by mountains, oak and olive trees, the 6,900-yard course includes 12 acres of natural lakes that swallow that come into play throughout the front nine. The most demanding and maddening hole on the front side is No. 7, a 352-yard par 4 with a heavily-sloped and narrow island green that plays close to 390 yards.
“I’ve personally raised the level of the water on No. 7,” joked Sigi Bentham. “And I always carry my most trusted club on that hole, my ball retriever.”
Even though the back nine is 350 yards longer than the front at 3,600 yards, it can play several shots easier, especially for high-handicappers golfers who like wide-open fairways, mountain backdrops and large greens. The 602-yard 16th is the longest hole on the course, but its inviting fairway and massive green gives even the inexperienced player a fair chance at par. The finishing hole, an uphill, 325-yard par 4 dog-leg left, is rated as the easiest on the scorecard, but it doesn’t play that way. A lot of players unwisely try to cut the corner, winding up with a blind approach shot over a cluster of trees and a scramble for par.
The country club style course, which was designed by Pete and Roy Dye and opened in 1990, has been hit hard by the drought that has stricken courses up and down the Pacific Coast. But Esquer said hasn’t had any problems selling property around the course.
“We’re selling four to five lots every month,” he said. “This place is a hidden gem in the canyons. You can live a great, relaxing lifestyle here for a fraction of what you can buy in the states. This place would be even more popular, but I just don’t think that many people know about it because it’s on the south side of Ensenada.”
Esquer believes Mexico’s relatively low tax burden might be driving the canyon community’s recent popularity. Property taxes in Mexico are less than $200 per year and homeowner’s association monthly dues are only $120. The monthly fees afford residents 24-hour security and access to swimming pools, hot tubs, a workout gym, barbecue areas and basketball courts.
And there are big plans in the works, according to Marena del Pacifico, the development group behind Baja Country Club and a group of high rise condos near Rosarito Beach. A second clubhouse with a luxury spa, a fine regional cuisine restaurant and a wine cellar are planned for 2017. A 32-suite hotel that was never completed as part of the original clubhouse could also open next year.
There is even more exciting news on the horizon for current and prospective Baja Country Club residents. A new road connecting Ensenada to Baja Wine Country, which includes some 100 wineries, is half-finished and will trim nearly 45 minutes off the one-hour drive to Valle de Guadalupe. An international airport is also being planned for Ensenada, making the area more accessible to U.S. and Mexico residents.
Golf Packages: For those interested in visiting Baja Country Club, three day, two-night golf packages are available for $150 per person. The packages include unlimited golf and a welcome cocktail. Guests will stay in luxurious three bedroom townhouses on the golf course. A minimum of four persons are required for the packages. Craft beer tours, wine tours, fishing tours, whale watching, skydiving and mountain biking can be booked through the club. For more information on golf packages or becoming a resident, visit http://bajacountryclub.com/en/index.html
Grub and Grog around Ensenada: http://wendlandt.com.mx/. If you’re looking for a spot with an eclectic menu and award-winning beers, try Wendlandt Cerveceria brewpub in downtown Ensenada, located about 30 minutes from the country club. Our favorite dishes: the Korean tacos, New York tacos, Pork Belly sliders and tangy green salad. Favorite brews: Vanilla, Coffee Imperial Stout, Perro Del Mar IPA and Vaquita Marina Pale Ale. Wendlandt Brewery was named Mexico’s best brewery in Mexico at Copa Cerveza, the country’s equivalent to the Great American Beer Festival.
Story by Dave McKibben