With fairways carved out of the Baja Hills and greens peering over the jagged cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, it’s not difficult to see why the Bajamar Golf Resort has been called “the Pebble Beach of Mexico.”
The breathtaking scenery convinced golf pro David Quiroz to leave a job in the golf mecca of Mexico, Cabo San Lucas, for Bajamar, located 50 miles south of the U.S. border.
“As the sun’s going down and I’m finishing up my interview, I’m seeing six whales jumping up and down from our whale watch observation deck just above the eighth green,” Quiroz said. “Right then, I was sold on Bajamar.”
Since taking over as director of golf six months ago, Quiroz has been working overtime to sell everyone else–Americans, Mexican nationals, Japanese tourists and Bajamar residents–on all that this narrow, 1,600-acre strip of land offers.
He acknowledges that negative publicity from Mexico’s drug-related violence and a prolonged economic slump on both sides of the border has taken a toll on the Baja region and the golf resort.
“Once people get here, I have no doubt that Bajamar will speak for itself,” Quiroz said. “It’s just a matter of people getting over the fear factor of traveling into Mexico. The media has done a good job of beating us up as an uncomfortable place to be and to travel to. That’s unfortunate. I feel very safe here.”
Americans are still heading south to play the 27-hole layout, but the numbers are down considerably from the peak years of the late 1990s. The original 18-hole course, designed by Perry Clifford, opened in 1976. Eighteen years later, the 3,540-yard Oceano nine opened.
Designed by Robert Von Hagge, Oceano features four spectacular oceanfront holes. The signature hole is the 185-yard par-3 fifth, the only oceanfront hole that demands a tee shot directly over water. Lava rocks protect the large green, so most golfers will feel lucky if they can escape with a par.
Only a few golf courses on the West Coast have holes that straddle the Pacific Ocean, so once word spread about the Bajamar’s stunning ocean nine, golfers from Southern California and Arizona began streaming across the border. The course became so popular in the late 1990s that Bajamar had to turn people away.
Bajamar officials are hoping that a recovering economy, a renovated resort and a new fast pass lane for Americans only at the Tijuana border crossing will bring back the crowds. Crossing back to the U.S. at peak times can take up over two hours. Fast passes—given free to resort guests—can reduce crossing times to 15 minutes.
Tim Ryan, president of the Honda Center Arena in Anaheim, recently made the three-hour drive from Orange County for a golfing weekend with friends. Ryan, who owns a second home near Ensenada, doesn’t see why the glory days can’t return to Bajamar.
“Hitting golf balls along the coast while dolphins and whales swim by is just not something you see every day,” said Ryan, also executive vice president of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team. “The holes along the Pacific rival some of the great holes in the game.”
Esteban Toledo, a Mexican native and former PGA tour player, likes what he sees of the revamped Bajamar.
“There aren’t many courses where you can have a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean on every single hole,” said Toledo, who played Bajamar this summer at the Negra Modelo Open, a Mexican Tour event. “Some of pros loved it so much they want to move here.”
While Bajamar’s unquestionable drawing card is the Oceano nine, the Lagos and Vista nines offer plenty of challenges for every level of player. Lagos is fairly short and flat, but features plenty of water and tight, rolling fairways. Vista, the longest of three courses at 3,605 yards, plays much like a typical desert course with elevation changes and blind shots on nearly every hole.
Over the course of a round, you might also come across some unexpected visitors. Roadrunners, bobcats, red tail hawks and coyotes are known to patrol the brush areas that surround the fairways.
Until recently, Bajamar management has focused mainly on the three nine-hole courses. But Quiroz has shifted his attention to improving the overall quality of the resort in hopes of attracting more than just weekend players. Construction is nearly complete on a multi-tiered grass amphitheater that will be able to hold 5,000 people for concerts and also host wine festivals. All 81 room of the colonial style Hacienda Hotel recently received a facelift and there are plans for a workout gym and spa near the clubhouse.
“We want to fill the hotel with weddings, couples and golfers,” Quiroz said. “Not everybody plays golf, so it’s nice to have some other options on the property like jazz concerts and wine festivals.”
Bajamar has also begun arranging wine tours for its guests at some of the 60 plus wineries in the Guadalupe Valley, many are with 30 minutes of the resort. For guests who aren’t quite as adventurous, there are several inexpensive restaurants within five miles of the Bajamar gates and all have spectacular ocean views–the La Salina Beach Hotel and Cantina, Poco Ceilo and La Fonda. The small town of Puerto Nuevo, known for its lobster, is a few more miles to the north on the toll road.
If you can’t be bothered to leave the grounds, the Dos Lagos restaurant serves everything from filet mignon and lobster to tacos, sandwiches and omelets. The Las Trampas bar features live music, sports on big screen televisions and ice cold margaritas and cervezas.
However you choose to spend your time at Bajamar, expect the pace of play to be a bit slower than it is on the other side of the border.
“It’s pretty unique that you can travel three hours and be submersed in a completely different culture,” said Ryan, who has been coming to Baja for 30 years. “I really enjoy the spirit of the people, the authentic Mexican food and the pace. It’s a hard place to beat.”
Weekday stay and play packages start at $99 per person for a standard room, 18 holes and ½ cart, a bucket of range balls, a welcome cocktail and a continental breakfast. Weekend rates start at $129. For more information visit, www.golfbajamar.com
Story by Dave McKibben