By Dave McKibben
When the tide is up, the world’s only golf hole with a natural island green isn’t accessible by land. The rocky cart path on “Hole 3B”–from the beach to the offshore green–is submerged in several feet of water.
Tourist Brian Nairin drilled his six-iron shot nearly 200 yards over the Pacific Ocean to the black-lava island green, landing his ball some 20 feet from hole. But Nairin, visiting from Park City, Utah, never got a chance to putt for birdie on the par-3 hole at the Pacifico Golf Course at the Punta Mita Golf Club, one of two Jack Nicklaus-designed courses that lie on this spear-shaped private peninsula 45 minutes northwest of Puerto Vallarta.
Nairin didn’t seem to mind that his spectacular tee shot was unplayable.
“Hitting over the ocean to that green is simply stunning,” he said. “You just don’t get to play shots like that. It’s memorable.”
Also known as the “Tail of the Whale,” the island hole wasn’t designed as an official hole on the scorecard.
“Jack saw that piece of rock out there and thought it was just the right distance from the mainland, so he put a hole out there,” said John McIntyre, Punta Mita’s Director of Golf. “He didn’t build a bridge out there on purpose. It’s a show hole, but it’s certainly an iconic one.”
The Tail of the Whale is one of 15 holes on the 18-hole Pacifico and Bahia courses located along the Pacific Ocean, which is one of the biggest reasons 74-year-old Fred Sohegian of Fallbrook keeps coming back to Punta Mita.
“These views are incredible and these courses are beautiful and in perfect condition,” said Sohegian, 74. “And unlike a lot of courses in the U.S., the courses in Mexico are never busy.”
Over 20 years ago, this southwest point on the Riveria Nayarit was little more than an off-the-grid spot for hardcore surfers. No one would have imaged that two championship golf courses, multi-million dollar villas and two high-end resorts, the Four Seasons and St. Regis, would have been carved out of this 1,500-acre nature preserve on Banderas Bay.
“This was basically a little fishing village with some surfers,” McIntyre said. “People thought it was the craziest idea in the world to build a luxury development here.”
What’s really crazy is that Punta Mita is quickly distinguishing itself–and stealing tourists–from Puerto Vallarta, the resort city of 250,000 that sits 30 miles south in the state of Jalisco. The pristine beaches, half a dozen quality surf breaks, championship golf courses and luxury resorts are drawing families, surfers, divers, fishermen, golfers and A-list celebrities like Kanye West, Tom Cruise, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Jennifer Aniston.
Tourism and building are booming on the 200-mile stretch of beaches along Nayarit’s coast. Several high-end resorts and golf course developments are going up to the south and north of Punta Mita and a four-lane highway is in the works to accommodate all the tourists. But what started it all in Punta Mita was the Four Seasons Resort, which rose out of a lush jungle in 1999 between two sugary white-sand beaches.
The gated-400 acre resort, which recently underwent a multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation for its 20th anniversary, has the look and feel of a private village. With 177 redesigned ocean view casitas, suites and private residences, a network of pools that includes an adults-only pool, a variety of restaurants featuring fresh seafood, rural Mexican, contemporary Asian cuisine, two world-class golf courses and a spa with 13 treatment rooms, there’s no need to venture off campus.
The golf courses are also being renovated. The Pacifico, over 20 years old, and Bahia, over 12 years old, are both being restored to their original condition. The five-year project began in April, focusing first on all 19 Pacifico greens, bunkers, surrounding areas and tees. The greens will be re-grassed with TifEagle Bermuda and the surrounds with Trinity Zoysia.
Phase One will be completed in November with the Pacifico reopening after being closed for six months. Phase Two will begin in April of 2022, focusing on Bahia, which also be closed for six months. New fairways and a new clubhouse are also in the restoration plans, which are being led by original Nicklaus Design Senior Designer Jim Lipe.
Earlier this year, Pacifico was ranked No. 77 in Golf Magazine’s top 100 public courses in the world. “The course is of a high enough caliber, so we wanted to stay with the original design,” said Shane Eble, the courses’ director of agronomy. “We think a restoration will even further enhance the status of this golf course.”
After spending the morning on the wide-open fairways and tricky greens of the Bahia or Pacifico course, it’s easy to let the afternoon slip away at the infinity pool, munching on ceviche and sipping Mexican craft beers while gazing at beginning surfers catching their first wave off Manzanillas Beach. The price of luxury in Punta Mita is steep. Rooms at the Four Seasons start at $695. Green fees at the Pacifico and Bahia courses are $270 for 18 holes, not much different than what it costs to tee it up in Cabo, Mexico’s golfing mecca.
Punta Mita will never be able to compete with Cabo for the golf-centric Mexico vacation. But for those who’d rather split their vacation between the golf course and the ocean, McIntyre believes Punta Mita is the better option.
“Cabo has done a masterful job marketing itself as a golf destination,” he said. “But I think we have a little more to offer here in Punta Mita as far an overall experience. The ocean is warmer and clearer, the beaches are nicer and the opportunities are more diverse. You can go surfing, paddle-boarding, scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing. I also think people that come here will find a slightly different, more laid back type of energy than Cabo.”
If You Go
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita:
St. Regis Punta Mita Resort:
Punta Mita Pacifico Golf Course & Punta Mita Bahia Golf Course:
Four Seasons Dos Catrinas:
Four Seasons Aramara:
Four Seasons Bahia By Richard Sandoval:
St. Regis Las Marietas Restaurant & Bar:
Tropic Surf School:
Surf Town of Sayulita:
Cross Border Xpress, which now includes valet service: