LA PAZ, MEXICO – From the back tees perched atop a cliff, a well-manicured fairway sits 250 yards and a 200-foot-drop away. A pristine green sits 612 yards in the distance; just beyond lies the rich turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez. Not only is the 14th hole at El Cortés Golf Club the longest par 5 in Mexico, it easily the most daunting and stunning.
“It’s the most challenging and beautiful hole you’ll ever see,” said El Cortés assistant pro Greg Martin. “I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out ways to beat it.”
The 14th is one of 18 holes at El Cortés that offer sweeping views of the sea that Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world.” It’s not lost on Martin that his favorite golf hole and his favorite course were on life support a few years ago.
“It was abandoned,” Martin said. “The previous owners gave up on it. This place was almost all a desert, hardly any grass. People still played it, but most of the shots were played using ‘ground under repair’ rules. It was sad.”
But the course’s luck and look began to change when Ascendancy, a Mexican-based asset management firm, purchased the resort in early 2018 and poured more than $5 million into remaking and rebranding the former Costa Baja resort into Puerta Cortés, a collection of oceanfront and hillside residences with a world-class marina, fine-dining restaurants and an 18-hole Gary Player Signature golf course.
“The main point we’re selling is access to the Sea of Cortez, where you get spectacular colors and incredible beaches you’re only used to seeing in the Caribbean,” said Ivan Martinez Ivanov, director of operations at Puerta Cortés.
It would have been easy for the new owners to walk away from a distressed golf course that is only two hours from Cabo, Mexico’s golf mecca, but the new owners decided they wanted a slice of the golf tourism market, so they spent more than a $1 million in watering and maintenance costs to revive it.
“We saw golf as a diamond we wanted to keep,” Ivanov said. “We wanted some of that Cabo golf audience to splash over here.”
On a toasty day in early August, the low season in Baja, the lush and immaculate El Cortés was virtually empty, but Albert Vega of Temecula didn’t seem to mind.
“This is best course I’ve ever played,” said Vega, who plays a lot of golf in Southern California and Arizona. “The views are one-of-a-kind. It’s a challenging but fun course.”
After six holes, Vega and his wife, Miriam, took a break and relaxed at a halfway house overlooking the dramatic 14th hole and ordered their favorite cocktail, a Paloma (tequila, lime juice and grapefruit soda).
“It’s paradise,” Miriam said. “They brought our breakfast and coffee to the third hole. Where else do you get this kind of service?”
The Vegas and their two small children are big fans of Mexico and have traveled to Cabo, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Guadalajara. Last year, they discovered La Paz on a summer trip, and they’ve returned three times since.
The Cross Border Xpress in Otay Mesa, where travelers can purchase a $15 ticket and walk five minutes across a pedestrian bridge to the remodeled Tijuana International Airport, allows the Vegas to reach La Paz from their Temecula house in under three hours for just $170 round trip on Volaris Airlines. With green fees topping out at $150, suites starting at $200 and multi-room villas starting at $300, Puerta Cortés is a bargain compared with most Mexican golf resorts.
“The combination of desert and beach is hard to beat, and it’s half the price of Cabo,” Albert Vega said. “I can live out here like a king and it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Puerta Cortés guests have two luxurious housing options: Las Colinas, a development with 72 contemporary two- and three-bedroom townhouses on a hillside overlooking lush fairways, the marina and the desert, and VistaMar, an elegant 60-unit condominium complex near the marina with two- and three-bedroom units featuring panoramic views of the Sea of Cortez. Suites start at $200 a night and multi-room villas start in the $300s.
While staying in the oceanfront and hillside gated communities of VistaMar and Las Colinas, guests can hop in their own golf cart for short jaunts to the beach club, where they can swim in an infinity pool that drops off into the balmy, tranquil sea, or they can grab a fish taco and sip a margarita while watching the sunset from the poolside restaurant. In the mornings, Doce Cuarenta coffee shop is a perfect spot for a latte and pastry.
The marina offers dockside dining from a variety of cuisines, including Italian, Mediterranean and Japanese. Guests looking for even more variety can catch a $3 Uber to downtown La Paz, where they can stroll along the boardwalk and check out the mile-long stretch of cafes, bars and restaurants.
For the more adventurous, the private white sandy beaches of Balandra and Pichilingue are only a 25-minute boat ride away. In the winter, the resort and the golf course are busier and the sea is some 20 degrees cooler, but a winter snorkeling trip offers a chance to swim with the massive but friendly whale sharks who feed in the plankton-rich waters from October through April.
By the end of winter, Puerta Cortés’ transformation is expected to kick into high gear. The overhaul of the clubhouse, which includes a new spa and a fine dining restaurant, should be nearly completed, and construction on two five-star hotels should be under way. Bike and running trails, tennis courts and pickle ball courts are also in the works.
IF YOU GO
Puerta Cortés Resort: puertacortes.com
El Cortés Golf Club: elcortesgolf.com
Pueblito Marinero: puertacortes.com/en/cullinary
Sortis Restaurant: www.facebook.com/Sorstisrestaurante
Harker Board Restaurant & Bar: www.facebook.com/harkerboardcosupandrestaurantbar
Doce Cuarenta Café: docecuarenta.com
Rancho Viejo restaurant: www.facebook.com/asadero.ranchoviejo
Cross Border Xpress: www.crossborderxpress.com
Tailhunter Sportfishing: tailhunter.com
Story by Dave McKibben