While searching for things to do outside of our resort grounds I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of golf courses available in and around Puerto Vallarta. With 6 championship style courses within an hours drive, Puerto Vallarta is quickly becoming one of Mexico’s best golf destinations – perfect for someone looking to spend as little time as possible sitting poolside at a resort.
I was lucky enough to try out three courses of varying difficulty and rates while visiting the area. All three were unique, challenging, and fun while offering golf experiences not typically found on your average getaway.
Punta Mita – Treat Yourself
Golfing Punta Mita at the Four Seasons was a taste of the high life for our group of four. This expansive and high-end golf club features not one but two courses by Jack freaking Nicklaus. In case you don’t know, Jack knows a thing or two about the game. What really lured us in was the natural island par 3 on the Pacifico course which looked too spectacular to be real. Nicknamed “the Tail of the Whale,” this optional par 3 hole is the only natural island green in the world. How could we pass on that?
We arrived after a winding yet scenic drive and were welcomed instantly by eager attendants. Now this sort of treatment may be normal for those belonging to a country club – maybe you smoke fine cigars and your house smells of rich mahogany – but for our party, this was a real treat. For example, cleaning my clubs and shoes before I play? Crazy. Also, Pro V1’s are usually something found as a prize in the woods or purchased second hand on a course, not something piled in a pyramid on a driving range.
On top of the over the top service, we seemed to have the entire course to ourselves. This was perhaps due to it being the shoulder season or the fact that no one else was dumb enough to golf midday in 40-degree heat. Either way, it made for an incredibly relaxing pace of play. We had no one on our heels nor were we ever waiting to tee off. 40-degree heat or not, it was a refreshing change of pace and we took full advantage of it. We enjoyed a long warm up on the driving range and putting and chipping greens – not that this helped our play at all.
The attentive service continued throughout our round as we were met every three holes or so by smiling attendants that would top up our water cooler, provide us with ice cold towels, and spray us down with a cool mist that felt heavenly. Note: I do not use the word “Heavenly” however this ice mist can only be described as such. Beyond that words can not describe how amazing and welcomed these visits were. Jesus was about as close as I will ever come to telling another man that I love him.
We arrived at hole 3b (the Tail of the Whale island green) during high tide and were advised by the starter to just return when we were done our round. Of course, we all teed up a shot for fun. Impressively 3 out of our foursome hit the tiny island 200 plus yards away – myself included which is a bit of a shock as anytime there is water present I tend to find it, let alone the ocean. We left happy with the intention of tapping in those puts later.
The remaining holes at this course are not to be dismissed. Many run along the Pacific Ocean or Banderas Bay which provides an incredible backdrop to your round. Crashing waves, whales in the distance, white sandy beaches, and a welcomed breeze off the water made these holes that much more enjoyable.
As we arrived on the 17th tee box, one of the most scenic I have ever seen, we were met by the clubs golf pro. Phil turned out to be Canadian and a friend of a friend (of a friend) – I feel that this should probably be omitted as it only propagates the stereotype that everyone in Canada knows each other ie. “Hey, do you know Bob from Canada?? Anyway, Phil gave us a rundown on the best holes at Punta Mita and extended an invite for us to try a few of them on Bahia, the properties other courses. It was hard to say no when he is telling us how great the other course is while we are about to tee off on the most picturesque hole I have ever seen. Sold Phil.
Before heading over to check out Bahia we took a break and stopped in at the clubhouse. This amazing course is not without a clubhouse to match – great facilities and staff. Perched in the restaurant overlooking the gorgeous grounds we tallied scores while enjoying delicious fish tacos and much-deserved cervezas.
Bahia is the newer of the two courses and is much more challenging as we were told by every attendant we ran into on the way. We then experienced this for ourselves. The fairways and greens have much more roll and shape to them making for some fun putts. The last few holes were indeed incredible as they run along the Pacific Ocean. It was a great way to cap off our already great day.
All in all Punta Mita is definitely a must play course if you are in the area and looking to splurge for a one of a kind experience. The service and scenery alone is well worth the short drive out and you definitely get what you pay for – if not more.
El Tigre – Best Value
A little closer to town in Riviera Nayarit’s Paradise village is the El Tigre golf and country club. Aside from being a top-rated course in all of Mexico, this world-class golf course features some interesting looking holes, a massive clubhouse, a cool looking Myan gate at the entrance, and an onsite spa. Of course getting our feet rubbed was not what drew us in. No, this course lives up to its name and features a small zoo with freaking Bengal tigers!
El Tigre Golf at Paradise Village – courtesy of TripAdvisor
Although not the first time Tiger’s have been paired with golf, this random zoo attached to the course peaked our curiosity. El Tigre Golf & Country Club is oddly apart of a rescue program for tigers. Over the past decade or so more than 70 tigers have been cared for at this facility and on a typical day these large kittens can be seen walking the fairways or cruising in a golf cart with one of the care takers. Awesome. We were not so lucky to see them on the greens during our visit but we did say hi at the enclosure near the entrance of the course.
Large jungle cats aside, the course itself is more than worth a visit. We were happy to see the raised service bar that we thought was only reserved for private clubs and signature courses (as experienced at Punta Mita) continued at El Tigre. Staff was attentive and helpful supplying much needed cold water and towels throughout the day. As for playing, I had a love/hate relationship with this course – strictly based on my personal performance. Most fairways are open although some are littered with bunkers making it challenging, to say the least. One hole in particular looks like you are playing on the moon with crater-like bunkers throughout. Other holes contained “fearsome” beach bunkers that seemed to go for days – or at least three strokes in my case. Needless to say, we became very good at playing out of the sand that day.
On the flip side of the challenging holes were two birdies on the front 9 (which is unheard of for me) and an Eagle for Glenn on the back 9 – definitely unheard of for our group. I have never been so happy and so frustrated during a game in my life.
Although not along the ocean, El Tigre is not without its scenic charm. See tropical birds bathing on one of the 12 holes featuring water or stumble upon large iguanas lazily sunning themselves as you search for that sliced shot. Tropical trees sway in the soft breeze and the picturesque Sierra Madre mountains backdrop almost every hole. A great deal of thought has gone into the features of this course with some small waterfalls, creeks, and in particular a fun island green on hole #6. Oh, and did I mention there are tigers?!?
The service continued in the clubhouse after our game as we enjoyed a quick bite to eat while a dozen or so employees vigorously removed the grass and mud from our irons. Seriously, my clubs have never been so clean. El Tigre offers an excellent golf experience for those looking to be taken care of on and off the course. Definitely excellent value for what you pay.
Marina Vallarta – Best Experience
We finished up our mini-Mexico golf tournament with a round at Marina Vallarta. Located just minutes from downtown Puerto Vallarta, this golf club is perfect for those visiting on a budget. Although the price is what initially drew us in (the cheapest of the 3 courses we played) it was the fact that this course is basically one big alligator habitat that caught my attention. Natural lagoons are scattered throughout the course as are signs warning golfers that this is indeed an alligator home first. Basically, you are just a tasty visitor in funny looking pants. My excitement for this uniqueness was not shared by all in our party. Travis had to look away as I took 3 practice swings before finally hitting a ball lying inches from the water. To be fair we did see gators appear then disappear into the surprisingly deep waters. Visions of Chubs losing his hand from the movie “Happy Gilmore” did cross my mind…several times.
Prior to that excitement, we arrived at the course early enough to have a drink and a snack in the clubhouse. Although older than the other courses we had visited, this clubhouse definitely has the most character and charm with nautical features and a truly Mexican feel tied in. The food was great, inexpensive, and the beer was cold. Outside the chipping and putting, greens were in good shape and there was a driving range although we did not use it. As we headed to the 1st tee box we passed a group finishing up that provided us with a little heads up about the 11-foot gators on hole 11. Awesome.
As the day went on we couldn’t help notice the level of service that we had grown accustomed to had all but disappeared. Where was Jesus with our ice cold water mist? And where’s that kid with my latte?!? He never did come. Still, we were allowed to bring our own case of beer and, after buying a few bottles of water, were provided with a cooler and ice. Plus it was the cheapest course we had played that week so all was more than good.
Although conditions were not optimal while we visited as several water hazards were drained or under repair, you could see that the layout is very unique and challenging. It turned out to be a very fun course – although this could have been the dozen beer talking – it played like a well kept and laid back public city course. Tropical trees, beaches, and decently maintained fairways and greens made for a great day out of the resort. The best moment of the day came when a group of locals rolled up on the road next to the 16th tee box and blared techno. Just a reminder that we were indeed off the country club circuit. Still, it was hilarious and made our afternoon that much more interesting.
In the end we played three very unique and great courses that each offered something different. With three different price points, there truly is something for every golfer visiting the Puerto Vallarta area. If you can bear the heat and excitement, golfing while visiting Puerto Vallarta is a great way to escape your resort walls and see some great scenery and wildlife. From whales breaching off white sandy beaches, tigers going for a stroll on the back 9, to gators eying up your putts, golfing in Puerto Vallarta is wild, to say the least.
Puerto Vallarta on Dwellable