The following comments, observations and information are based on the golfing experiences of an Englishman who has lived and worked in Puerto Vallarta for more than 17 years and who plays golf at least twice per week. He has played frequently at all the courses, except Four Seasons, and is a member of The Vista and Marina courses.
In general golf in Puerto Vallarta is not a cheap hobby and the increase in the number of courses from the original two in 1994 to the present day seven has not decreased prices significantly, if at all. Prices vary from course to course and each one has a series of discounts, twilight fees, packets etc. The fees vary from about $95 (dollars) up to about $180. There are also enormous differences in “add on costs” like the price of a can of Coca Cola (how about $2.50 on one course), the cost of rental clubs, the cost of storing your clubs, even the cost of having a non-playing partner just accompanying the player to take in the view. Probably, the best way to describe the differences between some of the courses is: some feel homey and give genuine, friendly service, others are much more of a business. Bargins are available for twilight times at most courses.
The first golf course built in the area, it is situated on the main road, north of Nuevo Vallarta, just before Bucerias. They have a bus which collects players from the hotels in Puerto Vallarta at certain times of the day.
The course is well established and has always had a reputation for being the easiest. This was because it wasn’t particularly long but there are lots of trees and on some of the holes, if you miss the fairway, don’t even think of looking for your ball. The course was closed for six months in 2002 and some remodelling was done, carts paths were improved and a new watering system was installed. Several of the holes have been lengthened, some trees have been cut down and it is now a good challenge, particularly in the afternoons when the breeze changes direction (all the long holes seem to be into the wind). The greens are well kept and true, a delight to putt on and the bunkers are always in good condition. The course has a natural feel about it and is a not “manufactured”, target golf course. There is enough water on the course to make it interesting without making it a lost ball nightmare for the non Tiger Woods. The grass at Flamingos is different from the grass on the other courses in the area, it seems more like the sort of grass which British courses have. The grass is soft not coarse and the ball seems to settle down on it under it’s own weight. This makes it a little more difficult to get the ball up in the air, particularly when playing from the short rough.
The prices at Flamingos are usually the cheapest, drinks on the course are definitely the cheapest and most reasonable. They usually give a complimentary cold bottle of water. Most of the staff have worked there for many years and are really friendly. Nearly all the caddies in the area started work at Flamingos. Caddies are available and compulsory for four balls. All of them are excellent and well worth using, if only for the shots they can save on the putting green. Vicente, who is about seventy, is the best of them all. He has had to stop running alongside the cart in the last twelve months but when on the green, if he says it is 8 inches outside the hole you can rest assured it is 8 inches outside the hole.
In summary, a good friendly course providing good value for money and a challenge for all levels of players. It is totally different from all the other courses in Puerto Vallarta and if it wasn’t for the sun and the palm trees you could think you were in England.
The Marina course was the second to be built and it is situated in the heart of Marina Vallarta, near the Marriott hotel. The course is owned by the same company which owns the Vista Vallarta courses.
The course is well established and is a stiff challenge to all golfers. Most people would consider it to be the hardest course in the area. Many of the holes are long and ten of them have water (five are “if you are not on the green, start swimming”). It is not really a good course for hackers as the number of lost balls could destroy the confidence of all but the toughest. The greens are usually in good condition and are relatively small, making the course feel very much like target golf. Some of the garden areas could be spruced up and at times the bunkers seem to be compacted and lacking some sand. The enormous, deep waste bunker on the par 5, 14th hole, looks a mess, has lots of stones and doesn’t really serve any purpose except cause a few curses when the ball lands in it.
With all the water on the course it is worth noting that there are quite a few alligators and it is quite common to have to play your shot with a basking alligator not too far away. There have been no reports of anybody ever having been attacked but it is wise to take a free drop if you are in danger of hitting it on the head with your follow through. The course has quite a lot of trees and some very unforgiving palm trees. The ball never seems to fall out of them. The par 3, 13th hole is alongside the ocean and is a nice challenge. If there is any breeze you have to start the ball out over the beach to come in with the wind. In the rainy season, particularly in the morning, use plenty of mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes can be a bit of a nuisance but shouldn’t detract from a good game of golf.
Prices tend to be on the high side and on course drinks aren’t the cheapest in town. Caddies are available. Some are excellent, most are good but a couple could improve. There is a charge for storing clubs.
In summary, the Marina is tough test, it is well established and is easily reached from all the Marina hotels. It is popular and can get busy in high season. It is in the top range of prices but many hotels have a discount deal.
Vista Vallarta, Nicklaus Course
The Vista Vallarta golf club has two courses set on the hillside, overlooking Puerto Vallarta. The Nicklaus course was used for the 2002 PGA world cup tournament. It is about 5 Km. from the main hotels. The views from the course over the bay are quite spectacular and the mountains in the background certainly make the Vista courses the most pleasant in the area.
The Nicklaus course has been open for nearly three years and uses the natural lie of the land. It is not the longest course in the world and the fairways seem to be ample but strategic fairway bunkers make it risky to take the shortest route on several holes. It is certainly a course for smart golf. Several holes have small streams crossing the fairway and it frequently pays to play short rather than try to blast over them. The greens are big, some with big steps in them and they are usually fast. They can suffer a bit in the rainy season but quickly recover. The bunkers are now in good condition and some are not for the faint hearted. The course has everything and is a very good all round test of golf. It has some established trees, some “jungle”, some sloping fairways, some coarse grass around some greens where the ball will disappear, even when you know where it is. Being built on a hillside, there are nice changes in elevation and there is no feeling of playing on a golf course set out in a field. Only one hole (a par 3) has water and it shouldn’t really cause problems unless you have a right handed slice. Pin placements can change the course dramatically. The course is a picture and is well worth a visit.
The prices are high. Drinks on the course are ridiculously expensive and if you smoke make sure you have enough cigarettes. To buy a pack on the course will cost $4 (dollars) for something which is $1.50 in any shop in Vallarta. There is a charge for club storage and for non-playing partners. The number of caddies is limited and most people play without.
In summary, the Nicklaus course is an excellent golf course and a joy to play. The main building, grounds etc. are fabulous and offset the feeling of it being a business rather than a golf club.
Vista Vallarta, Weiskopft Course
The Weiskopft course at Vista Vallarta shares the same main building, car park etc. as the Nicklaus course and has been open about six months less. The Weiskopft doesn’t have the same views as the Nicklaus but that doesn’t make it any less attractive and it is a good, enjoyable test of golf.
The Weiskopft course makes full use of the different elevations and although it could not be considered a long course it is by no means easy. Some holes are well protected by very difficult bunkers and the 2nd. hole (par 4) is short but there seems to be a sea of bunkers between tee and green (the locals play well to the left away from them). Again the Weiskopft is a course for smart golf. Blasting an enormous distance off the tee is not always the best thing. For example, the par 5, 4th. hole can be reached in two with a decent drive but the fairway is very narrow and slopes significantly towards a “jungle”. Many people blast off with the driver, get a little bit of fade, land on the slope and that is the last they ever see of the ball.
The course has several streams crossing the fairways but does not have any major water hazards. The greens are big and can suffer in the rainy season but they are fast.
The comments on prices etc. are the same as the Nicklaus course.
In summary, the Weiskopft course is an excellent golf course. There is nothing to choose between it and the Nicklaus course, it simply depends on personal preference.
The Mayan Palace course is part of the Mayan complex in Nuevo Vallarta. It has been open about two years. The course is in two parts, one around the complex buildings (it is a vast open area and it is wrong to think of it being between hotel blocks) and the other across the road.
When the course first opened it seemed flat, boring and without character. However, now the grass has matured, some more trees have been planted and the golf shop/restaurant has been built it has become a very pleasant golf course. It is a good challenge for players of all levels. The course is long and a few holes need some mighty smacks to reach. For most average golfers, the woods get plenty of use. There is quite a lot of water on the course and one or two enormous bunkers running alongside the fairway. The direction of the wind can change the course significantly. The course is in excellent condition and the greens are well kept. They are true and can be fast. Their speed can vary from week to week but they are never slow. Everybody plays with a caddy, hence the greens, fairways, bunkers are always in good shape. Every divot is immediately filled in with a green sand and seed mixture.
The prices are mid range but the service is excellent. All the staff polite and friendly. The caddies are at worst good and some are excellent. Complimentary coffee and croissants for the early starters. Complimentary ball markers and plug mark repair forks. No charge for clubs storage. Excellent attention to detail. The on course drinks service is good and doesn’t break the bank.
In summary, the Mayan course has fast become a pleasant place for a game of golf where the service provided is excellent.
The Paradise Village course is the newest in the area and has been open for less than a year. It is in a walled area which will eventually have villas and condominiums built in the large complex. It is located on the entrance road to Nuevo Vallarta and part of it runs alongside the Mayan course.
At present the course suffers from looking new and in a vast open and flat area until the housing development gives it some sense of proportion. The course itself is enough of a challenge but the holes seem characterless. It is quite long and there are four different men’s tees. There are few, if any, mature trees. There is lots of water on the course and many enormous bunkers (too many), some running the full length of the fairway. One of the bunkers could easily accommodate a par three hole. One hole (par 3) is an island green surrounded by water and even this has a bunker built into it. It seems to be a mixture of different themes and although it is a nice course to play occasionally most people would not like it to be the only course available. The course itself is well kept and the greens are good, if a little slow.
The prices are mid range and similar to the Mayan. The drinks service is good and not too expensive. All golfers are given a complimentary bottle of water and are offered chilled towels whilst playing. The service is good and the staff are friendly. No caddies are available.
In summary, the course suffers from being new and will look and feel better when it has had chance to mature. Some of the bunkers are excessive and do not add to the course either in beauty or difficulty. The water and the number of bunkers make what at first looks like a flat, manufactured, “links” type course into more of a target golf. The price is reasonable and the service is good. It needs time.
No comments other than it is quite remote from the Puerto Vallarta main area (located at the extreme end of the bay) and has a reputation of being very expensive (no personal experience).
None of the courses are easy. As all golfers know, getting the ball from the tee and into the hole is difficult on all courses.
Flamingos – cheapest, probably the easiest. Good, friendly staff (homey). Not usually crowded and enjoyable golf.
US$ 80. Twilight rates. Reservations (329)-296-5006. E-mail.
Marina – Expensive. Target golf, difficult for “hackers” but a challenge for all golfers. Easily accessed from most hotels. – US$ 120. Ask about the ”Sunset Special” – after 3:30. Reservations required 221-0545 or 221-0073.
Vista Vallarta – Expensive. Two top class golf courses which can be enjoyed by players of all levels whilst providing a good test of golf. Most attractive – US$ 199.00. Twilight rates. 290-0040 or 290-0030. E-mail
Mayan Palace – Mid range for price. Good test of golf. Course in excellent condition and excellent service – US$ 100. Reservations required 226-4000. E-mail.
Paradise Village – Mid range for price. Needs time to mature. Good test of golf but doesn’t seem to have a specific design theme. Good service. – US$ 100. Reservations required 226-6770 or 226-6739.
Many thanks to my good friend Ronald Pealing for this.