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GOLFING IN PARADISE
by Bob Brooke

Golfing on the Cabo Real course along The Corridor in Los Cabos is as close to perfection as golfers will ever get.Golfing in most of Mexico's resort areas is an experience. Whether itís the turquoise blue sea just beyond the green or the bright purple bougainvillea blossoms around the edge, or perhaps the rustle of palm fronds overhead, the lush scenery at most of Mexico's resort golf courses makes it hard for even the pros to concentrate.

Many of the courses, planned and built as integral parts of resort hotels, make outstanding golf possible near all of Mexico's beach resorts. Designers have incorporated seashore vistas, jungle edges, forested mountains, deserts, pre-Columbian ruins, even a water hazard or two with live alligators.

This is true of the two magnificent courses in Acapulco at the Princess and Pierre Marques Hotels, regarded by many as two of the finest resort courses in Mexico. The first, a 6,355-yard par 72 Percy Clifford design, features water on 12 of its 18 holes, while the second, designed by Ted Robinson, features water on 13 holes and is extremely well bunkered.

Others, such as the Club de Golf Pok-Ta-Pok in Cancun, were part of the master plan for this modern pre-planned resort. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. with 18 holes jutting out into the lagoon, it's the only course with an actual Mayan ruin on the 12th hole. Laid out between the beach and the lagoon on a stretch of flat sand, it's a pleasant rolling course. However, winds can kick up during the winter months, making it difficult to stay on target.

Even Cancun now has some good courses. The Hilton Resort's 18-hole 6,800-yard par 71 course, while beautifully set on landfill next to the lagoon, is somewhat forgiving on the front eleven holes, but offers more of a challenge on the back seven. Fairways are slow due to the special grass needed to cover them. An alligator lives in the water hazard on the 15th hole. Another, the Melia Cancun's 18-hole course, isn't much more than an elaborate chip and put course.

Ixtapa's spectacular Palma Real course, on the other hand, was also designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. with fairways and greens butting right up against the beach. This course tests golfers with rolling expanses of fairways and greens rimmed with tall coconut palms and dotted with water holes and three blue lakes. It's also a game preserve with many varieties of gorgeous birds and more than a dozen alligators in the lakes. The final greens hug the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The new 18-hole Ixtapa Marina Club de Golf, designed by Robert Von Hagge, is one of two links-style courses in Mexico. From the balcony of the clubhouse, it looks like a series of green bumps devoid of trees with canals running through them. But from the course level, it's a challenging maze of hills and water hazards. Tightly guarded greens and expansive fairways between the "dunes" force golfers to use all the skills they possess.

For golfers headed to Puerto Vallarta, the Los Flamingos Golf Club offers a chance to follow through on a movie star or two. This 18-hole par 72 course is located eight miles north of the airport near some fine hotels. A newer 6,500-yard resort course, designed by Joe Finger, crowns the Marina Vallarta megadevelopment. It's open undulating fairways offer even the novice golfer a wide berth for those wayward shots and a challenging layout for better players.

Another spectacular course is the Club de Golf Tangolunda in Huatulco, Mexico's newest resort area. Located below Acapulco in a lush coastal area, designerís carved this course out of the jungle, making it flow from the ocean inland between rolling hills of chaparal along the shore of Huatulco's seven gorgeous bays.

But the new light on golf in Mexico shines on Los Cabos where a trio of skillfully designed courses attracts the best of the best. The international televising of the Senior Grand Slam tournament on the 7,051-yard par 72 Cabo del Sol, or Cape of the Sun, course is sure to draw attention to this Jack Nicklaus-designed gem. Indeed, Los Cabos has set new standards in integrating spectacular settings with challenging golf.

Cabo del Sol features seven oceanside holes, more than any other course in Mexico. Like Pebble Beach, the look is natural, unforced. Earthworks are kept to a minimum. From the pro tees there are several death-or-glory shots to be played across Bahia de Ballena (Whale Bay), though staggered tees put the holes within reach of the average golfer. Inland holes provide a strategic counterpoint to chasing the ball along the bluffs 40 feet above the sea. The best is the short par-four 11th, its split fairway divided by a massive bowl of sand.

Two finishing holes, in Nicklaus' own words, "the two best finishing holes in the world," put Cabo del Sol at the top of Latin American courses. The 17th measures a mere 160 yards but is as thrilling as any mid-length par three in the world. From a clifftop tee, golfers fly their shots over a sandy beach to a pulpit green nestled among sea-blackened rocks. The par-four 18th, a grand left-to right dogleg, traces the curve of the shore to a large well-protected green, providing a climax to any round.

Palmilla, 10 miles down the road, a 6,939-yard par 72 27-hole target-style desert layout, Nicklaus' first Mexican venture, was instantly the best course in Mexico when it opened in 1992. Consisting of three sets of nine--Arroyo, Mountain, and Ocean--the course sits beautifully in the mountains, its rough areas dotted with 400-year-old cardon cacti, and every hole has a view of the Sea of Cortez. Nicklaus designed so many signature holes at Palmilla that it plays like an autograph book.

The 7th hole of the Arroyo course has scared many a golfer. With a 560-yard carry from the back tees over a 200-foot-deep canyon to a long fairway with the sea looming over the horizon, it plays head games on golfers. The 5th Hole of the Mountain stretches 440 yards to the green, with a trick drive over a yawning chasm to the fairway, which turns right and crosses another larger chasm to the green. With five sets of tees on every hole, often set out like box seats at the opera, Nickalus gives every golfer options. Even not-so-polished players can have a fine day on this course. The greens are kept crisp, swift and true.

Two dramatic seaside holes, and three outstanding mountain holes are the signature holes of the 6945-yard par 72 Cabo Real Resort Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones. It promises to be a centerpiece of Los Cabos resort golf. Situated midway between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose at the Melia Cabo Real Hotel, it features a flower-bedecked rolling green course, in contrast to Nicklaus' desert ones. The par three 14th Hole plays down to where the surf laps the shore, followed by a par three across a natural beach, and up on a mountain, Holes 4, 5, and 8, are humbling in their grandeur of view and skill requirements.

Campo de Golf Los Cabos, the original local course is already a sporty little stroke eater. Plans call for extending this to 18 holes on the opposite side of the highway. Campestre Cabo San Lucas, designed by Roy Dye, offers splendid views of the sea, though in area isn't as large as the other courses.

Currently, there are more than 180 holes of golf along the meandering strip of Highway 1 between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas known as The Corridor.

This article first appeared in Golf Lifestyle Magazine.

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