GOURMET GOLF IN RIVIERA NAYARIT

About Cancun, Mexico

GOURMET GOLF IN RIVIERA NAYARIT

I’m not sure what I enjoy more—swinging or eating. Fortunately, I get both on the Bay of Banderas in Riviera Nayarit, one of Mexico’s top golf destinations. For the past few years, my husband and I have had the pleasure of spending a few days on some of Nayarit’s top golf courses with our amigo, Guillermo Guerrero, public relations coordinator for the Office of Visitors and Conventions for Riviera Nayarit. Guillermo is not only an enthusiastic golfer but he’s also a true foodie who knows his “surf and turf.”  We always share a variety of dishes and he’s never ordered anything I didn’t rave about.

Every year, I make it my “duty” to play Nayarit’s top designer courses, eat at the best restaurants and report back to you…hard work but someone’s got to do it! Gracias Guillermo for making my job easy.

Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic 

The Punta Mita resort (about a 45-minute drive north of Puerto Vallarta Airport) boasts two Jack Nicklaus Signature courses. In June 2008, Pacifico was named the number one golf course in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Pacifico boasts 19 fairways and the world’s only natural island green. To play this signature Tail of the Whale third hole you must carry your drive about 180 yards across the Pacific Ocean. In low tide, if you haven’t made an offering to Neptune, walk over a rocky ocean-floor pathway to putt. 

Less adventuresome swingers can opt to play the alternate landlocked 3A. The Jack Nicklaus Signature design takes full advantage of vistas of the surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains, white coral sand beaches and a tropical landscape of palms and bougainvillea.

Jack’s new Bahia Course may be less dramatic but the severely contoured greens will challenge your putting acumen. The grand finale fairways 17 and 18 take golfers within steps of Punta Mita’s famed El Faro surfing beach.These tracts are in such impeccable condition, you’d swear they trim the fairways with manicure scissors and sift the sand. And just when you’re feeling a bit parched, the waiter at the halfway house greets you with complimentary iced towels and mango/banana smoothies. If only they could help me to hit that island green.

After our round, we head to the Four Seasons Tail of the Whale restaurant located on the upper level of the clubhouse with views of both courses and the Pacific Ocean. The refreshing green gazpacho combines cucumber, apple, pepper, onion, green tomato, Serrano chilies and fresh herbs. Tail of the Whale ceviche is a magical combo of jumbo shrimp, tomato, olives, avocado and orange segments in a tomato/citrus sauce. Fish tacos are always popular and even the hot dog, decked out with bacon and cheddar cheese, achieves new culinary heights.

Note: The private Punta Mita Golf Club is open only to Punta Mita property owners and their guests, and guests of Four Seasons and St. Regis Resorts. www.puntamita.com

From January 28 to 31, 2016, The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort and Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in conjunction with DINE, master developer of Punta Mita, and the Riviera Nayarit Visitors and Convention Bureau hosted the sixth annual American Express Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic. 

The extravaganza was a delicious orgy of gourmet golf on both of Punta Mita’s courses with “putt stops” on various holes to sample food and drink. Before and after the rounds, more than 500 guests indulged in dinners, beach bashes, wine and tequila tastings prepared by celebrity chefs, sommeliers and tequileros from around the world.

Golf Digest presented an exclusive golf clinic by pro golfer Craig Stadler. The event supports Ayudar Es Posible, the foundation of acclaimed former professional Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa, which helps underprivileged children through educational programs, sports, healthy living, and self-esteem seminars. The fund-raising auction featured exclusive experiences, luxury products, and overnight stays at St. Regis and Four Seasons hotels and resorts worldwide. If this sounds like your clients’ “cup of tee and tequila,” check out details on the website. Dates for next year are still to be announced.www.puntamitagourmetgolf.com

Las Huertas & San Pancho 

This is my newest golf discovery in Riviera Nayarit. I was told that the owner is an avid golfer who used to play frequently at Punta Mita. When they decided that the two courses there would be available only to resort guests and owners, Senior Hardesty decided to build his own course in San Francisco (nicknamed San Pancho) where he lives. He called it Los Huertas (means the orchards) as the fruity fairways incorporate mangos, grapefruits, cashew nut, cinnamon, tamarindo, black pepper and guanabana trees.

Las Huertas Golf Course is a nine-hole, par-32 track measuring 3,958 yards from the tips. There are only nine holes but sometimes that’s all you want, or you can play the course twice. This is no “cow pasture.” Fairways are nicely maintained, golf carts are state-of-the-art and there’s Clara’s Pub patio restaurant with view of the Pacific while you sip your cerveza and enjoy typical Mexican dishes such as quesadillas, fajitas and nachos.

Nine holes cost about $40; 18 holes cost about $60. Carts and clubs are available for rent in case you decide on a spur-of-the-moment round. Every Sunday in winter you can enter the Fruity Tournaments. Prizes go to those with the lowest score (you need to provide your handicap), closest to the pin and longest drive. Entry fee, about $75, includes 18 holes, cart and chicken fajitas lunch. Reservations are necessary. www.lashuertasgolf.com

When you go to San Pancho, allow enough time to have breakfast at El Cielo Rojo, a cute boutique hotel and organic restaurant located a couple of blocks from the beach (Calle Asia #6). The motto here is: Food is fuel, food is medicine, food is love. Fuel comes in the form of an amazing rendition of huevos rancheros served atop homemade blue tortillas. Green juice made with lime, basil, mint, celery, cilantro, ginger, cucumber, cactus and parsley makes a delicious medicine. Or try the energizing coconut water and turmeric. Hot-from-the-oven scones served with local honey taste like love to me. Cielo Rojo also sells its own brand of tequila and olive oil. www.hotelcielorojo.com

After your round at Las Huertas, head down to the beach, pull up a chair and dig your feet into the sand at Las Palmas. Order the tuna tostadas—carpaccio of the freshest tuna topped with crispy caramelized onions and a secret sauce. They slide down very well with a frosty margarita as the sun sinks into the sea.

Litibu & La Tranquila Litibu golf course hosted the International Canadian Golf Tour Tournament in 2010, its inaugural year. This helped to bring much deserved international attention to the Greg Norman design located between Sayulita and Punta Mita.

Litibu, the newest of the Mexican government's Fonatur projects (the first was Cancun), means "song of the birds" in the language of the local Huichol Indians. With luck you’ll be able to chirp about a few birdies on this spectacularly challenging tract that meanders over jungle, mountain and oceanside fairways. This year the course is in the best condition yet. They also have a smart new clubhouse and snack bar overlooking the driving range.

From the tips, Greg Norman’s design measures 7,022 yards. Number one is a narrow palm-lined par-four to a green protected by water—an indication that Norman’s challenge will be no walk in the park. You can let it rip on the uphill second par-five. At the number three green, golfers are treated to the roar of waves and beach below.

Norman’s par-threes at Litibu are outstanding. Surf’s up on the fourth, a downhill poke to a postage stamp green with a gorgeous view of the point at the end of the Bay of Banderas called Punta Mita. Another memorable par-three is the eighth where you must plop your ball on an almost-island green.

On the back nine Norman takes you on merry romp toward the undulating foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Sixteen and seventeen are uphill battles fraught with plenty of bunkers. If you can make it through these two fairways without needing your wedge, you deserve a cerveza or three. The stunning grand finale, number 18, brings you to an elevated green with views of the Pacific frothing below. If Miguel is available to caddy your round, you’ll save quite a few strokes. www.rivieranayarit.com/litibu-golf-overview

After head to La Tranquila Resort & Spa next door for lunch at the oceanside Bamboo restaurant. The WOW factor starts with a walk over water on a glass “bridge” in the impressive lobby. The pool complex has to be one of the largest in Mexico with all sorts of sunken fire pits and niches. Follow the wave music to Bamboo where you must try the tuna teraditas, crunchy crab tacos and coconut shrimp. Ask the bartender to shake up one of his special cocktails. Allow me to propose a toast: Here’s to great golf, good friends and fabulous food. Viva Riviera Nayarit. www.latranquila.com.mx

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