The idea of great golf, great food and beverages of all variety, all during an 18-hole round, might be the greatest sporting combination since the afternoon tea break during the World Cricket Test Matches.
The game, in its most refined form – golf, cricket or just about anything else – is a celebration; it’s not a duty or a punishment.
What most have figured out is that golfers don’t want to play this game on an empty stomach, and they don’t want to endure this as an 18-hole forced punishment march. They want to enjoy it with their friends, new and old, with drinks, eats and views … and more of the same when they finish.
That’s the genius behind the recently celebrated 10th anniversary American Express Gourmet & Golf Classic, a three-day event that paired luxury, oceanside Mexican resort Punta Mita and its offerings of five-star resorts, with the equally spectacular championship courses designed by Jack Nicklaus himself.
Talk about a tough assignment! I gladly made the trip and, for three magical days in December, I was amongst the likes of Masters champion Craig Stadler, British Open runner-up Jean Van de Velde (who also serves part-time as Punta Mita’s Director of Instruction) and LPGA superstar Lorena Ochoa, special guests who were on hand to help commemorate the occasion.
With stunning views of the Pacific Ocean available at no extra charge, Punta Mita’s courses, Pacifico and Bahia, as well as the St. Regis and Four Seasons Resorts, offer a world-class experience, no matter when you travel there.
“We really do have it all here, from great golf to great practice facilities and instruction, great food and luxury lodging,” said Punta Mita Director of Golf John McIntyre. “This is a great event, but every day here is great and fulfilling, and that is why so many people want to come here all the time.”
Punta Mita opened its first golf course in 1999, the Nicklaus-designed Pacifico course, and it remains the most renowned and most played in the region. It was named the No. 1 Resort Course in the world by Conde’ Nast Traveler Magazine and is ranked No. 3 in Mexico.
Pacifico is best known for its Tail of the Whale, a 191-yard, par-3 third hole, also known as 3B, the only natural island green in the world. In low tide, you fire your challenging tee shot over the surging Pacific and either walk along the rocky path or drive your cart to the edge of the green.
In high tide, the green is unreachable, and you play the regulation 18 holes with just a glance at this scenic gem. Either way, it’s an experience unlike anywhere else.
While Tail of the Whale is the headliner of the course, the final two holes at the par-72 Pacifico are guaranteed to produce many lasting memories, as well. To heighten the experience, Nicklaus and his team brought in plenty of sand to incorporate dozens of bunkers all over the challenging courses.
The 17th is a par-3 with the ocean backing the green. If your ball goes over the green, the thick grass leading to the water makes it possible that you might not see it again anytime soon. Short of the par-3, or left of the green, are more sand bunkers, as well.
The par-4 18th has ocean all along the right side of the fairway, meaning hitting the fairway off the tee is critical if you want the chance to reach the green in regulation, with water coming right up to the greenside edge.
The multi-story clubhouse and hacienda is a good walk from the 18th hole, so it’s not a place you want to run short of golf balls.
The Nicklaus-designed, par-72 Bahia course opened in 2009, and while it may not be as dramatic as Pacifico, it also has plenty of ocean holes, ending with a seaside par-4 17th hole and a dogleg left par-5 18th hole. There are thick trees and vegetation lining many of the holes, making a straight driver a necessity.
The halfway house serves both courses and has more views of the ocean where you can sit, sip and stare at the beautiful scenery. It can, however, make finishing your round downright difficult with all the tantalizing distractions.
“I don’t know where else in the world you could have as scenic a background as Punta Mita for two great courses,” Nicklaus has said.
When you’re ready to rest up after your round, the outstanding lodging at Punta Mita combines two of the most well-known luxury hotel brands: the Four Seasons Resort and The St. Regis.
While the Four Seasons came first and has a very loyal following, the St. Regis is perhaps the most spectacular and the most modern.
The hotel lobby opens up to a large family pool and the Pacific Ocean, as well as a huge gulf known as the Bahia de Banderas.
At the St. Regis, there are three separate pools – for adults, children and families – along with majestic beach views from all three. There are separate bars from which you can watch the world and the whales (in season) go by, while toasting to your good fortune of pampering yourself at such a great place.
Add the award-winning Remede Spa, with a wide variety of treatments along with an extensive fitness area and kid’s club, and you have a complete luxury outpost. The rooms themselves are next to the Bahia golf course or ocean, in two-story, low-slung facilities with indoor tubs and showers along with an outdoor shower and large patio/balcony overlooking the lush scenery.
One of the best parts of the 22-acre resort facility, with 120 rooms and suites, is you can walk from your room to the golf courses in 10-15 minutes or take one of the ever-present shuttles. So, if you schedule it correctly, you can have breakfast on your patio/balcony, followed by golf, lunch at the courses, a spa appointment, then the pools, dinner at one of the exquisite, award-winning restaurants (outdoors, of course), capped by live music and nighttime drinks in the lobby.
It certainly takes the term, “living your best life,” to a new level.
The larger Four Seasons Resort, 10-15 minutes via shuttle from the golf course, features a large wall off the lobby, where you walk behind it to find a new level of luxury and service.
There is a thatched roof outdoor spa, along with walking paths and the ever-present views of the beach and ocean.
Of course, all of that great golf, lodging and scenery can make a person awful hungry. That’s also part of the genius of the American Express Gourmet & Golf Classic, the decade-long festival pairing golf, greens and superstar chefs.
While you can find basic golf food staples on any golf course – a hot dog here, a turkey sandwich there – what really set this event and this resort apart are the variety of food options available here. Everything from grab-and-go authentic street tacos to breakfast empanadas and fresh seafood when you finish.
The local restaurants serve a variety of ocean-fresh ingredients for lunch and dinner, and the views of the golf courses and the oceans are unmatched anywhere in Mexico.
Punta Mita is about 45 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta International Airport, but, in reality, it could be a world away. With the gated entrance to the thick, lush, tree-lined scenery, which seems to block out the outside world, to the secluded beach clubs and huge houses set back from the courses. It’s a luxury destination with everything you need.
You can visit the heart of the major international city nearby, if all-hours nightlight is your thing. But after seeing what is in store here, there is little need.