The top golfing destinations down south in Mexico like Los Cabos or Riveria Maya may get the most ink. But don’t overlook Mazatlan, known as “The Pearl of the Pacific.” The American dollar can get you a lot more here.
The featured thing to do? Golf Estrella del Mar.
Located on an attractive 900-acre oceanfront property just four miles from the airport, Estrella del Mar features six ocean-view holes and serves as the host of one of the Latin America Tour events, the Mazatlan Open.
It’s (a little) easier to golf Estrella del Mar now
Even better news for the average golfer is the fact that the management decided to make its Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course more user-friendly by doubling the size of its once diminutive greens.
Director of Golf Jorge Corral said it wasn’t the complaints of the professionals that led to the renovation project. “They could spin the ball better than average golfers and keep their approach shots on the greens.”
No. Some visiting golfers and even the members, many of them snowbirds from the U.S. and Canada who make their homes in nearby condos, had mentioned the small greens to Corral and the management. But when one of those visitors happened to be the President of the country, it carried more weight.
“When President Enrique Pena Nieto comes here and tells you they’re too small, they’re too small,” managing director Brian Werner indicated, and Corral echoed his comment.
I recently got a chance to see the renovations in their final stages in November with most of the greens covered with Paspalum grass, one that is more salt-tolerant, instead of the seaside Dwarf Bermuda that used to cover them. They rolled true and should be fine when winter guests and the touring professionals arrive.
When I finally realized that I was playing at sea level and the ball wouldn’t fly as far with the breezes coming off the ocean, I managed to hit the larger greens with more regularity, even going to the backside on several occasions when I hit two more clubs than I thought might be needed.
Ocean breezes add to the course’s challenge
Even with larger greens, however, the course is still challenging because of the ocean breezes on the six holes closer to the Pacific Ocean, 11 strategically-placed lakes, and plenty of fairway and greenside bunkers featuring beach sand.
Proof of how tough the course is for the touring pros? The course record is only 64 by Oscar Alvarez Columbia; the winning scores in the Mazatlan Open have ranged from minus 10 to minus 17.
The course tests the mettle of scratch amateurs too. The Mexico Golf Association course raters gave it a 76.8 rating from the back tees at 7,015 yards. From the blue tees at 6,453 yards, the rating is 73.2. It’s more player-friendly to golf Estrella del Mar from the whites (70.8) and the silvers (68.3).
Precise tee shots to avoid water hazards and even some palm trees (I counted 12 to the right of the No. 1 handicap fifth hole that can be stretched to over 450 yards) are required on the early holes. Such precision will give you a good start before you get to the final stretch that can make or break a round.
“There are a lot of tournaments that have been decided on the closing stretch,” Corral noted, pointing to the final five holes where the ocean breezes are the strongest.
Estrella del Mar resort
The Estrella del Mar resort features a 47-room boutique hotel and 67 one-, two- and three-bedroom oceanfront condos.
There are plenty of other non-golf activities too such as tropical bike rides, kayak adventures, surfing and even paddle boat lessons. And there are four miles of beach to stroll and enjoy.
One added activity that all guests should experience is a visit to the turtle hatching sanctuary that’s saved thousands of sea turtles from predators. The turtles are released as the sun goes down daily.
Visiting the city of Mazatlan
Our group visited the historical port city of Mazatlan (30-minute drive and water taxi) for dinner on three nights. (We got to see the rowdy side of locals and visitors having fun, accompanied by plenty of loud music!)
With its neo-classical architecture and the European influence of the port’s early setters, Mazatlan’s historical district is a picturesque area to walk around.
The city is getting all spruced up to host the Tourist Tianguis in April 2018 for the first time. This is the most important event of tourism in Mexico, where entrepreneurs, hoteliers, travel agents, tour operators, meeting planners and specialized media in the tourist industry from more than 60 countries gather to create business opportunities.
Other golf options
If you stay closer to all the tourism activities in Mazatlan and only want to play one round, you have two nearby options – the El Cid Country Club (green fees of $65 to $80) and the Mazatlan Marina Golf Course (green fees of $100).
El Cid features 18 holes built in the 1970s – the more demanding El Moro and the strategic Castillo – along with the Lee Trevino-designed Marina, which opened in 1999. The Mazatlan Marina course (designed by David Flemming) opened in 2009; it’s resort-friendly with wide fairways, where mounds on the sides help keep balls in play.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- You get more bang for your bucks compared to other places in Mexico. Green fees to golf at Estrella del Mar are $130 in the high season and $75 in the summer. Range balls and two bottles of water are included.
- Some guests may complain a little about the number of three putts required to golf Estrella del Mar, as getting up and down from 50 feet isn’t always easy. If you do have more than three putts on the larger greens, you can get some tips from the John Jacobs Academy teachers. (The Academy opened one of its teaching facilities at the resort in December.)
- Book your tee time for the morning so you play when the breezes aren’t as strong.
*All photo credits: Estrella del Mar
The author’s visit was hosted by Estrella del Mar.
IF YOU GO
- Mexico Tourism Board website for more information on Mazatlan