One of the newer entries in the top-tier golf experiences available in Mexico is the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf and Spa Resort. The Pacifica is located in Cabo San Lucas, home of whale watchers, sport fishermen and cruise ships (remember the Love Boat?). It’s designed to be an escape from the ordinary, and also an escape from the kiddies, as no one under 18 is allowed.
Perched alongside a pristine beach area only a couple of miles from the city center, The Pacifica is a destination that grabs you by the senses from the moment you step on to the property. The lobby is a stunner, a pristine wide-open space that is all cut flowers and an indoor fountain that mimics the Pacific Ocean beach in the distance. The rooms are just as impressive, with most having an ocean view. The private balcony on the Ocean View rooms are where you’ll want to begin and end your day, and as a taller-than-average person, I appreciated the king-size beds. After you drop off your bags, change into some swim gear and head down to the beach. It is a huge, pristine shore with plenty of activities if you feel like splashing around and shaded day beds loaded with comfy cushions if you want to just relax and soak up some sunshine. And while you are working on your tan don’t forget to have a one of their signature cocktails.
When you make your way to the golf course you’ll find it just as impressive as the hotel. Quivira Golf Club features a Jack Nicklaus design that has garnered multiple awards in its two short years.
“This is one of the great pieces of property in the world,” Nicklaus said. “We tried to create some excitement on the mountain and in the dunes, and I believe we’ve created a golf course that plays as spectacular as it looks. I’ve never seen any place that has three holes hanging out over the ocean like this golf course does. They are unbelievable. This is a diverse golf course with inland settings; its got desert, its got ocean, its got rocks. It has a little bit of everything.”
Created as an exclusive amenity for hotel guests and residents of the rental properties, the 7,139-yard par-72 track offers a rigorous test for the better player but also features five sets of tees so that players of all skill levels have an opportunity enjoy it. Situated beside the clubhouse at Quivira is a top-quality practice facility right alongside the beach. The pro shop is well stocked with everything you need in equipment, apparel and accessories. And for those that don’t like to travel with clubs, the rentals brand new full sets of TaylorMade clubs.
Some courses say they are oceanfront if there are a couple of waves visible and you can vaguely smell seawater. Not so with Quivira. Seventeen of the holes have a view of the Pacific, with many of the holes running alongside the beach. Many of the tee shots are downhill drives from promontories with stunning ocean views. The course is platinum paspalum grass from tee to green, and it is meticulously maintained. The greens were rolling at about an 11 on the stimpmeter, and the rough was high enough to present a challenge for a missed fairway, but since it’s a resort course, it was short enough to allow golfers to hit a shot and keep moving.
The course’s first four holes are appealing, but not necessarily spectacular. But the show starts with the almost one-mile ride up to the 5th tee, perched high atop the cliffs bordering the beach. There is a taco-and-tequila station on top of the hill, the first of the three luxurious rest stations on the course that offer a range of mouth-watering food and drink options. And if you don’t see something you like among the ceviche, shrimp tacos or braised pork sandwiches you can ask for what you like and they’ll have it waiting for you on the next station.
You might want to indulge in a little liquid courage before plying the difficult and controversial 5th, a 310-yard par four that requires two of the most intimidating blind shots most golfers will encounter. A hybrid or an iron to a narrow fairway is rewarded with an opportunity to try and hit a green that is invisible from the fairway. You basically aim at one of the whales swimming in the distance and swing away. My score over three days on that hole was 17 shots, if you include the ones that were in a glass with lime and salt. Love it or hate it, you’ll be talking about it for hours after the round.
If No. 5 is quirky then No. 6 is a classic beauty — a 180-yard par-3 carved out of the cliffs and overlooking the beach. In looks and difficulty, it is the match for anything you find at Pebble Beach. Another hole with story to tell is the massive 635-yard par-5 12th, which zig–zags downhill and finishes at the beach where the epic film “Troy” with Brad Pitt was filmed. You can still see some of the wooden stakes that formed the fortifications of the Trojan fortress, but if you get caught up in the sightseeing and miss the fairway, you’ll spend a lot more time on this hole than intended.
When you are done with your round you’ll need to wind down and recharge; take the opportunity to indulge yourself in the Pacifica Spa. Start with a steam, and sauna then a dip in the cold tubs. Follow that with a custom massage and a cup of herbal tea and you’ll be as relaxed as Fred Couples’ swing. The dining facilities are outstanding, featuring a wide variety of cuisines. Given the location, you’d be crazy not to try plenty of seafood and the variety of Mexican specialties on tap. And for tequila lovers, there are more options than you can shake a wedge at, including some rare options that will set your senses (and your wallet) on fire. You can finish the night with cocktails and cigars by an open fire or maybe a walk along the beach, depending on who you are with.
There are plenty of direct flights to Cabo San Lucas for those on the West Coast of the U.S., and East Coast travelers can get there with one stop. The best prices for flights are during the off-season, but even during the high season it’s resonably affordable. Nearby Cabo San Lucas is one of the best, most popular tourist destinations in North America. Whether you want to go whale and seal watching, shopping in the town center, or just lounging on the beach, there is something to fill your days. Be sure to stop by JJ’s Cigars, where they have an amazing selection of top-quality cigars kept in a huge walk-in humidor. And the nightlife is just as good, with dozens of bars and bars and clubs for cocktails, dancing, or whatever.
The Pacifica is a luxury facility and prices reflect that. However, the resort offers a truly exceptional experience that is worth every penny. The best way to go is an all-inclusive package that includes golf, lodging and meals. And if you want to go off-campus with the all-inclusive deal you will be given a wristband that extends your privileges to any of the Pueblo Bonito facilities in Puerto Vallarta. Have dinner at least one night at the Pueblo Bonito Los Cabos. You can catch a gentle breeze while noshing on steak carbon tacos and looking at sunset over the beautiful harbor. And for the frugal there are some great deals available during the shoulder seasons and for groups so smart shoppers can get paradise at a discount.
The Pacifica and Quivira Golf Club are one of the best new offerings I’ve seen for a long time. If you appreciate exceptional conditions on and off the course, this is the one for you.
Learn more at quiviragolfclub.com.
Branson, Missouri Continues to Evolve as a Golf Destination
If you think you know Branson, Mo., it’s time to think again. While the live music venues that put the bucolic Ozark Mountains town on the map continue to thrive, its reputation as a top notch golf destination has grown … and continues to evolve.
Heck, golfers who’ve visited just a few years ago will find the scene almost unrecognizable. Sure, the awe-inspiring Top of the Rock — designed by legendary Jack Nicklaus and holding the honor of being the first-ever par-3 course to be included in a professional PGA championship — is as striking as ever, but its sister course, Buffalo Ridge, has undergone a metamorphosis.
Designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio and originally opened in 1999, Buffalo Ridge has done the unthinkable – make its list of previous accolades pale in comparison to what now graces the land. In conjunction with owner and visionary conservationist Johnny Morris, Fazio has exposed massive limestone formations, enhanced approaches and added water features to make every hole more memorable than the last.
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio masterpieces not enough? Gary Player has stamped his signature in the Ozarks with the recently opened Mountain Top Course. This 13-hole, walking-only short course is unlike anything you’ve ever played.
Strap your bag to a trolley and let your imagination dictate your round. There are stakes in the ground with yardage markers nearby, but they’re merely suggestions. Play it long or play it short. Play it from different angles. The only mandate is to enjoy the course, nature and camaraderie.
The Mountain Top greens are huge and as smooth as putting on a pool table. Nearly as quick, too. And the bunkers are as pristine as the white sands of an isolated Caribbean beach. Capping off your experience, the finishing hole plays back to the clubhouse and the green boasts multiple hole locations that enhance golfers’ chances at carding an ace. Hard to imagine a better way the end an already unforgettable round.
It shouldn’t take you much longer than two hours to get around Mountain Top Course. If it does, you were likely admiring the stunning panoramas. One notable addition to those views is Tiger Woods’ (TGR Design) first public access design — Payne’s Valley (named to honor Missouri golfing legend Payne Stewart) — which is full speed ahead on construction and scheduled to open in 2019. As a treat, the 19th hole was designed by Morris. Named “The Rock,” it’s a short par-3 that promises to be amazing.
Payne’s Valley will be both family-friendly and challenging. It has wide fairways and ample landing areas along with creative angles and approaches that shotmakers love and expect from a championship course.
If two years is too long to wait for new golf, then Morris and his Big Cedar Lodge have you covered with the yet-to-be-named ridge-top course by the industry’s hottest design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. With all the heavy lifting complete, the Ozarks is scheduled to be unveiled in 2018.
Once opened, this par-71 (36-35) track will play “firm and fast” and offer multiple avenues into each green. Both Coore and Crenshaw bristle at the notion that there’s only one way to approach the playing surface. Bring it in high or run it along the ground. Considering the exposed nature of the course and propensity for high winds, the latter may be your best option.
There’s more. Tiger won’t be finished with Branson when he wraps up Payne’s Valley. He’s also designing a family-friendly par-3 course on the grounds of Big Cedar Lodge. There isn’t a date attached to this project, so stay tuned.
These new tracks join the likes of Thousand Hills, Branson Hills and Pointe Royale Golf Village to make Branson a powerful player on the golf destination scene. Combine that with world-class fishing and camping, as well as countless museums, restaurants and points of interest and this bustling Ozarks town is a must-visit spot in Middle America.
Learn more or plan your trip at explorebranson.com.
Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s tempt the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a decent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure
My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.
Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.
Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.
I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.
First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.
Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.
Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”
Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!
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