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Opinion & Analysis

Ocean’s Eleven: Danzante Bay Golf Course is Rees Jones’ Unfinished Symphony

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Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world and host to some truly special golf destinations. The newest addition is Danzante Bay Golf Club at the Villa Del Palmar Resort in Loreto, Mexico.

The course recently held a “Grand Opening” celebration despite the fact that it only has the first 11 holes open for play. The construction of the final eight holes was delayed by a combination of factors and won’t be available for play until October 2017, but the owners of the resort and the local government thought enough of what they had to let the celebration go forward.

I admit to being skeptical; it was kind of like being invited to a graduation party for a kid that had just finished his sophomore year. But after playing the course and experiencing the many charms of the resort, the verdict is there are at least 10 good reasons to visit a resort with an 11-hole golf course.

Reason #1: Rees Jones

Rees Jones - R1

Hall of Famer Jones has a slew of memorable tracks in his portfolio and he has brought all of his skills to bear at Danzante Bay. Jones is known as the Open Doctor for the work that he did to prepare seven U.S. Open venues, six PGA Championship courses, and the layouts for four Ryder Cups, two Walker Cups and a Presidents Cup. While he took some flack from tour pros like Phil Mickelson for turning these courses into tests that the average golfer couldn’t hope to pass, the opportunity to play a course that has been crafted from scratch by one of the legends of golf design should not be missed. Danzante Bay combine a rare landscape of sea and surf.

Reason #2: Natural Beauty

Resort and course - R2

Many courses claim they are “seaside,” but only offer a few holes with a full view of the waves. Not so at Danzante Bay, where every one of the current 11 holes has a view of the sparkling blue Sea of Cortez. Jones noted that the landscape available for the course was “the most diverse I’ve ever had to work with.” Featuring, desert, fluffy dunes, rocky slopes and majestic vistas, you will likely take as many photos as you do swings as you make our way around the hills and valleys.

Reason #3: It’s a Resort Course that Plays like One

Course View - R3

In recent years golfers have been subjected to so-called resort courses that, while scenic enough, have a level difficulty that make you want to get away from your golf getaway. At par-72 7,400 yards, Danzante Bay has plenty of challenge for the accomplished player. The 12th (which plays beside the hotel to a green that is just a few yards from the beach) and 18th (a worthy finishing hole that plays down a steep canyon towards the Giganta Mountains in the distance) are burly par fives that reward the bold and punish the foolish.

There are multiple tee boxes, and the forward tees offer just as rich of a golfing experience as the tips. The paspalum turf is meticulously maintained and the greens roll fast and smooth, but are not the tilted glass surfaces that produce four-putts on a regular basis. This is a course that can host the scratch golfer or the occasional player and leave them both smiling.

Reason #4: No. 17

Hole 17 looking SE - R4

On a course that is just over half finished, No. 17 is already drawing praise from around the golf world. Playing 178 yards from the tips, the player is perched on the shoulder of a cliff overlooking the Sea of Cortez. The green sits on a narrow peninsula about 30 feet below with a canyon in front and the ocean behind ready to swallow shots that land short or long. A ridge bisects the green and guarantees that hitting the wrong side of the green will leave a very challenging two-putt. But no matter your score, you will be taken in by a hole that rivals classics like No. 7 at Pebble Beach for sheer beauty. Don’t be surprised if there is a gallery of hotel guests on the tee who have hiked up to the hole just to see the view.

Jones himself acknowledges the exceptional nature of the hole. “I have no doubt that No. 17 will be [considered] one of the best in the world,” Jones said. “Neither does anyone else who has seen it.”

Reason #5: Jacques Cousteau

Marine life - R5

Cousteau, arguably the most famous naturalist and environmentalist of the 20h century, spent a lot of time studying the Loreto Islands that lay just of the coast of Danzante Bay. The pristine waters are home to 80 percent of the world’s ocean species, from spiny crabs to majestic Blue Whales, moving Cousteau to give the pristine waters the nickname, “The World’s Aquarium.”

Take a charter boat trip out to the islands and watch the dolphins frolic in the water beside you as you skim along the water. When you get to one of the outer islands, you can take a walk on the beach or snorkel amongst the most spectacular array of marine life this side on the Galapagos Islands.

If you want to float your own boat, grab a kayak or paddle board from the hotel beach and get out on the bay, which is usually as smooth as the greens on the course. The resort is located in the middle of a United Nations World Heritage site, which means it is officially one of the most special places on Earth and bound to stay that way. One look at the sun setting over the mountains followed by about a zillion stars overhead confirms the vote. And for landlubbers, there is hiking, biking and nature-tours that fill up a day and several memory sticks.

Reason #6: Tequila Tastings Every Friday

Drinks - R6

Need I say more?

Reason #7: Owen Perry and the Villa Del Palmar Resort

Resort Pools - R7

The Villa Del Palmar is one of nine properties in the portfolio of master hotelier Perry. A visionary developer with more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Perry makes the goal of every property in The Villas to provide an exceptional experience to every guest from the moment of arrival to the moment of departure.

To help ensure that outcome, Perry established his own hospitality school on site that teaches staff the “Villas Way,” which covers everything from drawing your name in coffee beans on the bed as a welcome to drawing you a bubble bath in the extra large Jacuzzi tubs.

Every room has an ocean view and a balcony. Perry’s signature is sweating the details and leaving nothing to chance; even the on-site water supply is managed by the resort’s state of the art desalination facility located under the hotel, ensuring that every glass of agua from the bathroom tap is good to the last drop. If the staff haven’t anticipated one of your needs, your heart’s desire is a phone call away to the personal concierge who is assigned to you when you check in.

“This resort is all about the blending of the amazing natural setting with the comforts and amenities that the resort traveller expects,” Perry said. “Sure, it is a challenge to be in an environmentally protected area, but it also ensures that we will always strive to maintain that balance.”

So far, so good.

Reason #8: Showtime

Showtime - R9

At night, the Villa Del Palmar offers a range of entertainment options for its guests, including beach barbecues, dance parties and an authentic Mexican cabaret. It’s the kind of thing that is completely kitschy, but so genuinely fun that you forget to mind.

Take a good look at your waiter or housemaid because they will likely be a part of the show. On consecutive nights we saw a maintenance guy emceeing the beach party show and the amazing flamenco dance couple were the kayak rental guy and one of the housemaids. They do the double duty for the best of all possible reasons… they love it.

Reason #9: Sp-ahhh

Spa treatment - R9

An increasing number of golf travelers are demanding a top-quality spa experience, and the Villas does not disappoint. The resort boasts a 39,000 square foot facility that features sauna, steam, Jacuzzi and varied temperature tubs for men and women. The massage staff are skilled in a range of massage techniques; book your appointment and advance to ensure that your favorite will be performed by their resident specialist.

After your treatment, head to the exotic juice bar for a glass of the delicious blends that are invigorating, calming and cleansing. Then lie back in a recliner and relax in a cool-down room that is as beautiful and tranquil as the landscape that surrounds it.

Reason #10: You Can Live There

Model Home - R10

There is a 99 percent chance that at some point during a visit to Villa Del Palmar Loreto you will think to yourself, “It would be so great to live here.” In fact, you can live there. The development has plans for a range of real estate options, with more than 120 lots available starting at $281,000. The homes are designed by award-winning architect Kevin B. Howard and with amenities like a private Owner’s Beach Club, Beachfront views and custom features including pools/spas, outdoor showers, fireplaces and more.

Travel to Villa Del Palmar Resorts is a bit challenging, with short but limited flights to the Loreto airport from LAX. Once you arrive, shuttles and taxis are waiting for the 30-minute ride to the resort, or you can opt for a rental car if you plan to explore historic Loreto village on your own. A variety of vacation plans are available, but the all-inclusive option takes out all of the guesswork and guarantees access to almost everything the resort offers on land or water.

Learn More: Villa Del Palmar Resorts and Danzante Bay Golf Course

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 21, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Michael,

    I think I would need a tequila tasting after playing #17. I suspect that the back tee will be abandoned after one season, and that the hole will max out at 135, as it should. That is a green that should be approached (if at all) by nothing more than 9 iron. No margin for error. Folks who end up in that bunker on the right will like as not, blade the ball over the green, toward Davy Jones’ locker.

    Your write-up is excellent and I look forward to more of your work.

  2. Peter Shaw

    Jan 20, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Looks horrible! Gimicky track with the subtlty of a brick!

    If they can only afford to do 11 holes, how long will it stay open for?

  3. S Hitter

    Jan 20, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Place looks great. I would love to be there

  4. michael

    Jan 20, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I’d like to see more articles on golf courses on WRX. Maybe not in the advertorial style of this piece, but nevertheless, there are some great golf course writers and photographers that could provide some solid content.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

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Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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