The Punta Mita resort sits in the shadow of the Sierra Madre Mountains to the north of Bahía de Banderas, one of the largest bays on Mexico’s Pacific coastline and the development is spread over an enormous 2,700 acres, encompassing white sandy beaches and clear blue waters that are ideal for sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Water sports enthusiasts are certainly well catered for but so too are golfers now that there are two championship courses to play here and, make no mistake, this is a world class place to golf, with Conde Nast Traveler magazine listing it as number one in its Top 100 Golf Resorts chart compiled in 2008.
Jack Nicklaus designed the two courses at Punta Mita (the Pacifico course opening in 1999, some ten years before the Bahia layout) and both sets of lush, rolling fairways are set out on a stretch of natural rock outcropping renowned as a prime site for whale watching.
The Pacifico routing brings eight of the holes into close proximity with the ocean and Jack incorporated even more water into the design when he created the first 19th hole in Mexico, an optional par three called “Tail of the Whale,” which plays to a natural island green 200 yards from the mainland tee.
In 2021, Jim Lipe started work on a 5-year renovation project at the resort, upgrading greens, surrounds, bunkers and tees on the Pacifico layout. Further work will include replacing fairway grass with Trinity Zoysia.
I really enjoyed this course. A great mix of postcard holes, with epic ocean views, and inland holes that are still challenging and don't seem like mere connective tissue to merely get you to the next postcard hole.
As others have noted, the fairways are generous, but the wind is such a factor on this oceanside layout that it seems only fair that they are. The wind also demands that you avoid being a hero when you select the tees that you'll play from, if you want to enjoy your round. It was very windy when I played, so I chose the blue tees, which were about 6300 yards. On downwind holes, that gave me an advantage, as I drove the ball very well that day.
For example, on #7, as I quickly played through the group ahead of me, I crushed a drive and only had 168 into the green, from the middle of the fairway. I hit an 8-iron approach over the green (my standard 8 goes about 150, sometimes 155 when I'm playing really well), into the back greenside bunker. My bunker shot was into the wind and short. I missed the 20-footer for par and thought I'd walked off with a bogey, given the yardage for my approach. When I tallied my score after 9, I realized that the hole was actually a 465-yard Par 5. Playing the blues straight downwind gave me a big advantage on that hole.
On other holes, though, I played into the teeth of the wind. For example, #3 was a 2-club wind. So were #10, #14, and #17. Other holes had a severe cross wind. Had I played the gold tees (6,641), as I was tempted to do, the day would have been miserable in spots.
The 298-yard 12th was also playing downwind, which allowed my strong drive to get close to the green, leaving me just a chip to a front pin. The challenging green complex is the hole's defense. Its fronted by something of a valley of sin and the green slopes severely back to front. When the pin is cut in the front, too delicate an approach risks sliding back into the valley and too aggressive an approach can leave a ticklish downhill putt. I missed a 10-footer from above the hole after a solid bump and run chip. Here's a tip if you're facing a similar putt. Because the putt was back into the wind, it counteracted the severe downhill slope and my birdie putt lost a little pace at the hole and slid off to the right.
#18, which measures 390 from the blues, is one of the best finishing holes I've ever played. It's incredibly picturesque. The wind was off the ocean that guards the right side of the hole. Thankfully, I didn't choke on the tee box. I hit a phenomenal drive but the wind got my 52-degree wedge from 113 to a left-cut pin and left me just left of the green, pin high. Got up and down, but I was salivating over the prospect of making birdie on this gem as I stood over my short-iron approach. I took about 8 pictures on the hole. Just beautiful.
I enjoyed this course much more than its links-style companion, but much of that has to do with the quality of my play. I drove the ball poorly at Bajia (sp?) and it was just a struggle. Had I played better there, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more. The green complexes are extremely challenging at Bajia. Most greens are elevated and there are cavernous greenside bunkers and deep grass bunkers. With the wind, a decent approach could get blown off line and into a very challenging up-and-down situation. The severely contoured greens also made 3-putt a frequent possibility. But it would have been fun had a I played better. Holes 17 and 18 were just beautiful, especially 17, which plays along the ocean the entire way. It's a shortish par-4, but only if you take on the ocean to the left. I pulled my drive some and was left with about 120 yards to a devilish green. A conservative drive to the right side of the fairway would leave a much longer second shot.
Pacifico's green complexes were much less severe, while still presenting a real challenge.
Pacifico's Hole 3.5, another postcard vista, was closed when I played, as it was high tide and you couldn't drive to the green. I thought about hitting a ball from the tee and moving on, but some of the tees were also under re-construction, so I just moved on.
I would definitely recommend playing at Punta Mita.
Punta Mita Pacifico is a Nicklaus design north of Puerto Vallarta. The first hole has a waste bunker left that runs just about the entire length of the hole. There are also fairway bunkers left and right, as well as, four greenside. The 2nd is a short reachable par five that heads out towards the ocean. The 3rd hole is a mid-length par three with the ocean as the backdrop. Do not get ahead of yourself as the infamous Whales Tale is next. It appears that most folks are calling this the 19th hole. It has been about 5 years since I played there, but I thought it was identified as 3b. Regardless, an eye candy par three with the green an island in the Pacific Ocean. It will play close to two hundred yards and the green is only accessible at low tide. It was not quite low tide when we went through and the causeway was about four inches under water. We all hit shots towards the green and I was fortunate enough to have a birdie putt. My buddies were already moving onto the 4th, but I said, not so fast. I took off my shoes and socks and headed out to the island. I do not recommend trying to walk on the causeway barefoot as it hurts your feet, add in waves and it can be problematic. You gotta finish what you started so I plugged on. When I finally arrived at the green, there were at least 100 balls on and around it. I was amazed at the quantity of Pro V1s. Of course, there were also the inevitable Top Flites and Maxflis as well. I had to move a dozen or so balls to clear the path for my birdie putt, which I then Thurmaned (dead yank). I then rushed back across the causeway to sync up with my mates. The 4th is the shortest par four on the front and bends left. The fairway runs out about 80 yards from the green. The 5th is the longest par four on the front and bends right. The fairway is dissected about 170 yards out at an angle with more room left. It is deservedly the number one handicap hole. The 6th is a long par three with three bunkers surrounding the green. The 7th is a wonderful par five with the ocean as a backdrop to the green. There are a handful of fairway bunkers and another half a dozen protecting the green. The 8th is a long par three with ocean left. The front ends with a par five with the ocean left. Three average shots and you are putting for birdie. It should not be the number 3 handicap hole.
The back starts with a par four that bends right. A few fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers with a large waste bunker right. The 11th is a long par three with lots of sand, but is rated the third easiest hole on the course. The 12th is the shortest par four and number 18 handicap. Large waste bunker down the right side that also provides some protection of the green. There are a few fairway bunkers and a couple greenside. Favor the left side and attack the pin. The 13th is the longest par five with water all the way down the right side. Play it as a 3 shotter and favor the left side. The 14, 15 and 16 utilize large waste bunkers to provide defense. The 15th is a par five and the waste bunker dominates the left side. The 16th is the longest par four and warrants the number two handicap status with the waste bunker running down the left. The last par three is long and memorable with the ocean as a backdrop. The closing hole is also memorable. A long par four with the ocean right and then wrapping behind the green.
I enjoyed Pacifico. It is pricey, scenic and memorable, but I would not pay to play it again. A true eye candy course.