The resort of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific coast first came to international prominence as a tourist destination in 1963 when director John Huston filmed “The Night of the Iquana” in Mismaloya, just south of the city, and news of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s off-screen affair was flashed around the world.
Nowadays, golfers deciding to play in the Puerto Vallarta area are spoiled for choice with no fewer than eight fine courses to choose from. The best of these is the Pacifico at Four Seasons Punta Mita but not too far behind that fabulous track are the two highly ranked championship courses at Vista Vallarta.
Operated by the Texan ClubCorp company, both 18-hole layouts are set within a property of almost 500 acres that first made its mark on the Mexican golfing scene in 2001, with the Nicklaus layout ready for play in April of that year, followed by the Weiskopf, seven months later.
The 1973 Open Champion doesn’t put his name to many courses, but those that he does design are invariably top-notch tracks and this one overlooking Banderas Bay is no exception. Lush fairways are routed at times through dense vegetation, traversing a number of arroyos along the way, and they compose a wonderfully contrasting 18 holes to those on the Nicklaus course.
Vista Vallarta is a wonderful complex with a satisfactory driving range, putting green, chipping/bunker area, and very good restaurant. The vibe is pure resort course and you're made to feel welcome upon entering. The Nicklaus course has hosted some great players and tourneys over the years and it's fun to see the photos of great players and their names on the lockers before heading out.
The Weiskopf course is a really fun inland resort-style track that winds through undulating jungle landscape. Walking is unfortunately not very realistic, as the distances between holes can be significant and the hills/undulations at this course cut into mountains and barrancas can be truly wild even in a golf cart.
The course looks short on the scorecard but doesn't play that way off the tee, as many holes take driver out of your hands. (There are at least two short par 3s and a number of short risk/reward par 4s and these shorter holes are some of the finest on the course.)
Relatively wide fairways pinch closer to well (very deep) bunkered large greens that often require a cut or draw to access the low side of the hole - something imperative to do here if you want to score. The undulations and break represent the primary defense this course offers. You're consistently presented with flashy breaks and bumps that look significant but are often undercut by the natural cant of the larger putting surface. Reading these putts is the puzzle of the day. If you can get that sorted and gauge the speed (neither fast nor slow when I played in Feb '21) you can score here, as there are plentiful par 5s and short par 3s, as mentioned.
While the greens are where the dough is made, the approaches at this track are where the fun is had. The pins tucked high and tight to the edge of a green and well guarded by bunkers are just close enough to really tempt you. Don't fall prey to that swashbuckling attitude here - you'll pay the price with winding down and side hill putts that can run away. Hit it to the fat of the green and you'll likely have an uphill 2 putt.
The conditions are typical of this area - spongey, sticky grasses laid over firm ground that makes for wonderful lies and good amounts of roll under the considerable Pacific breezes in this part of the world.
All in all, a very fun course that rewards strategic thinking and is a pleasant day under the bright Mexican skies.