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 Vallarte Weiskopf is a resort course with all that it implies. Do not be mislead by the yardage on the scorecard, it will play longer. This is a tight course that has been hacked into a jungle. To score you will need to find the fairway off the tee.
The first hole is a long par four, favor left of center off the tee. The next two holes are birdie oppties. The 2nd is a short par four that leans right. However, there are almost a dozen bunkers, consider laying up. The 3rd is the shortest par three. The first par five is not long, but extremely tight. About 250 yards out the fairway narrows to about 20 yards wide. Play it as a 3 shotter. Five is a beast, it parallels four and is a 450 yard par four. Deservedly the number one handicap hole. Sanity returns on the 6th. Favor the left side off the tee. The 7th is the longest par three. It has a pot bunker front middle and it made me pay. The 8th is the shortest par five and definitely reachable, but it is a risk reward hole. I would favor the left side of the fairway as it bends right. There is also a creek that runs across the fairway about 150 yards out. Choose wisely. The front closes out with a straightway par four with fairway bunkers both sides and three greenside.
The back starts with a ridiculously long 624 yard par five. The good news is it is downhill. There is a large fairway bunker left and a water hazard comes into play on the left side starting about 150 yards out. The 11th will feel like a vacation. There are three fairway bunkers right and the water hazard left. Be wary of the bunker in the middle of the fairway about 140 yards out. The 12th is straightaway with a large fairway bunker left about 160 yards out. Also, the fairway is bisected by the creek about 110 yards out. The 13th is a mid-length par three. It is supposed to be the easiest hole on the course, however, not so much for me. The long 14th bends left and there is a fairway bunker on the inside elbow about 175 yards out and the green is flanked by two bunkers. The last par three is mid-length with a ravine carry to a green surrounded by bunkers. The 16th is a long downhill par four. Favor left of center. The 17th is the last par five. Play it as a three shotter and favor the right side. The 18th is the shortest par four and has a split fairway created by some unique bunkering. I had planned to play the left side but blocked my drive and had a flip wedge to the green from the right.
Fun course, but I won’t be going back.
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.