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Golf Course Review - Punta Mita GC (Bahia/Pacifico Courses)

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Updated: 4/29 3:44 pm

Punta Mita, Nayarit, Mexico (SportsNetwork.com) - BAHIA FACTS AND STATS: Course Architect: Jack Nicklaus. Year Opened: Nov. 16, 2009. Location: Punta Mita, Nayarit, Mexico. Slope: 135. Rating: 74.0 . Par: 72. Yardage: 7,035 (Bahia Course).

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 397 Yds 10 - Par 4 478 Yds

2 - Par 5 507 Yds 11 - Par 3 208 Yds

3 - Par 3 224 Yds 12 - Par 4 394 Yds

4 - Par 4 440 Yds 13 - Par 5 554 Yds

5 - Par 3 173 Yds 14 - Par 4 439 Yds

6 - Par 5 556 Yds 15 - Par 4 462 Yds

7 - Par 4 355 Yds 16 - Par 3 217 Yds

8 - Par 5 511 Yds 17 - Par 4 387 Yds

9 - Par 3 190 Yds 18 - Par 5 543 Yds

Par 36 3,353 Yds Par 36 3,682 Yds

PACIFICO FACTS AND STATS: Course Architect: Jack Nicklaus. Year Opened: Sept. 1, 1999. Location: Punta Mita, Nayarit, Mexico. Slope: 131. Rating: 72.9. Par: 72. Yardage: 7,014 (Pacifico Course).

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 421 Yds 10 - Par 4 406 Yds

2 - Par 5 524 Yds 11 - Par 3 215 Yds

3 - Par 3 194 Yds 12 - Par 4 341 Yds

4 - Par 4 385 Yds 13 - Par 5 574 Yds

5 - Par 4 442 Yds 14 - Par 4 397 Yds

6 - Par 3 213 Yds 15 - Par 5 511 Yds

7 - Par 5 530 Yds 16 - Par 4 473 Yds

8 - Par 3 216 Yds 17 - Par 3 205 Yds

9 - Par 5 522 Yds 18 - Par 4 445 Yds

Par 36 3,447 Yds Par 36 3,567 Yds

Awards Won: Rated #9 by Golf Digest - Best Golf Resorts in World, Ranked #9 by Golf Digest - Best Courses in Mexico (Pacifico), Ranked #13 by Golfweek - Best Courses in Caribbean (Bahia), Ranked #16 by Golfweek - Best Courses in Caribbean (Pacifico), Top-ranked golf resort by Conde Nast Traveler (2006, 2008), Ranked #2 in Mexico by Travel + Leisure - Best in the World (2012).

Key Events Held: Punta Mita Cup (2011-present).

Website: www.puntamita.com.

HISTORY: Located on the west coast of Mexico, just north of Puerto Vallarta, Punta Mita juts out into the Pacific Ocean, like a foot at rest on a beach chair. This tranquil 9.5-mile stretch of land is also home to a pair of stellar Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.

Nicklaus has designed hundreds of courses around the world, such as Muirfield Village, Castle Pines, Sebonack and Shoal Creek, all of which are ranked in the top 75 of America's 100 greatest courses, but his work at Punta Mita was exceptional.

The Pacifico Course was the first crafted by Nicklaus at Punta Mita back in 1999. It features eight holes which play alongside the ocean and the famous "Tail of the Whale" par-3, the world's only natural island green. So they say.

"The Pacifico Course provides all of the challenge and exhilaration that players expect at a world-class resort, with the sheer magic of ocean views, varied landscapes and a unique environment," Nicklaus said. "Designed for optimum playing pleasure for golfers of all levels, this magnificent course maintains the delicate balance of its natural environment."

Ten years later, the Bahia Course opened on the isolated peninsula of Punta Mita. Nicklaus' second course also boasts wonderful views of the mighty Pacific and if you visit during the months of December to April, you'll be able to spot the migrating humpback whales.

"You would be hard-pressed to ask for a more beautiful backdrop for a golf course than Punta Mita," Nicklaus said. "To be given spectacular oceanfront land as a canvas not once, but twice here at Punta Mita is exciting for a designer and it reflects a commitment from ownership to provide a memorable golf experience."

The fact of the matter, even before the Bahia Course opened for play, the Four Seasons Resort at Punta Mita was voted the No. 1 golf resort in North America by Conde Nast Traveler. Now with two wonderful layouts ... well, you get the picture.

The Four Seasons Resort is also the site of the Punta Mita Cup, a two-day golf tournament, played on both courses, which raises money for the Lorena Ochoa foundation. The 2014 event was hosted by the former LPGA star Ochoa and 2002 PGA Championship winner Rich Beem.

"It is always a pleasure to participate in the American Express IV Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic, a wonderful event that celebrates the best of golf and cuisine in the paradisiac place that Punta Mita is," Ochoa said. "I am deeply grateful to Carl Emberson and all of the team at the Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf Classic for supporting my foundation. Every year we raise more funds providing significant support to the education of our children."

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW (Bahia Course): The opening hole on the Bahia layout is a routine par-4 of just 397 yards. Bending to the left, the key here is to avoid the fairway desert on the left. A short iron should remain to a slightly elevated putting surface, guarded left and deep with sand. The trap on the left is well below the green, so stay clear at all costs.

Next up is the par-5 second. Just 507 yards from the tips, this hole plays toward the ocean, and can be had with two good shots, but be careful, as the fairway presents several obstacles, including a bunker right in the drive zone and plenty of slope from left to right. Let's not forget the putting surface which is just 25 paces in depth with plenty of undulations. You might have thought birdie, but par is a good score.

Running alongside and well above the ocean, the third features thick trees to the right of the hole as you gaze toward the water. A robust 224 yards in length, No. 3 can provide plenty of drama, as the hole requires an accurate tee ball, otherwise bunkers and slope on the right will gobble your approach. The putting surface is quite long with a massive amount of slope. It comes as no surprise as this hole is rated one of the most difficult on the course.

Climbing back away from the water, the fourth is a dogleg right 440-yard hole, one of only four par-4s over 400 yards in length. Fairway traps guard both sides of the generous fairway, so you'll need to be accurate to make a good score. Your uphill approach should avoid the right side where sand resides. The putting surface is quite wide, but is just 25 paces in depth, so connecting with the green might result in a birdie, but doubtful.

The shortest par-3 on the course, the fifth is only 173 yards long, but can be quite tricky, especially with a back-right pin placement. The green, which is 46 yards long, features a huge tier near the front section and several deep bunkers. You'll be hard-pressed to get one close for birdie, so be thankful with a two-putt par, as this boomerang-shaped putting surface will drive you to drink, and that can be arranged with a phone call.

From the shortest to the longest, the sixth hole reaches 556 yards from the black markers. This hole concludes a stretch of five holes that are amongst the hardest on the course. Several shots on this hole are critical, but none is more important than the tee ball - that needs to avoid the fairway bunkers and the large boulder on the left part of the landing area. Your layup is crucial as well, as a creek cuts in front of the green at the 65-yard mark. Finally, if you laid up, you should have a simple 100-yard play to the smallest green on the Bahia Course at 19 paces in depth. A definite birdie hole, but double-bogey can enter into the equation.

Although just 355 yards, the seventh can be quite destructive to your round. Water encroaches upon the fairway on the left side, so precision off the tee is paramount. The landing area is generous, so hybrid off the tee is the smart play. Your shot to the green must be played with caution, as the surface is quite long, but narrow with plenty of movement. In addition, the water runs along the entire left side of the green and, to top it off, bunkers on either side will see some serious action. When all is said and done, not so easy.

The third par-5 on the course comes by way of the eighth at just 511 yards in length. Again, driving is key, as two bunkers down the center of the landing area can spell doom. If avoided, then the green is within reach. If not, no problem, just lay up short of the large bunker down the right and you'll have a simple third. The slightly elevated putting surface is guarded by several bunkers and features plenty of undulations, so you'll need to be spot on.

The closing hole on the outward nine is a solid, 190-yard par-3. A large lake from tee to green encompasses the left side, so a draw off the tee is the play here. The rolling putting surface can be tricky, not to mention a back-left flag, which will bring the water into play.

The back nine opens with a monster par-4, the longest on the course at 478 yards. Playing fairly straightaway, No. 10 requires more brawn than brains, although the latter couldn't hurt. A generous fairway helps, but you'll need a hybrid or more to reach the pretty small green. Mounding and sand around the putting surface will keep you honest and will make for a difficult up and down to save par. It is the second-hardest hole on the scorecard.

Number 11 is a beautiful par-3 over water to a very undulating putting surface. Just 208 yards in length, this one-shotter possesses a very long and narrow putting surface with a quartet of traps guarding the promised land. Even with a successful tee shot, you'll be hard-pressed to make par, as the green has several quadrants and slopes. This is hardly the easiest hole on the course, even if it says so in print.

Next up is the sensational 12th, a well-crafted hole that doglegs to the right around a lake. The tee ball, with anything less than a driver, must lay claim to the fairway, otherwise it's sand or, worse, water. The real test is with your approach over the corner of the lake to the tiny green of just 27 paces. With the wind moving from left to right and the pin tucked, this could play at several strokes over par on a regular basis.

The 13th certainly can be unlucky, but if you play your cards right, a birdie can be made. This rugged 554-yard par-5 is a true three-shot hole, as it wraps alongside the same lake as the previous hole. Winding around the water, the player needs to favor the left side of the fairway from tee to green. Bunkers are strategically played down the left side of the hole, but the landing area is quite accessible. The key here is the approach to the green, as water right and sand left will force, even the best of players to be accurate. In addition, the putting surface is 41 paces long and narrow, so a two-putt is not automatic. However, select the right club to attack and a birdie four could be your fate.

Before we head back toward the ocean, the 14th stands in our way, a straightaway par-4 of 439 yards. The fairway is narrowed by bunkers left and a desert right, but an accurate tee ball can set you up nicely. A medium-to-long iron will remain to a long and narrow green that runs from back to front with several levels. Miss on the wrong section and your putting skills will be taxed to the limit.

The final stretch of holes on the Bahia Course are as good as it gets and it all starts with the par-4 15th. Swinging hard from right to left, this 462- yarder terminates in front of the ocean, as it plays downhill from tee to green. The fairway is adequate, but you'll need to move the ball with a draw and avoid the numerous fairway bunkers to set yourself up with a reasonable approach. The entrance to the green is open, but sand pinches the front, while any shot a bit strong, will roll down toward the water.

Playing out toward the peninsula of the island, the 16th can be stretched to over 220 yards from the back markers. This pretty straight-forward par-3 requires pinpoint control, especially when the winds are up, as it most certainly will be with only palm trees to slow down the breeze. Another undulating putting surface will keep you on your toes.

Although not a long hole, the 17th is one of the several signature holes on the Bahia Course. Slightly reminiscent of the closing hole at Pebble Beach, this par-4 runs right along the ocean and bends to the left. With the winds pushing left to right off the water, you'll need accuracy and to flight your tee ball down to connect with the fairway. Not only that, the sandy beach runs down the entire left side of the hole. Again, the putting surface is long and narrow with plenty of slope. No question, Beauty and the Beach!

Nicklaus certainly saved the best for last as the Bahia Course concludes with a wonderful, dogleg left par-5. Although home sites run down the left side of the hole, blocking the sensational view, the 18th green runs right up against the ocean, offering a stunning finish to a beautiful course. Backing up slightly, you'll need to clear the massive fairway bunker down the left to set up your go for broke approach or lay up. A sandy waste area, roughly 150 yards long, runs down the left side as you get closer to the green, so play out towards the right for the best angle to the green. If you choose to go for it in two, you'll need to move the ball from right to left, and most likely into the wind. The two-tiered putting surface runs away toward the water, so be careful, especially with a back-left flag, as the only thing stopping your ball will be the beach.

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW (Pacifico Course): Number one on the Pacifico Course is one of five par-4s on the layout that runs over 400 yards in length. The fairway is quite generous; however, miss left and you'll wind up in a tee-to- green-length waste area. A medium iron should remain following your first shot to a fairly benign putting surface. If you can, take advantage of the first, because the course stiffens as you move forward.

The second hole is the first of five par-5s on the course and is quite reachable for the bigger hitters. Bending slightly to the left, the second plays down a corridor of palm trees, with only one fairway bunker in play off the tee. The decision will be to either lay up or go for it after a successful drive. Two bunkers stand guard at the 100-yard mark, so they need to be avoided if you're laying up. However, if you decide to go for the green in two, then you'll need to carve your approach in-between two bunkers guarding the Promised Land. In addition, the putting surface is only 29 paces in length, is quite narrow and is dangerously close to out-of-bounds on the left. Other than that, piece of cake, but the views will make up for any bad shot.

Your next decision comes by way of the third holes. That's right, holes, as you have an option of playing either 3A or 3B. Well, in reality, if the tide is in, 3A might be your only option, although there is an amphibious craft available to take you to the green. But honestly, no real decision here, as 3B is a must-play, as this is one of the most exciting and dynamic par-3s you'll ever see. Not that 3A is something to sneeze at, but really, it's just 181 yards from the back tees, with a view of the ocean behind it - a very nice hole. However, 3B, well, that's something different. Played over the Ocean, 3B is all carry of 194 yards or as little as 175 to the green, located on a smidgen of an island called "Tail of the Whale." It's the only natural island green in the world.

Back to reality, the fourth is a wonderful, short par-4 of just 385 yards. This gem bends to the left and features a dried-out creek bed down the left side of the fairway that cuts in front of the green. Three metal or hybrid is the prudent play, thus setting up a simple short iron to a very long green, that runs from front to back and is guarded by a trio of traps. Not the hardest hole, but certainly one that needs spot-on attention.

In contrast, the fifth is the most difficult on the Pacifico Course, reaching 442 yards from the black markers and bending to the right. The key is the tee shot, which must dissect the tight fairway. Although devoid of fairway bunkers, the landing area runs out at the 300-yard mark, as an old wash cuts through. Your approach, with a medium-to-long iron, also needs to be right on target because the putting surface is 31 paces in length and is protected on either side by sand.

One of four one-shotters over 200 yards in length, the sixth is fairly simple. Just bang a long iron or hybrid to the green, avoid the three-deep bunkers guarding the putting surface and you're home free. Easier said than done, of course. The good news, the green is fairly easy to read with less slope than most.

Weaving through a myriad of homes and villas, the par-5 seventh serpentines its way toward the ocean. A driver over the trio of traps on the right edge of the fairway will set up a reasonable shot at getting home in two, as the front of the green is wide open for a three-metal blast. If you lay up, you'll have little resistance, except for the wind that will most likely be in your face. The green is tiny, but very receptive to your approach. Chances of par or even birdie are quite good.

With the ocean to the left, this par-3 is mesmerizing. Just picture the sunset and you'll lose focus in a hurry. At 216 yards, you'll need a hybrid or a long iron to reach the green, which runs from right to left toward God's splendor. The large bunker on the left will keep you honest, as will the smallish green. Fear not, there is plenty of bailout area to the right.

Still running alongside the ocean, the par-5 finale on the outward nine is a fairly routine hole and a real good chance at birdie. Bunkers adorn the fairway, left and right off the tee, but neither should come into play for the serious player. A layup of just 175 yards to a wide landing area will leave a short pitch to a very tiny target. Greenside traps protect the smallish green, but with a short club in hand, you should be able to attack any pin position. One word of caution: whatever you do ... do not miss left!

If you're going to miss a fairway, the 10th is the place to do it as the hole shares rough on the left with the Bahia Course. A moderately long par-4, this hole moves to the right with only one fairway bunker (right side). With a medium iron remaining, the player should favor the left side of the shallow green as any shot right will most likely end up in a huge sandy waste area. By the way, short and long are no bargains either, as bunkers await.

The par-3 11th shares a green with the 14th hole, thus giving the illusion of an enormous target. In reality, your landing area is 37 paces long with four bunkers pinching the landing area. At 215 yards, you'll need every bit of your hybrid or long iron to make the grade.

The shortest par-4 on the course, the 12th is just 341 yards from the tips and requires pinpoint accuracy off the tee, as you must clear the series of traps that protect both sides of the fairway. In addition, a large sandy waste area that reared its ugly head on the 10th, comes into play down the entire right side of the hole. Finally, the smallest green on the course at just 22 paces in depth and very shallow awaits your approach. So despite its easy ranking as the 18th handicapped hole, you better be accurate.

As easy as the 12th was, the 13th can be your waterloo, no pun intended. With water running down from tee to green on the right, this par-5 will require three spot on shots for success. Just to make matters worse, Mr. Nicklaus provided a 25-yard long fairway bunker in the center of the landing area, so you'll need to pick your poison, right or left off the tee. Although right has more room, that will bring the water into play and make your second shot even more difficult, as it will be forced to cut across the lake. My thoughts: 250 off the tee, 200 for your second and 125 for your third and you've avoided all the trouble. The putting surface will be difficult however, due to its depth at 42 paces. I'll say this: Three-putting is a better option than sinking one in the drink.

If you needed to a get a stroke back, now's the time to take a risk because you reach the dogleg left par-4 14th. Only 397 yards in length, take a direct line over the left bunker and you'll shave off 25 yards for your approach. The green, shared with 11, is 34 paces long with a quartet of bunkers protecting. If you can't put a wedge close here, then maybe tennis should be your game.

Another chance to get a birdie in your pocket comes by way of the par-5 15th, only 511 yards from the back tees and moving slightly to the left. Two framing bunkers on the left side and another sandy waste area are your targets to clear at 256 yards. With a successful tee shot, you'll have a great opportunity to go for the green in two. To do so, you'll need to cover the remaining portion of the waste area and avoid the six-pack of bunkers, right, left and long. The kidney-shaped green can be had, so go for it.

OK, your birdie chances are over now that you've reached the 16th. The longest par-4 on the course at 473 yards, this monster requires power and a little precision. To the right is one fairway bunker 260 yards out, and to the left is a sandy waste area that reaches from the tee to near the green. A draw off the tee is the best play, as the hole bends to the left. Your approach will be difficult with either a hybrid of long iron to a tiny green of just 28 paces. In addition, a pot bunker guards the right, so favor short and left and rely on your short game for par.

The final par-3, the 17th is another beauty, with views of the mighty Pacific Ocean. It's another 200-plus to get home, with sand on all sides and a green that is 37 paces deep and runs away toward the water. A back-left pin can add 20 yards to this stellar hole.

It comes as no surprise that Nicklaus saved his best for last in regards to the 18th hole. The back tee sits 445 yards away from the flag, both jutting out into the ocean. No doubt that wind will play a factor on the final of eight holes on the Pacific. Off the tee, try to avoid the long fairway bunker on the right and the palm tree-lined rough on the left. If you can, savor the view of your approach, as the putting surface stands tall with two pair of palm trees to the right, making for the ultimate photo op. The view is sensational and the shot to the green ... nerve racking. A day and a round of golf that will live in immortality!

FINAL WORD: Although Jack Nicklaus designed only one hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links (the par-3 fifth), he often mentions the magnificent layout is his favorite golf course for visiting. So when the Golden Bear called the Pacifico Course at Punta Mita the "Pebble Beach of Mexico," one has to take notice.

But it's the combination of the two courses at Punta Mita, the Bahia and Pacifico, that's reminiscent of the California course, with many of the 37 holes playing along the Earth's largest body of water.

Both courses are outstanding with sensational views of the Pacific Ocean. In addition, and, more importantly, they are both resort friendly, featuring wide fairways. The Pacifico is flatter and less undulating than the Bahia.

"The addition of Bahia, makes it that much more of a golfers destination," said Phillip Ferrari, director of golf. "How amazing to have the greatest golfer who ever lived to design your golf courses."

Although both layouts are user-friendly, there are several key differences.

"It's totally different than the original course (Pacifico)," Ferrari continued. "This Bahia course almost has a linksy-type feel. It's got deeper bunkering and more undulating greens."

Nicklaus certainly had that on his mind when designing the newer Bahia Course.

"What we did here, on these greens, was put a lot more movement in them than we did on the other golf course," Nicklaus said. "We were trying to make them different and a little different with the bunkers. In all, we tried to get a little more movement in the golf course."

The end result is pretty special.

"So they gave us a mixture of ocean and inland golf to create something sensational as a destination."

Did he ever!

So grab the guys, the girls or the family and make the trip south of the border to the "Land of Enchantment" for an amazing journey of sun, fun and most importantly, golf.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.

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