As we make our way across the tarmac, I can hear my stomach rumbling. I had passed on the nondescript airplane lunch knowing that within minutes of clearing Mexican Customs I’d be seated at El Cuchupetas, ready to tuck into some of the best seafood you’ve ever tasted. Located in the small town of Villa Union, this 300-seat restaurant is far from fancy, but it’s always packed because the service is friendly, the prices more than reasonable, and the food is fantastic! Try the shrimps wrapped in bacon or the robalo – a whitefish – seasoned and grilled to perfection, but make sure you order the scallops. They may be the biggest and tastiest anywhere. Welcome to Mazatlán and your first taste of Sinaloa.
Another short ride and we arrive at the Las Villas Hotel at Estrella del Mar, a tranquil resort perched along 3.5 miles of pristine shoreline only 10 minutes from the airport. From here we were about 22 minutes from Mazatlán’s historic district and her vibrant Zone Dorado – Golden Zone. You’re close enough to enjoy the culture, cuisine, and party atmosphere, but far enough away to relax and escape some of the stress of big city living and play some excellent golf.
Estrella del Mar Golf Course is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design located right at our resort, and admittedly, this par-72 7,015 yards layout is my personal favorite. Not only is this course photogenic but having hosted the Canadian PGA Tour’s Mexico PGA Championship in 2011 as well as three PGA TOUR Latin-America Mazatlán Opens, it will also test your abilities.
Majestic palm trees line fairways that are generous with wide landings and low-cut rough. As you navigate the eleven lakes, you’ll appreciate the feel of playing under a tropical sky and then you’ll hear the waves lapping as you parallel to the Pacific Ocean. There are six holes that hug the shoreline serving up spectacular views of the Sea of Cortez and more than a little trouble.
Estrella del Mar boasts several signature holes here, but the 15th, par-4 dogleg left from the back tees is reportedly the toughest on tour. Your drive must cross a pond to a narrow landing area with out of bounds on the right side, and your approach shot must cross the pond again, with prevailing winds in your face, to well-guarded green snuggled up against the sandy shoreline. Let me say this hole lived up to its reputation.
In 2017 the seriously-small greens were enlarged and converted to the newest Pure Destiny Paspalum salt tolerant grass, and I must agree with Brian Werner, Managing Director, that “converting the greens allows our members and resort guests to enjoy a more forgiving experience.”
Greens fees range from USD 75 to 130 depending on the season but include shared cart, range privileges and a bottle of water. A set of TaylorMade clubs rent for $30-40.
After our round, we headed north to El Quelite. As we drove through the turquoise arch, I’m struck by the vibrancy of this quaint, rural community. Colorful lemon, raspberry, and ochre-painted homes share tree-lined streets with restaurants, art galleries, craft boutiques and a goat or two.
We were meeting Dr. Marcos Osuna at his restaurant, El Meson de Carlos Los Laureanos to learn how the town had reinvented itself and we weren’t disappointed. Osuna is a character, proud of his town and passionate about its people. He’s at his restaurant most days regaling the clientele with his tales and serving up aromatic and flavorful food made from locally raised beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. Atypical for this part of Mexico, there’s not a single seafood item on the menu, but the traditional Sinaloa food served tapas style was more than satisfying.
The next day we tackled El Cid Golf & Country Club, a 27-hole layout located within a multi-complex resort situated in the heart of the Golden Zone. Each nine has a personality of its own.
Marina Course, a Lee Trevino design is the newest and the most open of the 27-holes that offer plenty of water and thick ‘thatch’ grass rough but be advised that houses line both sides of most fairways, and the bunker sand was very inconsistent.
El Moro Course – Here pinon and palm trees line the fairways. I found the 8th hole to be the toughest at 600 yards over a pond with a narrow fairway. Adrian Salum, Director of Golf, told me that Lee Trevino once shot fourteen on this hole before he opened his 9-hole course, so I guess I’m in good company.
Castilla Course – Adrian assured me that the “Castilla 9 is much shorter and requires much more strategy” and he was right. All the greens are all about the same average size with no flashed-up bunkers which make for an easy escape if you’re prone to finding your way “to the beach.”
My most memorable hole was #7, a long par-4 with a generous landing area but the fairway narrows as you reach the green. The left side is out-of-bounds, and on the right, there is a looming pond with a small, difficult green.
Twice per week, this 9-hole course shuts down after 3 pm for ‘foot golf’ to encourage a wide variety of folks to come out, have some fun and enjoy the facilities. And, if you’re feeling a bit peckish, make sure you stop at the halfway house where they serve the best-smoked marlin tacos in town.
Green fees range from USD 60 to 95 including mandatory caddy, power cart, and taxes and a $15-20 tip is recommended.
After your round is the perfect time to take in some of the city’s sights. I’d suggest biking along the Malecón reportedly one of the longest promenades in the word, people watching at the Plaza Machado or enjoy lunch at El Presidio Cocina de México located in the midst of the 175 blocks that make up the historic district or Pedro y Lola in Centro Park.
I opted to visit El Faro, one of the most iconic lighthouses in the world. To get there, you climb more than 325 steps, but it’s worth the effort when you reach the crest. Sitting at 523 feet above sea level there’s no better place to take in the city, the ocean and the three islands that surround Mazatlán.
The last course we visited was Marina Mazatlán a David Fleming designed links-style layout built on a relatively flat piece of inland property but it just maybe lushest of the three we’ve played. The greens are oversized, irregular in shape with mounding around the perimeter that defines each hole. The fairways are wide and forgiving, and the sand bunkers are big, deep and soft. Overall the course is in fabulous condition due to its use of the first generation of eco-friendly salt-tolerant Paspalum turf.
The front nine that opened in 2014 offers little or no shade so bring your sunblock. You won’t lose any golf balls here as the rough is short and there is no water. The wind, however, is a major factor.
The back nine which opened in 2009 is much more tree-lined and boasts several unique holes including the par-3 12th where an accurate mid-iron is needed to carry a water hazard but don’t be long as the pond wraps around the back of the green.
Fleming, however, saved the best for last. The 17th is my personal favorite – a par-3 over a mangrove inlet since it is the most visually appealing. The par-5 18th hole starts over a river onto the fairways lined with trees and mangroves. A spectacular finish to our round.
When I complimented General Manager, Jorge Franssen on the great conditioning he smiled and said, “We take great pride in this course and send out a crew every day just to repair divot marks.”
This par-72 ranges 5,067 to 6,747 yards with a 73.1-course rating to a 126 slope. Green fees range from USD 75-95 that include a cart (no GPS), bottled water and range balls.
After several rounds of golf and meeting some interesting people over some terrific meals, I’m feeling rejuvenated. Leaning over my balcony, I can see the city skyline reflected in the pool. Suddenly it dawns on me that the lovely 47-room Estrella del Mar hotel is the polar-opposite of the mega-hotels that line the beach downtown. Perhaps that’s why I feel so relaxed and rested?
I’d like to linger a little longer but, I realize that if we leave now, we can stop at El Cuchupetas en route to the airport. So hasta luego mis amigos! As much as I love golf, I can’t resist one last taste of ceviche and a cold Pacifico before heading home.
For more information and a list of upcoming events in Mazatlán visit www.gomazatlan.com
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