By Tim Cotroneo
The Central American country of Costa Rica has an unusual way of helping golfers get over first hole jitters. At the Guanacaste region’s plush Westin Golf Resort and Spa, golfers at the Reserva Conchal Golf Course are often greeted by the startling treetop growl of howler monkeys either before, during, or after your backswing.
Monkeys aren’t the only back-to-nature ambassadors greeting golfers at the Westin’s serene Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course. Iguanas, crocodiles, Coati-Mundi, and white throated Magpie all make spontaneous appearances during the course of 18 spectacular Reserva Conchal golf holes.
If you’re not star-struck by the wild kingdom aspect of Reserva Conchal’s 7,000-yards of jungle splendor, the sheer environmental radiance of your golf round can take your breath away.
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.
Boquete Panama – You know that expression “Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away?” When we stepped onto the deck of our tree house at the Lucero Golf and Country Club (tel: 877-727-2476; lucerocountryclub.com; US$395 per night, double occupancy, during high season), I literally experienced the latter. Standing 40 metres above the floor of the Caldera Valley, protected by the rainforest canopy and the Jaramillo Mountains, I felt a profound sense of peace. It was at least an hour before I tore myself away from the views to explore our very private, very romantic getaway.
Luxuriously appointed, our treehouse included a walk-in rain shower, cozy sitting area with kitchenette and deliciously comfy bed where we could see not only the stars, but the twinkling lights of David in the distance.
Nestled next to the tee off blocks at the third hole of Lucero’s mountain golf course, we were steps away from the clubhouse and Season’s, the community’s farm-to-table restaurant. Last year alone, the staff planted over 500 tropical fruit trees, 320,000 coffee plants and an extensive vegetable garden.
by Tim Cotroneo
Scotland’s Old Tom Morris would love the ocean views, the plunging pot bunkers, and the balmy weather at The Abaco Club at Winding Bay. Old Tom would be proud to see how his rolling Scottish links thumbprint found its way to a Bahamian setting of palm trees, parrots, and pristine paspalum fairways.
In 2004, Golf Architect Tom MacKenzie brought Old Tom’s coastal sand dune legacy to the 90-mile long Great Abaco Island. When most golfers think links, thoughts revert to gray skies, brown-hued fairways, and donning layers to combat the elements. At the Abaco Club, links-style undulations enter a whole new world. Golfers thrive amidst exquisite fairways, perfect island temperatures, and ocean views worthy of a swimsuit magazine cover.
If that’s not enough, recharging your spirit between rounds is spent in beachfront and golf course accommodations that house a wealth of island amenities. The Abaco Club would have Old Tom believing he was born 150 years too soon.
by Tim Cotroneo
Rees Jones is listening. The man known internationally as “The U.S. Open Doctor” paid homage to golf industry pushback by designing a Baja peninsula masterpiece that he considers one of his finest creations. Jones sees his dance in the desert design to be a rare best-of-both-worlds golf communion.
The 7,400-yard Danzante Bay Golf Course in Loreto not only honors the scratch golfer, but also welcomes the occasional player seeking a one-of-a-kind golf experience. Jones’ latest creation features awesome elevation changes and dramatic mountains-meet-the sea-visuals.
At the November 2016 grand opening of Danzante Bay, Jones told his audience that it’s time to acknowledge what passionate golfers, occasional golfers, and industry experts have been saying for years. That is, a course doesn’t have to be too long or too punishing to exceed golf destination expectations.
Top 9 Golf Courses You Need To Play In Panama – by Dave Finn
Looking for the next “hot” golf destination? Do you prefer cityscapes, ocean views or the tranquility of the rainforest? Panama may be small in size but is big on style. Situated at the lower end of the continental divide that separates North and South America, the country’s topography has been used to its advantage to create links style, parkland and mountain courses. It’s easy to get around in Panama and with 13 uniquely different golf courses, you’re bound to find more than one that will challenge you and appeal to your style of play.
Earlier this year, I joined a group of 10 golf travel writers and tour operators from across North America to visit and play eight of Panama’s championship 18-hole golf courses. Fortunately, I returned to Panama a few months later and played a gem that they sadly did not get to experience, but more on that later.
During our tour, I polled my esteemed colleagues and asked for their opinions. Here are some of their comments and our countdown.
Punta Cana Dominican Republic – Lush fairways, the bluest water you’ve ever seen, and a course designed by the greatest golfer the world has ever known. If you’re golf bucket list didn’t already include Punta Espada in Punta Cana, then keep reading.
For seven years running, GolfWeek has named Punta Espada the Best Golf Course in the Caribbean and Mexico. Want more? After winning the Cap Cana Championship in 2010, Fred Couples declared that Punta Espada was Jack Nicklaus’ finest design ever. Keep in mind the Golden Bear has designed 390 courses in 41 countries.
Punta Espada wastes no time in making its presence felt. Upon walking through the front entrance of the clubhouse, be prepared for an image that will grab you by the shoulders and stop you dead in your tracks. Straight ahead, just beyond a narrow entryway, is the 18th green. With the ultra-turquoise Caribbean Sea directly behind the green, this image is so vivid it almost seems like a hologram. This won’t be your last Punta Espada reality check.
This weekend spring was in the air, but so was snow. I glanced at my clubs, sitting forlornly in the corner of my office, all polished up, with no place to go. I closed my eyes, and suddenly I could feel the salty breezes and hear the waves crashing against the rocky, ironstone shores. This was not a dream but an unforgettable memory, as I conjured up my first impressions of Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, some of the initial beauty of this place escaped me at the time, as I was steeling myself to come face-to-face with a legend. You see, I had heard the stories, read the accolades and was about to play the Teeth of the Dog.
Four Seasons Nevis Golf Course
Memories of a Volcano, the Caribbean Sea, and Robert Trent Jones by Tim Cotroneo
Nevis Caribbean – When was the last time your retelling of a round of golf included the words volcano, vervet monkeys, and Robert Trent Jones? Those once-in-a-lifetime utterances will all come spilling out after playing 18 holes at the Four Seasons Nevis Golf Course. The thumbprint-shaped island of Nevis is just 36 square miles and is home to 11,000 people. By comparison, there are an estimated 12,000 vervet monkeys that inhabit Nevis. Many of these green-tinted climbers take up residence in the mango, banana, and palm trees woven throughout the Four Seasons 6,800-yard golf wonderland. The golf course is wonderfully positioned at the rising base of a cloud-topped volcano known as Nevis Peak.
Turks and Caicos Golf – Sounds Good to Me – by Tim Cotroneo
“Silence is golden.” There should be a sign on the first hole at Provo Golf Club in the Turks and Caicos Islands, alerting golfers to the sensation that tees off with every new group. When one is so used to the background noise that accompanies life back home, island quiet will become a golfer’s new best friend.
Silence is more a feeling than it is a sound at this 6,700-yard golf masterpiece of swaying palm trees and lush Bermuda grass. The sounds of Provo grow on first-time golfers like the reggae tune that unconsciously makes your body move. Newcomers to this course that Golf Magazine called “one of the 10 best in the Caribbean” will reflect: Island golf sounds good to me.