Fairways to Heaven: Nine and Dine in Riviera Nayarit

By Anita Draycott

Designer courses with designer prices abound in Riviera Nayarit, but there are times when a cerveza-lubricated, relaxing nine-hole romp at a bargain green fee is just what the golf doctor ordered.

I thought I had played all the courses in Nayarit, but last week I made some new discoveries. None of these tracts will make the top hundred ranking in Golf Digest, but they will give you plenty of challenge and leave you with enough time and pesos in your pocket to enjoy Nayarit’s many attractions.

(Note: all prices are approximated in Canadian dollars).

Nayar Club Campestre, Tepic

Tepic, the historic capital city of the state of Nayarit, founded in 1531, is worthy of a visit. The Regional Museum has a fascinating display of indigenous ceramics dating from 200 BC to AD 600. Just off the main plaza you’ll find a street full of Huichol (indigenous) artisans selling their intricately beaded jewelry, sandals and trinkets for reasonable prices.

About 15 minutes from the centre of Tepic, the Nayar Club Campestre was built in 1986. As you approach the first tees you realize this will be no walk in the park. Your drive must carry over a rather daunting ravine. The way to the green is straightforward and I do mean you must hit the ball strait and forward. This course has some of the most narrow, tree-lined fairways I’ve ever encountered. The routing is a bit confusing so the caddies are necessary. One gets the impression that they literally squeezed these nine fairways between the city and the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

From the tips (there are four tee blocks) the yardage is 2,932 but it plays longer due the big elevation changes and rarely a flat lie.

On number four you must aim for a tree in the middle of the fairway. Your second shot hopefully traverses another ravine.

Number seven is a par-five that plays like a par-10. Another tree in the middle of the fairways is your target and from there it’s another long carry over a ravine. But you’re far from finished. The rest of the fairway runs uphill to a mounded green.

Number nine is an-uphill par-three with some efficient bunkers guarding the green. Fun and now it’s time for a cerveza.

Nayar is a nine-hole tract and the following are the approximate costs for playing 18 holes. In other words, you get to try your luck again on the second nine.

Green fee: $35

Cart rental: $14

Club rental: $21

Mandatory caddy: $14

Where to Stay & Eat

The club has an agreement with two hotels in Tepic: Fray Junipero Serra Hotel and Las Palomas Hotel. Players staying at either receive a 50% discount on the green fee.

I stayed in the centre of Tepic at the Real de Don Juan. Massive angels guard the impressive lobby and the restaurant offers terrific service and good breakfast choices.

In central Tepic, chef Marco Valdivia Carrillo’s creative cuisine has made his restaurant, Emiliano, one of the top-ranked in Mexico. Start you meal with Mexican-made gin and tonic with lots of interesting aromatics muddled at your table by an enthusiastic mixologist.  Chef’s tuna tartar is sublime and he does a fabulous pork belly and shrimp dish.

If you’ve got a craving for a well-grilled steak, head to El Quincho, an Argentinian eatery in central Tepic. Start your meal with a sampling of their terrific empanadas.

Campo de Ensueno: Field of Dreams, Monteon

Located just south of Rincon de Guayabitos, Campo de Ensueno or Field of Dreams is the brainchild of owner Gerarde Cervantes Lara who opened the course in 2001. Ninety percent of his members are Canadian and guests are welcome, except Thursday (men’s day) and Sunday (mixed) mornings

As we approached the first tee we saw and overheard a happy group of men at the bar celebrating their rounds.

In the middle of my backswing the sound system played “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.” This was follow by a rousing rendition of “Oh Danny Boy.” I guess those Canadian have brought their Celtic roots to Mexico.

The fairways are flat and brown but the greens are surprisingly verdant and well-maintained, many of them saucer-shaped in the style of Donald Ross’s Pinehurst Number 2.  The nine-hole tract consists of six par-threes and three par-fours with a total yardage of 1,593.

The first three fairways are short and uncomplicated. Number four presents a rock wall in front of the green. The “Himalaya” mounded green on number five is hard to stick.

Senor Lara claims number six with its island green to be “my baby.” It took him a year to build it. If you do get your Titleist across the moat, it needs to be a high soft shot in order not to dribble off the green and take a swim.

There’s water in front of the seventh and the scorecard informs that the pinas (pineapples) on number seven and eight are out of bounds.

The finale is a severe dogleg right with a blind tee shot. Once you hole your ball, there’s a siren on a tree to indicate to the group behind that the “coast is clear.”

It was obvious from the camaraderie of the guys in the bar and the many framed photos of club events, that this Field of Dreams is a happy place with a loyal group of swingers.

Cost to play 18 holes (nine times two): $25

Club rental: $7

Pull cart: $7

Where to Stay & Eat

Mar al Cielo in Lo de Marcos is an intimate jungle/retreat with one bedroom, bath, kitchen and open concept living room. Meals are served in an oceanfront palapa lounge or you may opt for “jungle room service” delivered from restaurants in town.

Las Huertas, San Pancho

I was told that the owner of Las Huertas Golf & Beach Club is an avid golfer who used to play frequently at Punta Mita until it was decided that the two courses would be available only to resort guests and owners. So Senior Hardesty built his own swinging playground in San Pancho, where he lives. He called it Las Huertas (means the orchards) as the fruity fairways incorporate mangos, grapefruits, cashew nut, cinnamon, tamarindo, black pepper and guanabana trees.

There is never a dull moment starting from the elevated first tee where you must propel your Titleist over treetops while avoiding the pond on the right. Number seven requires that you thread the needle through a narrow jungle opening. From the green on number nine you’ll have a lovely view of the Pacific.

Las Huertas is par-32 track measuring 1,953 yards from the tips. There are only nine holes (one par-five, two par-fours and the rest are devious par-threes) but sometimes that’s all you want, or, you may play the course twice. This is no “cow pasture.” Fairways are well maintained, the greens are impeccable, golf carts are state-of-the-art (but you can also walk). At Clara’s Pub you’ll have a grand view of the Pacific while you sip your cerveza, enjoy typical Mexican dishes such as quesadillas, fajitas and nachos and brag about your birdies.

Fruity Tournaments, held every Sunday at 11:00 a.m., are open to the public. Prizes go to lowest score (you need to have a handicap), closest to the pin and longest drive. Entry fee, $95, includes cart or pull cart, 18 holes and a chicken fajitas lunch.

Nine holes; $35 with pull cart

18 holes: $69 with pull cart.

(Electric carts are available.)

Club rental: $17

Where to Stay

When you visit San Pancho, consider a night and/or a bite at Hotel Cielo Rojo, a charming nine-room hotel and Bistro Organico located a couple of blocks from the beach (Calle Asia #6).

The motto here is: Food is fuel, food is medicine, food is love. Fuel comes in the form of an amazing rendition of huevos rancheros served atop homemade blue tortillas. Green juice made with lime, basil, mint, celery, cilantro, ginger, cucumber, cactus and parsley makes a delicious medicine. Or try the energizing coconut water and turmeric. Hot-from-the-oven scones served with local honey taste like love to me. Cielo Rojo also sells its own brand of tequila and olive oil.

For more information about golf and more in Riviera Nayarit:  www.rivieranayarit.com