Pearl of the Pacific: In Mazatlán, Mexico, Lots of Sun and Beach, and Some Golf Too
Forget the wall; focus on the ball.
Sure, these are politically-charged times with our neighbors to the south, but despite noted contentions with our new Golf Course Owner in Chief, the Mexican economy still charts its tourism industry among the country’s top-five sources of national revenue.
Known as the Pearl of the Pacific, the blue collar city of has long maintained travel relevance with its 12 miles of welcoming beaches, a game rod-and-reel scene and authentic Old Mexico charm.
“Mazatlán is a cool, little city by the beach, and tourism is really integrated into the society,” says Jorge Corral, a former USC golf standout and touring pro who is now golf director at Estrella del Mar Resort. “We have a professional baseball team, we have tequila tours, we have our historic downtown and we have our sportfishing. And this is a place where you can enjoy a quality vacation at an affordable price, while getting a taste of real Mexico — which you won’t find in every destination city.”
Yeah, you know Mazatlán, that place where your parents once went on a cruise. Well, with a particularly weak Peso at present, the modern day traveler can still enjoy a quick (just a two-plus hour flight from L.A.) and cheap trip south of the border.
“I’ve had the benefit of living and working all over Mexico, and there are now a lot of destinations in the country that are really commercialized,” says Brian Werner, managing director at Estrella del Mar. “Mazatlán is a working city and the people are real. And, let’s be realistic, it’s now probably more affordable than other destinations; airfare may cost a little more, but once you are here you see how little it costs for food and beverage.”
With drink and dine on the cheap (think $5 breakfasts, $1 beers and high-end dinners for two at $40 total), the destination further impresses with a balance of touristy comforts matched with old world, off-the-beaten path tours to the colonial town of El Quelite and the historic Los Osuna tequila distillery.
While Mazatlán may not track with Mexico’s celebrated golf destinations such as Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta or the Riviera Maya, the city does offer a trio of diverse options which will prove a fine compliment to the traveler seeking a day or two of play.
Estrella del Mar
The most sophisticated of Mazatlán’s three courses, this 1996 design from Robert Trent Jones Jr. is part of Estrella’s sprawling, 900-acre resort property which is highlighted by nearly four miles of unburdened, private beach property. Situated about 20 miles from the hub of Mazatlán’s tourism activity, a stay and play at Estrella may well be warranted, so as to avoid overt driving time for those planning a shorter travel.
Contrasting the comforts and quietude of the region’s only ocean side play (with five holes bordering the Pacific), Estrella isn’t for the timid, and the sticks will find all they can handle with the course’s wind conditions and small, well-guarded greens. To wit: As host to the PGA Tour Latinoamérica’s Mazatlán Open, the course record at Estrella charts at a modest 64.
“We have generous landing areas, but the small greens make it difficult and getting up-and-down is a challenge,” Corral says.
To allay such a test, the brass at Estrella is wisely working in earnest to endeavor a greens re-work project in 2017, which will augment putting surfaces and make the round more pleasing for visitors of all abilities.
“We will re-do the greens,” Werner says. “When the President of Mexico (Enrique Peña Nieto) comes out here and tells you your greens are too small, they’re too small.”
Heading home, players find ocean holes (and wind) on the water-laden, par-4 15th — “You can make a big number there,” smiles Corral — and a burly, 459-yard 17th.
“No. 17 has a long, oval-shaped green that gets narrow from front to back and slopes right to left,” Corral details of Estrella’s penultimate hole. “Coming in with a long-iron, into the wind, you really need to place the ball near the pin. Most people play it as a three-shot hole and just try to make par.”
El Cid Country Club
Southern California visitors to Mazatlán will find the comforts of home across 27-holes of play at El Cid CC, situated in the heart of the city’s Golden Zone tourism activity. With a pair of shorter, palm-lined, classically-styled routings at El Cid’s El Moro and Castilla nines, players will often bag the big club.
“Each nine has its own personality,” says Adrian Salum, head golf professional at El Cid Country Club. “Here, it’s more risk-reward style play and really navigating your way around the holes. It’s not just pounding the driver out here.”
Tipping at 3,423 and 3,200 yards, respectively, the pleasing, home-lined grounds will find guests at El Moro and Castilla oft-opting for ball-control club selections.
“El Moro is the toughest of the three,” adds Salum. “And Castilla is the most strategic of the three, where you may not hit driver every hole and you need to think your way around.”
Mid-irons and hybrids primed, players will want to save El Cid’s most modern nine holes for last, as the Lee Trevino-designed Marina Course, opened in 1999, offers opportunity to spread the tee ball.
“The Marina Course is more friendly, more open,” Salum says.
Though occasionally lacking the overt persona of its creator, the Marina nonetheless keeps character in play with water throughout, as best evidenced by the tee-fronted hazard at the par-4 eighth.
Marina Mazatlán Golf Course
Visitors seeking a daily fee play as vacation aside will be best-sated with a round at the city’s newest course, the Marina Mazatlán, located near the nexus of tourism bustle. Nicely-crafted for the resort player, this 2009 design from David Fleming is drawn with large landing areas and greens, coupled with mounded and grassy edges to keep askew balls in the game.
“The golfer will not feel this is a super-difficult place to play,” says Jorge Franssen, golf general manager at Marina Mazatlán. “If you’re in town for a vacation with leisure and sun, but you want to have an option to play some golf, our course is very suitable for the resort golfer, in play and location.”
While low-handicappers may taste a little vanilla across the front side, all players will find a fine task on Marina’s closing holes, which couples lush terrain with earnest demands.
The 331-yard par-4 16th over a lake proves a study in strategy, with bombers angling for the green and the prudent playing a club-down shot toward the right side of a cambered fairway. After a muscular par-3 17th plays over a wall of flora, Marina’s home hole presents a final risk-reward challenge.
“You’ll need a strategy on the 18th because there are two ways to play it,” concludes Franssen. “You can risk your first shot, try to cut the trouble right, and then take your next shot to another landing area closer to the green; or, you can play it safer to the wide part of the fairway to the middle.”