PUERTO VALLARTA -- Mexico's Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit region is home to one of the most picturesque golf holes on the planet, an island green that existed long before it became the centerpiece of a golf course and resort community.
To say the least, Hole 3B on the Pacifico Course at Punta Mita Golf Club is one of a kind.
The thing is, you don't necessarily need a water hazard -- or in this case, the ocean -- to serve up the intimidation that comes with an island green.
Ranking as one of the most popular tourist destinations in this sun-drenched country, the golf map in the Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit region features a little bit of everything.
Think all island-green holes are built alike? Think again.
Here are some of the most unique and most memorable in this area.
The Natural -- Hole 3B, Pacifico Course at Punta Mita
I promise you've never seen anything quite like it. Located about an hour from Puerto Vallarta on the northern tip of Banderas Bay, the most fascinating of 37 assignments at Punta Mita is Hole 3B on the Pacifico Course, also known as the Tail of the Whale. Here, course architect Jack Nicklaus spotted a heap of jagged rock 194 yards from the shoreline and simply added grass to create the world's first natural island green. Tee times at Punta Mita's Pacifico and Bahia courses are available only to members and guests at the two high-end resorts, but it's worth the splurge on swanky accommodations just to take a shot at the signature hole. Be warned, the putting surface at Hole 3B is awfully tiny and looks even smaller when the wind is gusting, so you might need to tee up a mulligan. Then again, your playing partners will likely be so busy snapping photos that they won't even notice your first swing.
The Animal -- Hole 6, El Tigre Golf Club
It's not often you stand on the tee box and think, 'That bunker wouldn't be the worst landing spot.' Truth is, a small sand trap is the next best alternative to the putting surface on this man-made island green, one of the dozen water-logged assignments (it's probably no coincidence you get a dozen golf balls in a case) on this Robert von Hagge design. El Tigre Golf Club is one of the main attractions at Paradise Village, a sprawling vacation resort in Nuevo Vallarta that includes a wildlife preserve. In fact, you'll wander by a Bengal tiger upon your arrival at the club. That's a scary sight, to be sure, but it's the 171-yard sixth hole at El Tigre that can really bite you. As long as you're not short, long, left or right off the tee, you'll be fine.
The Wild One -- Hole 9, Nicklaus Course at Vista Vallarta Golf Club
There's something conclusive about watching your golf ball splash into the water -- an immediate realization you've probably used it for the final time. Well, don't bother looking for your scuffed-up Srixon in this mess of vegetation, either. The two courses at Vista Vallarta cut through the jungle a few miles from the shoreline in Puerto Vallarta, with several forced carries over the gnarly surroundings. The Nicklaus Course at Vista Vallarta Golf Club is the handiwork of Jack Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion turned master of intimidation among modern course designers. There's actually ample room for error on the 182-yard ninth hole, although the dance floor -- and a pair of bunkers -- almost appear to be floating in the jungle from the tee. The putting surface could come with its own topography map, so a green in regulation doesn't guarantee a par.
The Beachcomber -- Hole 13 at Flamingos Golf Club
You planned a trip to this area for the sun and sand, right? Well, the 13th hole at Flamingos Golf Club certainly delivers. A water hazard splits this test in half, but that shouldn't be an issue as long as you get some air under your tee shot. The real concern will be the six sand traps that course designer Percy Clifford scattered around the green, leaving a skinny runway for shots that land short of the target but not much room to miss elsewhere. The good news for golfers at this 18-hole hangout near Bucerias is that unless you're teeing it up from the tips, you should have a short iron in your hands on the 13th hole, which measures between 111 and 194 yards. Don't let the views of the Pacific Ocean become a distraction. You can play at the beach later.