MAZATLAN, SINALOA, MEXICO – No, it's not counted among Mexico's burgeoning golf destinations like Los Cabos, or the Riviera Maya, or Puerto Vallarta.
It's Mazatlan. You know, the beachy, working class destination where "The Love Boat" used to dock and the fellas once visited for spring break.
While working to perhaps someday become one of the primo south of the border locales for ball-strikers, Mazatlan does sport a fun and diverse trio of courses, the most notable of which is Estrella del Mar Golf & Beach Resort.
Idyllically located about 30-minutes from the din of tourist activity, the 1996 design from Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is the region's only oceanside play, featuring five holes in which the Pacific adjacent (and the winds accompanying) comes into play.
Tastefully routed through a pleasing portion of the sprawling, 900-acre resort and residential property, Estrella's attractive test can't simply be titled a resort-style play, as evidenced by its annual hosting of the PGA Tour Latinoamérica's Mazatlan Open, along with serving as home to the same tour's Qualifying School. Given that the course record is a modest 64, while Estrella del Mar may be Mazatlan's "Star of the Sea," it's a tough track where the mid-handicapper will find a true test approaching postage stamp greens.
"We have generous landing areas, but, nonetheless, the small greens make the course difficult, and getting up-and-down is a challenge," said Jorge Corral, golf director at Estrella del Mar.
Estrella del Mar: See the growing greens
To rightly mollify longtime gripes about the diminutive putting surfaces (coming from the touring pros and, oh, also from multi-time visitor Enrique Pena Nieto, the President of Mexico), Estrella has plans in earnest to endeavor a green re-shaping project in the summer and autumn of 2017; augmenting targets and enhancing green entry will undoubtedly make the taut play a more forgiving experience.
"When the President of Mexico comes out here and tells you your greens are too small, they're too small," said Brian Werner, managing director at Estrella del Mar.
To wit: Estrella's stellar, 558-yard par-5 seventh stretches with scoring possibility, yet culminates in a bunker-guarded green with little option for grab.
"It a great hole, but an example of one that needs the green to be re-done. It's just too hard to hold," Corral said.
Wind considerations are paramount to engagement at Estrella, and it's recommended that newcomers tee time in a morning round before the prevailing winds have potential to see solid rounds go south come a tough closing series of holes.
"There are a lot of tournaments that have been decided on the final stretch," said Coral.
The road home begins with the excellent, par-4 15th, playing with lake water all along the left side and fronting the green.
"You can make a big number here," detailed Corral of the 421-yard hole which faces the wind and concludes with a terrific ocean view that can subvert concentration required on the severely-sloped green.
The big blue view ensues on the lengthy, par-3 16th before Estella concludes with a pair of attractive, windswept tasks.
"The 17th has kind of a long, oval-shaped green that gets narrow from front to back and slopes right to left," Corral described of the 459-yard par-4.
"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."
With the Pacific backing the home hole, precision is required from tee to a green where short shots finds massive sand and over-hit approaches find little purchase to the elevated surface. A solid driver proves necessary for finishing with a good number.
"The 18th also plays into the wind, and you really need to try and avoid the fairway bunker left," Corral concluded.
Stay and play
The beachfront hotel at Estrella Del Mar features four restaurants between the golf clubhouse and hotel, a full service spa, pool area and tennis courts, as well as tours of the nearby turtle preserve. The Unlimited Golf Package features breakfast, round-trip airport shuttle and a deluxe ocean view room (prices vary by season). For more information visit EstrellaDeMar.com.