Sunday, December 7, 2008

Golf Anyone?

One of the central attractions in the Loreto Bay development has always been the proposed development of a first class golf course. In the early days, the original Fonatur course was nothing like a first class course, but it did serve as a place holder for the land in the development and it held the promise of what could be done with the proper landscaping, irrigation and maintenance.

I remember playing on the “old course” last winter, after they had stopped irrigating - the cow patties were a local hazard and things were looking pretty bleak! That all changed this past March when the “new 9” was first opened for homeowners and we were able to play the luscious fairways and greens for the first time. The difference was incredible! David Duvall's design, interpreted and realized by Tom Webber and his crew, added challenges, dimension and beauty to the course and highlighted all the natural assets that surround the property.

There have been even more changes (for the better!) since those memorable first few rounds. First of all, we are now starting from the original clubhouse and playing holes 10 through 18 in their normal order, while in the spring we were starting at (what is now) 16, at the south end of the Hotel. In the spring the sand traps were not filled (resulting in a occasional par saving free drop) but now they are definitely “in play” and add a serious challenge on some holes.

The on-going upkeep and maintenance of the course is being expertly handled by Raoul Torres and his crew from Troon Golf. While the conditions of the course speak for themselves, I appreciate the inconspicuous behaviour of the grounds crew, getting their work done without impacting the play or enjoyment of the players. Starting this Fall, there are two “best ball scrambles” organized weekly, one for couples on Wednesday mornings and another, mainly for men on Friday afternoons.

The course is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and tee times are never a problem during the rest of the week. In fact, one of the most wonderful aspects of playing this course now is that very often you will play a 9 hole round without being in sight of another player, ahead or behind! A true luxury, for those of us used to playing the sausage grinder pace of most public and semi-private courses at home, where you are in a frustrating lockstep, delayed by the people ahead and pushed by the people behind.

Bear in mind, all of this challenge, beauty and luxury is also a bargain for those of us lucky to be homeowners in Loreto Bay. A package of 20 nine hole rounds costs about $500, or $25 each per round, with a shared electric cart or brand new ergonomic 3 wheel push cart. Current prices for non-homeowner players at double that price, are still a bargain by Baja golf standards, where prices over $20 per HOLE, for 18 are not unheard of!

On a recent Tuesday, with the course closed, I borrowed a cart and headed out to take pictures of the nine holes now in operation. Below is my attempt at a brief illustrated course guide. It is intended for those of you who are looking forward to returning to Loreto and playing the course yourself, and for the rest of you, who are interested in golf, and might be pursuaded to consider visiting some day to see it for yourself. Fore! or, should I say, Cuatro!

The first hole (actually 10th when the full 18 opens) is a par 5 that ranges from 500 to 530 yards and is one of the longest holes on the course. The fairway has lots of contour, providing a variety of lies, so even if your yardage is consistant you get a different look from every tee shot. There is water down the entire right side and homes parallel the left side of the wide fairway. As you approch the green, traps are in play on the left and a “dry garden” with a large tree restricts the right side.

The next hole, the first of three par 4s, is across the new entrance road to the Hotel, where paving and roadside landscaping is nearing completion. The tee boxes for this hole are beside a rocky hill on the left and separated from the fairway by a sand pathway with yardages ranging between 330 and 375. Once over the sand, the fairway opens out wide with bunkers on the short right and longer left with another “dry garden” planted with a number of trees closer in to the green and in a direct line from the tees. Approaching the green can be tricky, with large traps on the right and behind, backed up by water.

Crossing an estuary bridge brings you to the tees for the 3rd hole, tucked in beside the Highway as it heads south from Nopolo and into the mountains. Traffic noise, including trucker's “jake brakes” add to the challenges of tee shot for this hole that is between 340 and 400 yards. The estuary runs along the first three quarters of the fairway on the left, pinching it off as you get close to the hole. There is a short bunker on the left and a large “dry garden” with several trees and succulent ground cover called “Ice Plant” that can hide a ball easily. If you miss the water left you have a tight approach to the green but if you clear the garden (perhaps on a second shot) there is lots of room behind it and good angles to the well bunkered green from that side.

The fourth hole at 335 to 385 yards has a large fairway, particularly from the back tees, with a dog leg right and a hidden pin around the the hills that mark the southern edge of the Loreto Bay property. Directly ahead of the tees is a long narrow bunker, well placed to catch a good straight drive, but there is plenty of landing room on the left and with luck and a bit of a slice you can curve a bit around the hill and have a clear approach to the green, with bunkers in front on the left and beside on the right.

As you approach this green, your eyes will be drawn up to the impressive new tee boxes that have been built into the hill behind for the brand new par three fifth hole. Thousands of man-hours of the hardest pick and shovel labour have gone into creating these tees for what will be one of the most picturesque holes on this course. A beautiful flagstone path winds up the edge of the hill 100 – 150 feet above the course level to three massive round tee “plateaus” - each offset from the others and all with a staggering view. In fact, you will be torn between contemplating the beautiful oval

green (sheltered under a 200 foot rocky hill and protected by bunkers in front), and gazing off to the right and seeing the beautiful Sea of Cortez below the shear drop-off beside the pathway up. According to the current scorecard the yardages for this par 3 range between 120 to 150, but for now the usable tees below the new boxes are in the 80's.

Around the rocky hill from this green you come to what was the signature hole of the old course, another par 3. Here you have a choice of tees, the first of which is a short climb up the hill to the back tees where you are looking at a 200 yard shot, mainly across water to the redesigned green. One aspect of the new green is that from the long tees there is now water behind as well as in front, while from the front tees, Punto Nopolo backs the hole, helping with depth perception. Depending on the prevailing direction, wind can also be a decisive factor on this hole and can definitely affect your approach strategy.

The seventh hole is a par 4 that plays between 345 and 385 yards with a right angle dog leg left at the half-way point. You can layup to the corner, or play over the estuary and have an easy pitch onto the raised green, if you can clear several well placed bunkers that protect the short cut route. However a long approach shot can wind up “on the beach” in a hidden trap, or if you're really long, wet, as the estuary wraps around two sides behind this tricky green.

Crossing another estuary bridge and curving arround the private marina bay that belongs to the condos at the end of the Paseo, brings you to the longest par 4 on this course, playing 380 to 420 yards that dogleg right arround several perfectly placed bunkers. If you play it safe and keep left of this sand in mid-fairway, you face several more deeply contoured traps protecting the front of the large green. However, you can forgive these challenges when you appreciate the beautifully landscaped rocky outcrop that provides a distinctly Baja-flavoured backdrop to this green.

Now it's time to recross the entrance road from the highway and wind around behind the first green to the final series of tees for the par 5 ninth that stretches between 465 and 500 yards. The back tees start behind the end of the lake that separates this fairway from the first, while the shorter tees give you different angles across varying stretches of water to a wide and undulating fairway. Staying dry on the left brings several fairway bunkers into play, but the real work for this hole is done on the massive green with ridges and valleys that change the read with every pin placement.

That, gentle reader, is one duffer's view of what will eventually be the back nine of this new Loreto Bay course, and, I have it on good authority that the “front” nine, currently in the final stages of completion, is even more spectacular than the masterpiece you have just toured in your mind's eye. I look forward to sharing that experience with you on a future post.

Whether you are a scratch golfer or a wanna-be duffer, this course is, at the very least, a wonderful excuse to spend a couple of hours surrounded by the beauty of our community, with breathtaking views of the mountains, the sea, the estuaries and, not least of all, the multi-coloured, many towered homescape that is becoming the Villages of Loreto Bay. So, regardless of your skills, golf is going to be an important part of “Living Loreto”.

P.S. Added bonus time! If you visit the link below:
you can download more pictures of the course that I took on this day. If you have an avid golfer on your Christmas list, you can use this link to design your own calendar, (with some of my pictures) and keep their dream alive during the cold spell before their next trip to Loreto!