Sunday, May 10, 2009

Nine + Nine = FORE!

As I recently promised, I am writing this week about the opening of the “new” or front nine of the golf course here at Loreto Bay. Officially, the second nine holes of this David Duval / Tom Weber course was opened for play about a week ago, as I write this, but last week a couple of pigs were “hogging” all the attention, so I chose to write “If Pigs could fly . . .” and now I will get back to more important things – like Golf!

First a little history, as I understand it. There has been a golf course here in Nopolo (the neighborhood surrounding this development, Loreto Bay) for about 25 or 30 years, originally designed by a Mexican Golf Architect and owned by Fonatur. While the surrounding scenery was spectacular, the infrastructure, in the form of irrigation etc., and the maintenance was not of an acceptable commercial nature due to lack of budget and low player usage. When the Loreto Bay project was being planned, the adjacent golf course land was quickly identified as an important amenity for any future development and, after lengthy negotiations, the existing course was eventually purchased from Fonatur and plans were made for it's redevelopment.

Even before the purchase of the “old” course had been completed, there was a lot of marketing excitement raised by the Developer with the announcement of the signing of a contract with David Duval (an American PGA tour professional whose career highlight, so far, was winning the British Open a number of years ago) to design his first “signature” course on the “track” of the original course. Much of the credit for the finished product we now see in Loreto Bay is owing to the hard work of Tom Weber, Duval's associate, who was responsible for the final ground shape as he interpreted Duval's design concept into the actual finished product.

The first nine holes to be completed, which are actually the “back” nine as the finished course now plays, were opened just over a year ago and have been received with great enthusiasm by those lucky enough to have had the opportunity to play the course. (If you haven't already read my earlier posting, “Golf Anyone?” please check back in the archives and you will find a description of these holes.) In addition to the still spectacular surrounding scenery, a great deal of credit for the continuing high quality golf experience, is deserved by Troon Golf, the management company that has been in charge of the operation and management of the new course since the first nine opened.

As soon as the first nine was opened, work began on the re-shaping and re-turfing of the second nine holes and, now, a little over a year later, we are enjoying access to a full 18 hole course. While most of the course was ready to play earlier in the year, the fairway on one hole, the new #2, was badly eroded by last Fall's storms and the repair and time required to grow in the that has been the limiting factor that determined the recent opening date.

Now, on to a description of the new front nine holes. (By the way, for those less than fully adept at Computer 101 skills, if you click on any of the following "thumbnail" pictures they will expand to full screen and be much more legible.) The first hole starts just north of the existing clubhouse, and, with your back to the Paseo (main street), you stand on one of the five tee boxes for this par four that range in yardage between 408 to 287 to the pin, and face a fairway and green that plays the width, east to west, of the golf course land. On your left, along most of the length of this fairway, is the practice range, now also fully turfed but not yet open as the necessary equipment for that operation is not yet in place. (An interesting feature of this range is the fact that there are a number of full sized sand traps scattered over the practice area, which should make even this part of the course a more interesting challenge.) The range is divided from this fairway by a berm running most of it's length, which should help to keep all but the most errant shots on the appropriate side. On your right there are a couple of Nopolo homes overlooking the fairway, but they shouldn't come into any sort of controlled play from these tees. About 2/3 down the fairway on the left side, begins a series of large bunkers that continue up to the rather small green which is also protected by more bunkers close in on the right side and still more behind the hole. With this sort of protection, a good pitching wedge shot will be a valuable tool to find the green from the air, as there is limited access over the ground.

The second hole is to the north from the first green, across the side road that separates the Agua Viva Phase Two from the west side of the Founders Neighborhood. This par five is one of the more challenging holes on the front, with yardages running between 550 and 407 it is the longest of the entire 18 and is bordered by estuary water along it's entire right hand side. After a (hopefully) long tee shot (grip it and rip it time!) you are only going to be approaching another hazzard of this hole, that is, a side channel of the estuary that cuts across ¾ of the fairway, about ¾ of the way to the hole. While the width of this water is not too intimidating, it does cause one to think about club choice for a second shot, to insure clear sailing over the water to the approach areas in front of the green.
Which brings us to the next challenge on number 2. The green is almost 300 degrees of an island surrounded by the same estuary water that you have been playing beside (and hopefully not in) the length of this hole. With a narrow “tongue” connecting it to the fairway and a nasty water-bound slope to much of the green surface, hitting and sticking is the name of the finishing game on this hole.

When you finally are rewarded by the wonderful sound of your ball bouncing into the cup on two, it is time to retrace your steps and go around the water channel that creates the 2nd green, and then past a double green on your left, for holes 4 and 6, before finally reaching the tee boxes for the third hole. I don't know if this next suggestion could be in a future budget, but a nice addition to the spectacular second green you've just left, would be an appropriately decorative foot bridge, leading from the north side of the green across the estuary. This bridge would cut at least 100 yards of walking around the water, for those hardy enough to pull a cart, while anyone riding an electric cart would keep to the current path around the water. However you get there, the par four third hole reaches 407 from the back and 212 from the front and it too has water on the right, but only for the first half of the fairway. On the left ranges a long series of fairway bunkers separating this from the fourth fairway. At the end of the fairway, which stops just short of the tennis centre, the green is partially hidden to the right of a landmark spreading tree, and tucked in behind another sand trap, making for one of the prettier greens on the whole course.

The tees for hole number four are slightly raised from the third green and give you a good perspective on the second longest par 5 of this nine with distances between 517 and 399 yards to the green centre. This wide rolling fairway constricts dramatically beyond about 2/3 of it's length with a formidible series of fairway bunkers on both sides, requiring some some care for both the second and approach shots to stay out of sandy trouble. But the work isn't done yet, as the fourth green (contiguous with the sixth) is raised significantly from the fairway and, as usual, well protected by sand.

Backtracking a bit from the fourth green you find the fifth tees with yardages of between 363 and 278 for a par four. This fairway angles a bit to the right and the wide landing zone is blocked from the green on the right by a large trap with another smaller one on the left of the green. Although I haven't played these holes often enough to have clear recollection about the lay of many of these greens, this large green falls away rather nastilly on the back left which will leave the opportunity for some very challenging pin placements.

Directly adjacent to this green are the boxes for the sixth, at between 438 and 327 yards this companion par four fairway wraps around the previous one in a slight dogleg left with major trap trouble both right and left, leaving a narrow centre neck to the green, which, like the fourth green it is connected to, is also raised from this fairway and backed by a particularly ugly and hidden bunker.

If you've got a long “shaggy dog” story or are trying to close a big sale during a “business” round (God, forbid, this is Loreto after all!) the walk from the sixth green to the seventh tees would be a good time to bore you golfing companions with your verbosity, particularly if you chose to walk and push a cart. You will have to cover approximately the length of the first fairway in the distance from the green to the main road, which you then cross to the Ocean side and walk about half as far again, through what can only be described as rough construction access to the short tee-off area. The seventh hole, a 192 to 131 yard par three, plays across another section of the future estuary system and onto a large raised green with some sand protection in front to the left and on the right side. If you get the impression that I am less than enthusiastic about the access to this hole, I should explain that the “village plan” calls for this tee area to be in the centre of the future town commercial centre and the lengthy walk from the previous green may very well become an interesting and attractive “break” in the first nine. However, bearing in mind the amount of construction still to begin in this area, I fear that the current rough conditions may become worse before they get better.

The eighth hole tees are a bit further back behind the 7th green and this par 4 at between 324 and 219 is the shortest of the 18 holes. But it is also one of the most spectacular views, with the natural rough sea grasses separating you from the the beach on the Sea of Cortez, the landmark “Punta Nopolo” (a rocky outcrop at the far end of the beach) in the distance on the left and the whole of the Founders Neighbourhood streching out to the Sierra Gigante Mountain range as a backdrop. Under these circumstances one can be forgiven (I hope) for being somewhat distracted from the main business at hand – negotiating a dogleg left fairway across a wide stretch of sand to a small but dangerous green, amply protected by sand for the last third on the right side and another trap on the right.

Finally, after retracing your steps a bit to the last set of tees, you find yourself facing a wide undulating fairway of between 195 and 130 yards for a relaxed par three that only gets a bit tricky at the final approach to a large green that slopes off in several directions and has some impressive sand traps to keep you honest before finishing in front of the first cluster of homes to be built in the Founders Neighbourhood.

And there you have it. With maximum yardages on these new front nine holes of 3394 added to the maximums for the “old” back nine of 3335, the total for the newly completed course stretches to 6729 yards, with the front tees playing a reachable 4812. Although I have only walked and played this new half of the course a couple of times, I confess to preferring the “old nine”, however, since I haven't had the chance to play all 18 in one round yet, I can't yet vouch for how the two halves compare when played back-to-back. It's is my opinion that there is perhaps more variety in look and feel of the holes from 10 to 18 than on this latest addition, albeit that there are some challenging and stunning holes on both halves of this course. I guess my main critique of 1 through 9 is the distance that must be covered between several of the holes and the current conditions of that trail particularly between 6 and 7.

Having said that, to have the priviledge to play this quality of course as a Homeowner, living just minutes away from the clubhouse, and currently being able to “walk on” at almost any time and play without booking tee times or feeling crowded from players behind, or held up by those ahead. To enjoy this wonderful game in these spectacular surroundings and to be able to do so at the special introductory price for Homeowners of $25 per nine holes with a pull cart, or plus another $10 for a power cart (slightly higher for guests at the Inn at Loreto Bay, and higher again for those outside of Loreto Bay), well, it really dosen't get much better than that, which is why I believe golf is another important part of “Living Loreto”!