MAZATLAN, SINALOA, MEXICO – Known as "The Pearl of the Pacific," a trip to Mazatlan along the ocean's shoreline proves a genuine gem of authentic and cost-efficient Mexican travel.
The American dollar truly does have legs in welcome-weather Mazatlan, especially for pre and post-round drink and dine.
While the blue collar city may be a few tracks shy of being labeled a true "golf destination" on par with Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya, a diverse trio of Mazatlan resort courses does prove a fine compliment to the region's celebrated 12 miles of beachfront, authentic Old Town restaurants, and game rod scene on the Pacific.
"Mazatlan is a cool, little city by the beach, and tourism is really integrated into the society," said Jorge Corral, 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 sport fishing. 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."
Offering 27-holes of play, the vibrant El Cid Country Club and sprawling resort properties adjacent are located in the heart of Mazatlan's tourism "Golden Zone."
Offering three 9-hole layouts, an engaging mix-and-match may be had across a pair of tight, old school tests and a more modern 9 drawn by a living legend.
"Each nine has its own personality, and the challenges found at say, Estrella de Mar, are different from the ones you'll find at our 27-holes," said 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."
Echoing the skinny, palm-lined fairways and easy green-to-tee segues of classic Southern California course designs, the mid-1970s courses of El Cid's Castilla and El Moro 9's route with strategy demands throughout.
"El Moro is the toughest of the three," added 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."
Tipping at 3,423 yards, El Moro presents a tough closing stretch, highlighted by the deep fairway creek on the 420-yard par-4 7th and the burly distance of the 611-yard "Monster" on the par-5 eighth.
At 3,200 yards, the Castilla Course is the shortest of the 9's and asks for a club-down mentality from several boxes.
To dust off the driver, ensure nine holes at the Lee Trevino-designed Marina Course, which debuted in 1999.
"The Marina nine is more friendly, more open," Salum detailed.
With landing areas far wider than its sister 9's, the Marina, while nondescript at times, nonetheless routes with water throughout, and exclamates in fine fashion with the well-drawn wet hazard found at the 357-yard par-4 eighth.
The newest of Mazatlan's three resort courses, the David Fleming-designed Marina Mazatlan opened in 2009, and, akin to El Cid, is conveniently located in the nexus of the city's tourism activity.
With generous landing areas from the box and large greens, Marina will prove a pleasing travel compliment to the player simply looking to get in one round during Mazatlan travel.
"The golfer will not feel this is a super-difficult place to play," Jorge Franssen, golf general manager at Marina Mazatlan. "So, 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."
Tipping at 6,747 yards and playing at a very-getable 6,232 from the forward tees, Marina proves a confidence builder from the box throughout, keenly drawn with mounded fairway edges to keep tee balls consistently in play.
And while a bit banal across the front side, the course does finish with some serious character.
Featuring lake water (and a handsome, albeit precariously-placed) home along the left, the drivable, 331-yard par-4 16th proves a fun study in shot placement, with most players angling to club-down and fade a hybrid to the generous right side of the fairway, which cambers right-to-left.
On the par-3 ensuing, Marina's lush finish grows stronger with a tough, 191-yard task over forced carry.
"It gets challenging on No. 17," said Franssen. "There is some wind there, and with the need to hit the ball higher to find the green, it is a challenge."
Marina's 602-yard par-5 finisher proves a great dogleg right home hole playing over lake water.
"You'll need a strategy on the 18th because there are two ways to play it," Franssen concluded. "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 and play from the box to the wide part of the fairway to the middle."
The most complex of Mazatlan's courses, the 1996 design from Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is the region's lone oceanside play and flexes its overt muscle annually as home to the PGA Tour Latinoamérica's Mazatlan Open (and further serves as host to the same tour's Qualifying School).
Playing with some stout wind to couple with agreeable sight lines from boxes, Estrella's brass has recognized that the lengthy (7,015 yards), amply-bunkered grounds could be aptly-softened and more readily enjoyed by endeavoring a full-course enhancement of Estrella's seriously-small greens.
Such augments come in response to comments from professionals, resort guests and visitors sporting just a wee bit of national prowess.
"We will re-do the greens," said Brian Werner, managing director at Estrella del Mar. "When the President of Mexico comes out here and tells you your greens are too small, they're too small."
Situated on a superb resort property with nearly four miles of private beach, golf guest may well want to investigate the sandy access after a grinding finish at Estrella, where a formidable quad of closing holes brings prevailing winds into play.
"There are a lot of tournaments that have been decided on the final stretch," said Jorge Corral, golf director at Estrella del Mar.
The final four finds particular muscle on an especially-challenging 421-yard par-4 15th, sporting lake water and bunkering all along the left of the fairway. Two holes later, the No. 2 handicapped par-4 17th flexes further at 459-yards of play, culminating with a severely sloped and narrow putting surface.