Make a run for the border: Mexico's best golf vacation destinations

Winter golf trips to American hotspots never guarantee warm weather. A few years ago, it was so cold in south Florida that iguanas were dropping from palm trees.

And, it seems every year, a freak ice or snow blast suspends a PGA Tour event in Arizona. In December 2013, virtually every state in the union (except Florida) hovered in temperatures no higher than 55 degrees for an extended stretch.

The only sure way to find the sun is a run for the border.

Mexico's best golf destinations never freeze over in the winter and rarely get drenched with a lingering rainstorm. Mexico's war on drugs against the cartels has scared off legions of tourists, leading to better deals and less crowded beaches and tee sheets. For those brave enough to consider a Mexican golf getaway, there are six premier destinations to consider:

Golf in Los Cabos

Best golf courses: Palmilla Golf Club, the Ocean Course and Desert Course at Cabo del Sol, Cabo Real Golf Club, Puerto Los Cabos, Club Campestre San Jose, Quivira, Diamante Cabo San Lucas - Dunes and Diamante Cabo San Lucas - El Cardonal.

Comment: This world-class destination at the tip of Baja California Sur stretches 20 miles from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo. The two towns couldn't be more opposite. Revelers flock to the touristy Cabo San Lucas to party. San Jose del Cabo, a tradition Mexican fishing village filled with art galleries and outdoor restaurants, stays quiet and laid-back. Five-star resorts, restaurants and golf courses line the highway corridor between them. Jack Nicklaus designed most of the courses -- Quivira, the 27 holes at Palmilla, Club Campestre and the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol -- and is working on nine new holes at Puerto Los Cabos to complete his "Marina" course. The ocean views range from holes that play right along the beach to elevated tees where the mountains, desert and the sea collide. If you can swing it, playing the two local private clubs -- Nicklaus' El Dorado Golf & Beach Club and Tom Fazio's Querencia -- takes a visit to the next level. Fazio's Chileno Bay is also private, but the opulent new Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, an Auberge property that debuted in 2017, does have limited tee times for guests. Diamante Cabo San Lucas, a private timeshare and resort community, allows golfers a chance to play its world-ranked Dunes Course by Davis Love III and El Cardonal Course by Tiger Woods if they stay on property and attend a one-time sales presentation. Several resort hotels under construction are scheduled to open in 2018, offering slightly more access for non-members.

Drawback: Many of the beaches along the Sea of Cortes aren't swimmable.

Golf in Cancun/Riviera Maya

Best golf courses: El Camaleon at Mayakoba, Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, Playa Mujeres Golf Club, Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club.

Comment: Some of the best player designers -- Nicklaus, Nick Price and Greg Norman -– have stocked the stretch from Cancun to Playa del Carmen with solid resort golf. El Cameleon hosts Mexico's only PGA TOUR event, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Moon Palace's Dunes nine will both delight and confound. P.B. Dye crafted wild mounding and wavy greens at the fun Playa Paraiso. Many of the resorts are all-inclusive, adding value and convenience for any guest. Mayan ruins and the party-reputation of Cancun provide more entertainment options.

Drawback: The region, generally flatter than Cabo, only provides glimpses of the Caribbean Sea from a handful of holes.

Golf in Puerto Vallarta/Punta Mita

Best golf courses: Vista Vallarta Golf Club, the Bahia Course and Pacifico Course at Punta Mita Club de Golf, El Tigre Golf & Country Club, Litibu and Flamingos Golf.

Comment: Puerto Vallarta's downtown's popular "El Malecon," a boardwalk lined with art galleries and shops along the shores of the Banderas Bay, has drawn tourists for decades, but the more luxurious Punta Mita village 10 miles north has become a more trendy vacation destination lately. The opulent Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita and St. Regis Punta Mita Resort anchor Punta Mita. The ocean dominates the backdrop of Nicklaus' Bahia and Pacifico Courses. Litibu is an under-the-radar Norman course 10 minutes outside Punta Mita with the new IBEROSTAR Playa Mita on site. The Nicklaus Course and Tom Weiskopf Course at the mountainous Vista Vallarta, located well inland, are pretty interchangeable, so there's no need to fret about which one to play. Water frames 12 holes on El Tigre, most impressively at the island green at the par-3 sixth hole.

Drawback: Playing at Punta Mita comes at a cost.

Golf in Loreto

Best golf courses: Danzante Bay Golf Club. Loreto Bay Baja Golf Club.

Comment: Loreto is now on the map for golfers with the December 2017 grand opening of Danzante Bay, a Rees Jones design roaming through canyons and sand dunes before climaxing at a glorious par-3 set on cliffs 250 feet above the Sea of Cortes. Many will come just to play the 171-yard 17th hole, but there are plenty of other memorable moments. The adjacent Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto has a nice mix of pools and good food, either at its buffet eatery or fine dining restaurant. Guests can take a complimentary shuttle into Loreto to stroll about the tiny fishing village and tour its mission dating to 1697, the oldest in the Baja. Most of the recreation revolves around life on the water with excursions to go scuba diving, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, kayaking and whale-watching.

Drawback: Flying through LAX is really the only way to get to Loreto.

Golf in La Paz

Best golf courses: CostaBaja Golf Club. The Golf Club at El Mogote.

Comment: La Paz, the capital city of the Baja California Suhr, took a major hit when Bahia de Los Suenos Golf Club -- Tom Doak's "Bay of Dreams" course -- closed in 2013. The Arthur Hills course at Paraiso del Mar closed for a bit but appears to have reopened as the The Golf Club at El Mogote. Those who enjoy diving, kayaking and snorkeling can stay in La Paz to explore 900-plus islands and inlets in the Gulf of California, with nearly 250 designated as World Heritage Bio-Reserves.

Drawback: Getting to La Paz isn't easy. Only a few U.S. airports fly direct into the city.

Golf in Puerto Penasco

Best golf courses: The Club at Laguna Del Mar. The Nicklaus Design Course at Vidanta Puerto Penasco. The Links at Las Palomas Resort Golf Club.

Comment: No Golf Advisor writer has ever been to the destination to review the courses, but both the Puerto Penasco course by Jack Nicklaus and the Links at Las Palomas by Arizona-based architect Forrest Richardson tend to get good four- to five-star reviews from customers and look beautiful in their resort photos. Las Palomas has a linksy feel as it weaves through sand dunes along the Gulf of California. A second nine holes by Nicklaus are under construction at Laguna Del Mar. Puerto Penasco, run by Vidanta, Mexico's largest golf owner/operator, is probably the headliner when it comes to scenery, although most reviews single out how tough it is. User 'gerardotorres' calls it "the most beautiful course I've ever seen", writing in his review: "This is a great golf course. There is ocean or lake views in most holes. Some of the holes are parallel to the beach. Amazing views and the course is always maintained to perfection".

Drawback: Again, access is an issue. Many Arizona residents simply drive in, but the 2017 U.S. travel warning has scared some tourists off from attempting the trip.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

Related Links

The best way to explain the golf scene in Los Cabos to golfing gringos who have never been there is simple. Take the best courses of Scottsdale -- maybe TPC Scottsdale or Troon North -- and slap them along the Pacific Ocean. Then prop up a few of their tees at least 50 to 100 feet in the air so the panoramic views of the water and saltwater-tinted breezes can engage the senses. The mountains, desert and sea collide in spectacular fashion at the tip of the Baja California Sur. Here's a tour of Los Cabos' five best public places to play.
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The all-inclusive theme of the Riviera Maya in Mexico has bled into the area's golf clubs over the past few years. Leading the charge are the Iberostar Resorts and the Palace Resorts. Guests at these high-end resorts get premier pricing playing golf, but anybody who wants to go all-inclusive on the course can get the same experience for a surcharge. Jason Scott Deegan has more from Cancun.
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The 7,024-yard El Camaleon Golf Club annually hosts the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the PGA Tour's only stop in Mexico or the Caribbean. The Greg Norman design, tucked inside a lavish resort development 40 minutes south of the Cancun International Airport, traverses through three ecosystems: the jungle, mangroves and the beach.
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Make a run for the border: Mexico's best golf vacation destinations