The view from the first tee box at Vidanta Vallarta—home to the PGA Tour’s Mexico Open, taking place April 27–30—is like the dawn of a new day. In the furthest distance is the Sierra Madre Mountains; the middle ground boasts the landscape of Vidanta’s soon-to-be-completed Vidanta World theme park; the paspalum-grass fairway extends into the foreground.
Like the promise of a beautiful sunrise, no hole layout gives me more hope than that of a short dog-leg right—and that is what I’m staring at from the first tee box. Designed by Greg Norman, I can feel the LIV Golf commissioner and CEO tempting me to cut the corner over a pond with a fade, but I decide to go with whatever voice is on my other shoulder. I play it safe and hit a straight ball down the middle of the fairway, leaving me about 100 yards into the pin. With my 54-degree wedge, I strike my second shot within six feet and sink the putt for birdie. I’m in paradise, indeed.
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta is not only a golfer’s utopia; it’s a playground for foodies, those who enjoy an adult beverage, beach bums, pool hoppers, fiesta goers, live music fans, self-care connoisseurs, and everything in between. The 2,500-acre property on a mile of beach land is home to more than 2,900 rooms (and expanding), three unique golf courses, more than 40 dining options, a chocolate factory, and the world’s first-ever beach resort gondola. Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta is the largest resort in the six-resort portfolio.
Note: Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta is a timeshare, members-only property, but select rooms are available to non-members for reservation.
Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta offers six residences: The Estates, The Residence at Grand Luxxe, Grand Luxxe, The Grand Bliss, The Grand Mayan, and Mayan Palace. The most extravagant of the six, boasting a jungle view with floor-to-ceiling windows, is The Estates. Offering from one to four-bedroom living spaces, The Estates—which often hosts A-list celebrities and PGA Tour golfers for the Mexico Open—provides each room with a personal chef and butler.
During my opulent visit, I stay in the Grand Luxxe Master Suite. With a wrap-around porch, a jungle view sunrise greets me in the mornings, and a setting sun beyond the ocean’s horizon line tucks me in each evening. To get a better feel for the property, I take the Heart of the House Tour—offered to guests once a week—throughout the sweeping 2,500 acres that stretch from the beach to the Puerto Vallarta International Airport.
First up on the tour is a ride through the property’s tunnels which stretch more than 1.5 miles. With more than 5,000 employees on the property, everything that keeps the property humming happens in the tunnels. In the underground transportation system and infrastructure, more than 6,000 bottles of wine move from the wine cellar into the hands of buyers each month, more than 30 tons of linens are transported and washed per day, more than 2,500 pieces of bread are produced per day, and more than 1 ton of chocolate is churned out per month at the underground chocolate factory.
The most exciting part of the tour is the gondola ride. From the jungle launch point to a birds-eye view of the golf courses, beach, and entire resort, through Vidanta World and back, the 20-minute ride shows how vast the property is. The resort stretches two states: from Nayarit to Jalisco. (Fun fact: some 20 years ago, the two states were in two different time zones—which produced chaos for the Puerto Vallarta airport.)
A Golfer’s Dream
The Norman Course is across the Ameca River, separating the two states. The economic impact of the course during the Mexico Open benefits both states. The most epic golf course bridge over the river connects the resort to The Norman Course and The Nayar Course—a forgiving, par 70, 18-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
On the 5th hole at the Norman Course, the authentic Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta golfing experience introduces itself to me. I launch my seven iron about 30 yards off target to the right on a 193-yard par 3. My Srixon ball nestles inches from a creek and two feet away from a three-foot-long baby crocodile. I take a practice swing a safe distance away—because where there’s a baby, there’s a mother somewhere—then I take the quickest 60-degree swing I’ve ever swung, launch my ball back on the green, and run up the hill to relative safety.
The stretch of holes 6 through 9 was the most enjoyable on The Norman Course. Hole 6 is a 588-yard par 5 with water left and right off the tee box; hole 7 is a drivable par 4 at just 275 yards, but the green is small, so being precise with a 3-wood is necessary (a layup isn’t practical as there is a stream that splits the fairway); hole 8 is a 452-yard dog leg right that requires a tee shot of at least 200 carry yards to make it safely over a river; and hole 9 is a 182-yard par 3 over 60 yards of water.
The paspalum grass fairways react much differently than the Bermuda grass I’m used to in Texas. First, the fairway grass is grabby—so taking an extra club on long irons is my approach—but in the paspalum rough, the ball fluffs up nicely. Then, around the greens, things get tricky with chips and pitches on paspalum; if not precise, a double chip is possible.
The home stretch of 16, 17, and 18 on The Norman Course are all double-digit handicap holes, with 16 being the easiest hole on the course as a 520-yard par 5. John Rahm, the 2023 Masters champion, tore apart the Mexico Open in 2022 to the tune of -17, which was enough to hoist the trophy.
The Norman Course is the most challenging of the two 18-hole tracks on the property—but the 10-hole par 3 course presents the most challenging test.
The Nayar Course presents a much easier task than that of the home of the Mexico Open. The greens still roll quickly, however, and there are about 50 bunkers throughout the course, with most of the greens flanked by sand traps.
Like The Norman Course, there are bodies of water throughout. The Norman and the Nayar’s front nine interweave, so it is a tight layout on the front side. The back nine opens up with wider fairways and fewer water threats. Coming down the stretch, the last few holes are an iguana sanctuary; teeing off, striking fairway shots, and putting near an iguana—or five—is not uncommon.
At 8:30 pm, the final tee time, I tee off on The Lakes Course—Vidanta’s beloved, 10-hole, beloved par 3 course. When Tony Finau was in town for the 2022 Mexico Open, he played it with his son every night during the week. The layout is beautiful, water threatens every hole, and the family atmosphere is infectious.
Yes, it is a challenging course, but the aura of the course fosters an approachable environment for those who aren’t avid golfers. Vidanta offers rental clubs, so even if golf isn’t the speed of everyone in the family, a fun night under the lights tossing Titlelists in water should be on everyone’s itinerary.
It’s hard to nail down my favorite hole on the course. The 65-yard third hole presents a challenge with tall cattail grass extending into the sky, making the tee shot a difficult approach over about 30 yards of water. The seventh hole is one of the longest par 3s, and the walk over to the green is through a lit path in the jungle.
Depending on the day—and skill level—The Lakes Course can be a haven of fun or a menacing torture.
When Not Golfing
The filet mignon at Quinto—a rooftop restaurant that offers views of the beautiful oceanfront sunset on one side and the striking moonrise beyond the mountains on the other—is a real treat. Pair the steak with a simple bottle of Santo Tomás 31.8 Tinto, a vino from Baja California, Mexico, and cap the meal with a chocolate lava cake.
For a beachside fine dining experience, the open-air Puerto Manjar, a Latin-American villa-style restaurant, is a great option. There’s no better place to eat and catch the sunset on the property. Start with some ceviche and calamari, followed up with the Nikkei Salmon as the main. The salmon is perfectly cooked and glazed in miso and honey, accompanied by creamy and crispy sweet corn pico de gallo, avocado, poached peppers, lemon, and mustard seeds.
Other fine dining options on the property include Bistro Bleu, serving modern French cuisine; Gong, which offers a tour of Asian offerings; The Burger Custom Made, delivering sophisticated, gourmet burgers; Tramonto, serving classic Italian; and Brezza, an elegant Mediterranean experience.
For authentic Mexican tacos, lunch at the Vidanta Golf Academy near the driving range delivers all the goods. The skirt steak tacos topped with the house-made tomatillo sauce and the fish tacos topped with a creamy fish taco sauce is the perfect way to end a round of golf—or even start one. The fried meatballs are also mouthwatering. Of course, washing it all down with an Arnold Palmer is only suitable.
One of the most fun nights of the week is Fiesta night. Held every Thursday evening on the beach, the party is an authentic Mexican fiesta featuring a mariachi band, merengue dancers, an authentic tour of Mexican cuisine and spirits, and capped off with fireworks and Loteria.
There is a bevy of bars throughout the property ranging from sophisticated, high-class environments to poolside lounging. Cap an evening at Santuario bar, where nightly entertainment ranges from a live DJ to an artist painting a portrait using only sand. For a more relaxed nightcap, the Luxxe Bar is the perfect place to socialize and end the evening with a cocktail and laughs.
After a couple of days spent in the sun on the golf course—or even just bumming it on the beach or by the pool—there’s no better place for restoration and relaxation than the Spatium. As Vidanta puts it, it is “pure pampering.”
I opted for the PGA Tour massage, which worked out the kinks in the muscles I activate while golfing. The 90-minute therapeutic massage eases golf-related stiffness through a plethora of stretching techniques.
Other massage offerings include the Journey Through Ancient Mexico, which is a healing and relaxing massage that harnesses the power of medicinal herbs; the Mediterranean Experience, which fuses therapy with Mediterranean massage secrets; the Discovering India treatment, which is a treatment of the mind, body, and soul using the tradition of Veda; the Around the World massage, which blends treatments from Thailand, Japan, Italy, Indonesia, and the South Pacific; and the Sir Spatium, which is a treatment specially designed for men.
Each massage concludes with relaxation in the outdoor oasis with streaming water and mini-waterfalls or indoors with soothing scents and sounds.
The ultimate punctuation on a Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta getaway is leaving the mainland for a boutique adult-only cruise on Mexico’s first-ever luxury cruise line. The cruise ship can accommodate up to 298 guests and travels around the coast of Mexico to highlight the country’s hidden gems.
After the first hole on The Norman Course, I failed to log another birdie on the next 45 holes of golf I played while at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta. Unlike my golf game, the sprawling beach resort only gets better the more you discover.