"Not a bad mango in the bunch" is how one golf aficionado described Puerto Vallarta's courses. From the two courses at Four Seasons Punta Mita (prohibitively expensive for those not staying at the hotel) to the Gran Bay at Barra de Navidad, the region is a close second to Los Cabos in variety of play at a range of prices. Well-known designers are represented, including Jack Nicklaus and Tim Weiskopf.
Most of these courses offer first-class services including driving ranges and putting greens, lessons, clinics, pro shops, and clubhouses.
Marina Vallarta. Joe Finger designed this 18-hole course; the $135 greens fee includes practice balls, tax, and a shared cart. It's the area's second-oldest course and is closest and most convenient for golfers staying in the Hotel Zone, downtown Puerto Vallarta, and Marina Vallarta. Although it's very flat, it's far more challenging than it looks, with lots of water hazards. Speaking of hazards, the alligators have a way of blending into the scenery. They might surprise you, but they supposedly don't bite. Go to the course's website to find hotels participating in their "Stay and Play" golf packages. Paseo de la Marina s/n, Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48354. 322/221–0545 or 322/221–0073. www.clubcorp.com/Clubs/Marina-Vallarta-Club-de-Golf.
Vista Vallarta. Some of the best views in the area belong to the aptly named Vista Vallarta. There are 18 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus and another 18 by Tom Weiskopf. The greens fee for the course, which is a few miles northwest of the Marina Vallarta area, is $204. A shared cart and tax are included. Circuito Universidad 653, Centro, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, 48290. 322/290–0030. www.vistavallartagolf.com.
El Tigre. This 18-hole course with 12 water features is at the Paradise Village hotel and condo complex. The greens fee of $180 includes a shared cart, bottled water, practice balls, and cold towels. After 2 pm it's $116. Don't be surprised if you see a guy driving around with tiger cubs in his truck: the course's namesake animals, tigers, are a passion of the club's director, Phil Woodrum. Paseo las Garzas, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63732. 322/226–8190; 866/843–5951 from U.S.; 800/214–7758 from Canada. www.eltigregolf.com.
Four Seasons Punta Mita. Nonguests are permitted to play the 195-acre, par-72, Jack Nicklaus–designed Pacífico course; however, they must pay the hotel's day use fee of 50% of the room rate (approximately $300 plus 28% tax and service charge), which covers use of a guest room and hotel facilities until dark. Reservations are essential. The green's fee is $240, including tax and the golf cart. The club's claim to fame is that it has perhaps the only natural island green in golf. Drive your cart to it at low tide; otherwise hop aboard a special amphibious vessel (weather permitting) to cross the water. There are seven other oceanfront links. Opened in 2009, the Bahía is another stunning 18-hole course. It has more undulating fairways and greens than the first course, but similarly spectacular ocean views—and a high price tag. Punta Mita, Riviera Nayarit, Punta Mita, Nayarit, 63734. 329/291–6000. www.fourseasons.com/es/puntamita/golf/.
Los Flamingos Country Club. Designed by Percy Clifford in 1978, PV's original course has been totally renovated. The 18-hole course in Los Flamingos development, at the northern extremity of Nuevo Vallarta, has new irrigation and sprinkler systems to maintain the rejuvenated greens. The high-season green's fee is $149, including a shared cart, tax, a bottle of water, and a bucket of balls. Carretera 200, Km 145, 12 km (8 mi) north of airport, Nuevo Vallarta, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 48300. 329/296–5006. www.flamingosgolf.com.mx.
Nayar Golf Course at Mayan Palace. This par 70, nearly-7,000-yard course is a natural and technical masterpiece. The course features conditions to fit every player, and was recently redesigned by the celebrated group Nicklaus Design. It's challenging because of the constant, strong crosswinds coming off the ocean. Spotting iguanas is part of the fun and you can keep an eye on the crocodiles sunning in a neighboring sanctuary. The full 18-hole course runs at $195. The fee includes cart rental, taxes, use of the practice range, and return transportation to your hotel. Twilight fees (after 1 pm) cost $145. Paseo de las Moras s/n, Fracc. Naútico Turístico, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, 63735. 322/226–4000 Ext. 4600. www.vidantagolf.com/nuevo-vallarta.
El Tamarindo. About two hours south of Vallarta on the Costalegre is one of the area's best courses. At least six of the holes play along the ocean; some are cliff-side holes with fabulous views, while others go right down to the beach. On a slow day, golfers are encouraged at tee time to have a swim or a picnic on the beach during their round, or to play a hole a second time if they wish. Designed by David Fleming, the breathtaking course is the playground of birds, deer, and other wildlife. It's an awesome feeling to nail the course's most challenging hole, the 9th: a par 3 with a small green surrounded by bunkers. The greens fee is $240, including cart and tax. Resort guests get priority for tee times; call up to a week ahead to check availability. Carretera Melaque–Puerto Vallarta, Carretera 200, Km 7.5, Costalegre, Cihuatlán, Jalisco, 48970. 315/351–5032 Ext. 113.