Some historians trace the sport of golf back to the Roman game of paganica, in which participants used a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball; however, according to the most widely accepted account, the modern game originated in Scotland around the 12th century with shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes on the current site of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. The actual sport became officially recognized in 1754 when the Scots formed the organization known as the Society of St Andrews Golfers.
Since then, the game has grown in popularity to the point where there are currently more than 32,000 courses worldwide, of which approximately 17,000 are in the United States. Golf is now rapidly gaining popularity in the newly developing countries like China where there are currently less than 300 courses, however hundreds more are under contract; either in the design phase or under construction.
Since golf courses have 18 holes, the 32,000 courses would have a total of 576,000 holes; so let’s assume there are 600,000 golf holes in the world. Each hole may have as many as five or more tee boxes (women, geezers, regular men, championship, pro, etc) but most have only one green. Therefore, we can assume there are at least 600,000 golf greens in the world.
Almost all of these greens are merely an extension of the fairway where the grass is mowed very short and the cup is placed. There are probably less than 1,000 of these 600,000 greens that are islands. In fact, most of these “island” greens are actually manmade peninsulas with a narrow walking path to the green. They are surrounded by water but are still connected to the course by the walking path. It is estimated that there exists only a few hundred greens in the world that are true islands, surrounded by water on all sides and connected to land by a bridge.
Now, for the really interesting fact; there is only one “natural island” green out of the 600,000 greens in the world. It is the third hole at the beautiful Pacifico Course at the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico, located about 25 miles from Puerto Vallarta. This world class course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, meanders along the Banderas Bay and the Pacific Ocean with incredible views on almost every hole. It is such a magnificent tract that in 2008 it was named the top resort course in the world by Conde Nast magazine.
The third hole at the Pacifico course actually has two greens, #3a and #3b; the first is a normal green while the second is the natural island green. The island is a lava rock formation about 200 yards from the mainland that has access only when the tide is out. When the tide is in and the special amphibian cart is unavailable, the golfers play to the #3a green. When the tide is out and you have sufficient skill and an adequate supply of balls, the #3b green provides one of the most challenging and memorable par three holes in the world. This hole is commonly referred to as “The Tail of the Whale”.
For those of us that have been golfing for many years and have played hundreds of courses, there are only a few holes that leave memorable impressions that we’ll never forget. Most often these are very special holes that we’ve seen the pros play on television or holes that absolutely take your breath away as you stand on the tee box. These are generally the longer par 4 or par 5 holes with exaggerated elevation changes, beautiful mountain scenes, or over water tee shots. Very few par 3 holes leave such a memory, however #3b at the Pacifico course is definitely one of them; it’s a sight that you’ll never forget.
One of the most intimidating shots in golf is the approach shot to an island green surrounded by water; it leaves very little room for error! Now, try a 200 yard shot to an island green nestled in a lava rock formation that resembles a catcher’s glove out in the Pacific Ocean. If that’s not enough challenge, throw in a gentle breeze off the Sierra Madres or a nice gust of wind off the ocean and you’ll have your hands full; bring plenty of balls! (The tide was in and the amphibian cart was unavailable the day we played this hole; so after hitting the green with our tee shots, we merely gave each other the putts for birdies, left the balls on the green, and proceeded to the fourth hole!)
The scenic Pacifico course at Punta Mita is joined by the newer Bahia course, also designed by Jack Nicklaus and also having incredible Pacific Ocean and Banderas Bay views with the city and the Sierra Madres as a back drop. Another brand new course located in Litibu, only a couple miles north along this stretch of the Mexican Riviera, is the brand new Litibu Golf Club course that was designed by Greg Norman.
These three beautiful courses located along the Riviera Nayarit, combined with the other six fine courses in Puerto Vallarta, make the region a true golfing destination. There are also a number of new courses in the planning stages that will, in all probability, bring the total to more than a dozen resort courses for visitors to play in Greater Vallarta within three years.
Twenty years ago, you would seldom see golf bags arriving at the small international airport in Puerto Vallarta; this is no longer the case, with the baggage carrousels at the huge modern new airport terminal delivering golf bags all day every day, as the golfing tourists flock to this golfing Paradise south of the border.
So, if you golfers want to have the time of your life, bring your sticks to PV where you’ll find seven months of monotonous winter weather, from November through May, when the average daily temperature is 73*F with virtually no rain. You’ll have at least ten incredible courses to play and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to include the unforgettable #3b hole at Pacifico; the hole with the world’s only natural island green.