Nicaragua’s Mukul Resort: You Heard it Here First 0 37

Grab some American, United or Delta miles, clear your schedule and book yourself to Managua, Nicaragua – pronto – for an early look at the next hot place for luxury golf – or tourism, for that matter. 

In the land of Sandinistas, a terrific new golf course by David McLay Kidd has just opened. Who is David McLay Kidd? He built Bandon Dunes on Oregon’s Coast, Tetherow in Bend, Ore., Donald Trump’s Castle Course in St. Andrews and Machrihanish Dunes in Argyll, Scotland.

Mukul Resort, NicaraguaHis newest design is called Guacalito de la Isla Golf Club. It’s near Rivas, on the Pacific Coast about two hours south of Managua. Nearby is the colonial city of Granada. Just north of the resort is the town and beach called Gigante. The region is jungle, undeveloped Pacific cliffs and beaches. Massive Lake Nicaragua lies to the east.

Guacalito – which means little bowl – is part of the Mukul Resort, built by Carlos Pellas Chamorro, one of Nicaragua’s richest men. Pellas is a Stanford business school graduate and billionaire heir to a rum and sugar cane fortune. He may savor Padron cigars and his own brand, Flora de Caña rum, but he’s a savvy head of multinational conglomerate who outlasted the Marxists and is seizing his chance to move Nicaragua into 21st Century tourism.

So, Mukul ain’t cheap: Bohios, or mini-villas, with private pools and decks start at $610 a night, plus 17 percent tax. Rounds for guests go for $145, plus a tip for the forecaddie.

Now, here’s the good news, bad news thing. The good: Fly nonstop 120-140 minutes into Managua from Atlanta, Houston or Miami, and Mukul will send a driver in an SUV to pick you up as part of the cost of lodging. The bad: The ride south. Harrowing is a good word, as horses, pigs, dogs, cows, people and a variety of unlighted vehicles loom out of the darkness while your Nicaraguan driver does his absolute, level best to keep the speedometer glued on 60 miles an hour. The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out this very problem.

Spas? They have seven styles of spa treatment, one for every day of the week. The accommodations are first rate, featuring hand-made furniture and art. The fish and shellfish dishes are exquisite. The ocean views overlooking a broad, white-sand beach are stunning. The terrain and views rival those of the Monterey Peninsula. The lat-long for users of Google Earth are: 11°22’15.91″ N  86°00’36.13″ W.

There’s a protected turtle-nesting beach one cove over. Howler monkeys lounge in trees above the course. Kitesurfers play the wind offshore. In fact, surfers have been going to Rivas for decades, thanks to steady offshore breezes that stand waves up into tight barrels. Plus, everything is cheap in Managua, which will make it hotter for retirees than Costa Rica in about … what time is it?

And the golf? Naturalistic. Minimalist. Resort golf, but good resort golf. It’s the way Kidd designed things back during his Bandon Dunes breakout days 20 years ago, before he started tricking things out, a weakness he now readily admits and which he has since turned away from.

Pellas plans to eliminate the ride from Managua for many guests through construction of an airport next to the resort big enough to handle Iberia Airline 737s, but for starters he’s aiming for the private-jet crowd. There’s a heliport, if you want to spring for the 20-minute flight from Managua.

Want more on Carlos Pellas? Check out his Stanford bio and the crash of a Tan-Sahsa Airlines 727 in 1989 near Tegucigalpa, which he and his wife barely survived and which shaped her philanthropy and his Warren Buffett-style of “inclusive capitalism” — both of which are about to reshape Nicaragua.

The Mukul Resort is destined to be a big-shot, big-money golf resort and ex-pat community, with a heavy dose of Nicaraguan elite mixed in. On the adventure meter, at the moment, this is clearly at the far end of the dial, but that’s because of the ride from Managua. Once you’re inside the towering gates of the Mukul Resort, you are someplace special.

— Dan Vukelich

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Los Cabos’ Quivira: Pebble Beach in Mexico 0 140

Quivira Golf Club No 6

Nicklaus Tested by Beautiful, Severe Baja Terrain

“Have you ever walked the golf course,” I asked Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos’ director of golf, Antonio Reynante.

“My assistants and I tried it once, but we couldn’t get past Number 6,” the fit-looking 35-year-old former mini-tour player told me. “We had to call the shop to come out and take us back in golf carts.”

It wasn’t an indictment of his staff’s physical conditioning so much as a testament to architect Jack Nicklaus’ ability to design a golf course that starts at 30 feet above sea level and climbs to nearly 400.

Quivira Hole No 15 “I thought it was a very challenging yet spectacular piece of property,” Nicklaus said when the course opened in 2014.

“I hope most people will think it’s the most spectacular golf course and the best golf course they have ever seen. And yes, some other people will say, “You have got to be kidding.

That’s an honest appraisal. A cynic might say that Quivira is just a clown’s mouth or windmill away from goofy golf, but in my mind Nicklaus cast aside his usual highly engineered approach; instead, he let Quivira’s landscape dictate an appealing compromise between playability for the vacationing player, visual impact and sustainability.

The result is a track that Golf magazine named “Best New International Course” in 2014. In 2016, Golf Digest gave it the magazine’s Editor’s Choice award for best golf resort in Mexico or Central America.

The Challenge

Part of The Golden Bear’s solution to the challenging elevation changes at Quivira is the longest cart path I’ve ever ridden – 1,500 meters, or just shy of a mile – switch-backing its way 250 vertical feet along the flank of a massive dune-topped granite ridge rising above the ocean.

The ride is both exhilarating and relaxing, much like the first long ascent on an amusement park roller coaster. As you climb between Nos. 4 and 5, the views of the receding golf shop, beach, and the occasional humpback whale breaching well beyond the surf break are reasons enough to pat yourself on the back for choosing Cabo.

Quivira Golf Club Hole No 5Cresting the last switchback to the No. 5 tee box brings a truly vertigo-inducing view – the kind that snaps your senses to full alert, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and announces in no uncertain terms that, yes, your golf vacation has finally begun.

To the left: the Pacific Ocean and a sheer drop of 280 feet. To the right: the ridge rising higher still. To the front: a narrow ribbon of grass leading to an unseen green dangling some 100 feet below the layup spot in the fairway. The putting surface itself is perched 125 feet above the surf.

It’s not often I’m thankful to see a “Cart paths only this hole” sign, but this was one of those times. The thought of our cart launching us a la “Thelma and Louise” into the ocean fleetingly crossed my mind.

Quivira No 6 holeThe Par 3 6th is no less spectacular. I’ll let the course description do the talking: “The tee shot must find and hold a long narrow green that drops off to a cavernous bunker and oblivion on the left.”

“Oblivion” would be the Pacific. From the back tee box, the putting surface is but a speck of green 180 yards away, sky blue above, ocean blue to the left, granite brown to the right.

Multiple Personalities

Quivira Golf Club No 13Once the course turns inland, the rest of Quivira’s holes range in personality from those you’d find on the sandy links courses of Scotland to those you’d find in Scottsdale or tucked in the folds of the hills and ravines of Northern California.

What you’ll likely not find elsewhere, though, are Quivira’s four staffed, on-course food and beverage stations, where complimentary beer, wine, tacos and other hand-held fare are freely offered. The halfway house, called the Oasis, features regional cuisine and a full tequila bar.

Pueblo Bonito Hotel and poolQuivira is part of the Pueblo Bonito family of resorts, which has three Cabo hotels, the Pacifica, an adult-oriented beach-side hotel, the Sunset Beach, a family-oriented hotel sited next to a 161,000-square-foot central food market, and the Greco-Roman-themed Rose Resort. For those seeking extra privacy, affiliated residential communities offer condos and freestanding ocean-view villas for rent.

If You Go

What: Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos, Pueblo Bonita Resort

Where: Cabo San Lucas, Baja Sur California, Mexico

When: Moderate temperatures year-round

How much: Greens fees, $227-$370, depending on season; $213 per round as part of a three-round stay-play package. Rooms start at $466 a night.

All the Pueblo Bonito properties in Cabo offer activities that include swimming with the dolphins, whale-watching, jet skiing and guided fishing trips. All offer a variety of spa treatments.

Getting to Cabo San Lucas is a snap, with easy connections through Phoenix. One wrinkle you should know about: For a reason no one I asked could explain, you can take golf balls in your carry-on baggage on the flight to Cabo but Mexican authorities will confiscate them before you board on your return.

 Dan Vukelich is the senior editor at ABQ Free Press, a former editor at Sun Country Golf magazine and editor of newmexicogolfnews.com. Reach him at dan@newmexicogolfnews.com.

Phoenix’s West Valley Gets a Winner with Victory Club 1 599

Verrado Victory Golf Club

Rocky Foothills Now 7,258 Yards of Emerald Fairways

The Phoenix Metro just got another great new golf course — the Victory Course at Verrado Golf Club in the West Valley — that can be had for an introductory rate of $99, with a replay for $25.

This one’s a must-play for Spring Training fans flocking to the Valley of the Sun to see Cactus League baseball in a couple weeks. It’s off I-10, about 12 miles northwest of the Metro’s western-most Spring Training venue, Goodyear Ball Park, where the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds train.

Designed by PGA Tour player Tom Lehman, the Victory Club was built on a former proving ground for Caterpillar heaviest and toughest earth-moving equipment.

Victory Club at VerradoLehman called his new layout “surreally beautiful.” He said the rugged rock environment dramatically contrasts against “immaculately maintained fairways and greens.”

In every way, he said, “We’ve truly used whatever the land has given us and left the terrain all natural, so it looks like the course has been built right into the land. In fact, I can’t think of another course in Arizona that is quite like it.”

The Victory Club is the first course to open in the West Valley since its sister course, Verrado, opened in 2002. Its opening coincides with Arizona’s peak golf season.

“Because Victory’s debut is so special, we wanted to do something special for our guests, too,” said Doug Foss, director of marketing for Verrado Golf club. “We know there has been a lot of anticipation about the course opening, and I think what people will find when they come and play it is that Tom Lehman has really added another true gem to the Arizona golf scene.”

The Victory Club is 32 due west of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, hard against the White Tanks Mountains.

To play Victory now for just $99, and get the replay, which the club is calling “the bounceback round,” for just $25, visit www.verradogolfclub.com or call (623) 388-3000.

Dan Vukelich, former editor of Sun Country Golf magazine, in Albuquerque, N.M., is the editor of ABQ Free Press, an alternative newspaper. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Golf Travel Writers Association. Reach him at dan@freeabq.com.