A Shark and a Bear
By Rick Young
In nature, the shark and the bear are formidable beasts that inhabit different zones, with each demanding equal amounts of admiration, respect and caution. They are seldom solicitous, let alone cordial.
Defying the laws of nature, there is one place on the planet that the shark and the bear get along with us humans very nicely, thank you…at a lavish seaside resort on the Mexican Pacific, Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta. Here, the shark and bear refer to two of golf’s greatest major champions: Greg Norman (the Shark) and Jack Nicklaus (the Bear). It’s a design tandem of the highest order, where the designers’ separate signature 18-hole courses fly in the face of ordinary expectations.
There’s nothing to fear here. The only safe distance required at either course, quite frankly, is one that keeps your golf ball in play and away from the banks of the Ameca River, accompanying lakes and the Pacific Ocean. Bunkers? Those can be negotiated.
Home of the world’s longest golf-cart suspension bridge (an experience to cross, I assure you) the Norman Signature Design course, which officially opened last fall, is a showcase of the Shark’s design prowess. Playable for anyone, with consideration for the proper set of tees, it makes wonderful use of native grasses, indigenous trees, jungle surrounds and the Ameca River, as it winds its way through 18 holes that are as captivating at the start as they are at the end.
Each hole of the near-7,000-yard, par-72 layout has a backdrop of inspirational views of the Sierra Madres. According to the architect, those on-course vistas are no accident.
“When I fly into a place, I always look at the long views,” Norman said at the official grand opening in November 2016. “It’s easy to get caught up in the fairways, bunkers, greens, but if you take a moment and look around at what’s going on, the beauty happening at all 360 degrees is incredible. I use that to lay out a golf hole. If we know there’s a mountain range or a certain peak in the distance and can capture it and turn a hole towards it, that’s important to me. Here, it was all around us.”
Jack Nicklaus offers golfers an alternative look and feel. The legendary Golden Bear’s effort at Vidanta Nuevo Vallarta nestles next to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean-fed Banderas Bay, with the same Sierra Madres on the other side. It, too, is a golf course with the potential to be enjoyed by players of any skill, with slightly wider fairways than the Norman course but more of premium placed on short-game prowess.
A wide assortment of 49 strategically placed bunkers and seven lakes combine with Pacific crosswinds to make the 6,668-yard, par-70 Nicklaus layout a memorable albeit challenging experience.
“It’s a golf course with tremendous balance,” says Tom Stickney, Golf Magazine Top 100 Instructor and director of operations for the on-site Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf at Nuevo Vallarta. “Your game will be tested but the playing lines remain generous. It’s a ton of fun.”
As is the academy. Vidanta’s state-of-the-art facility one of Mexico’s finest features climate-controlled instructional bays with all of the latest technology, including TrackMan, a SAM PuttLab and force plates. Between them, Stickney and director of instruction Miguel Lizarraga have more than 40 years of experience from a combined 50,000 lessons. Private and group sessions are available.
And that’s not all. The new nine-hole, par-three Lakes course provides another fun option for golfers who want to get a bit more golf in their day or night. The Lakes course will be fully lit for evening and night play when it officially opens this summer.
With the Norman course joining the Nicklaus course, and the Lakes course in final preparation mode, the folks at Vidanta have three fine options plus one excellent academy and all in an area of Mexico that is as beautiful as it is popular.
Award-winning golf writer/author Rick Young is one of Canada’s most trusted voices on golf and matters related to the golf industry. A founding member of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, Young’s articles have appeared in publications throughout North America.