Mexico’s remote TPC Danzante Bay and Villa del Palmar get your juices flowing
THE ISLANDS OF LOERTO, Baja California, Mexico — If you’re looking for a slice of heaven, a peerless resort that harkens back to the Mexico we all loved in the past and a golf course that will likely be the best you’ll play in many a moon, the Villa del Palmar Resort & Spa and TPC Danzante Bay on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula should be on your immediate bucket list.
Heck, I just got back from there and I’m already trying to figure out how soon I can visit the place again.
The rugged east coast of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico is about a remote a place as you can visit in North America, and that’s a good thing. You have to really want to get here, especially in the areas of this landmass that are not at its northernmost (that’s San Diego and Tijuana) or southernmost (Cabo San Lucas) ends.
It’s this isolation and serenity, combined with jaw-dropping coastal vistas and the friendly local populous that makes the town of Loreto and its immediate region one of the continent’s most desirable destinations to unwind and enjoy.
This package of a-little-bit-of-everything is also what prompted Owen Perry and Luz Maria Torres, who often visited the area by yacht while sailing the Sea of Cortez, to found and develop the opulent Villa del Palmar Resort & Spa at the Islands of Loreto in an expansive cove about 20 miles south of Loreto and four hours north of La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur.
The latest stage of development at Villa del Palmar is the opening of its other-worldly championship golf course – which has been christened as the TPC Danzante Bay. This is what we came for – and as pleased as we were by the quality of golf offered here, the other amenities of this resort are what make a trip truly special.
The resort’s 7,237-yard Rees Jones track plays first through the floor of several canyons surrounded by native terrain and rocky cliffs and then toward the coast and up the side of a mountain, reaching its highest point at the tee boxes of the par-3 17th hole – the signature hole here (shown above) — with its putting surface far below the teeing ground and overhanging the clear blue Sea of Cortez.
The initial phase of Jones’ golf course opened in April 2016 with 11 ocean-facing holes situated near the resort’s hotel. The remaining seven holes, offerings routed through the mountain passes with plenty of forced carries off the tee and rocky surrounds, debuted in December 2017.
With its multiple sets of tees and wide, generally forgiving fairways, TPC Danzante Bay is the best kind of resort golf course, one that can be challenging for highly skilled golfers and fun for the novice or high-handicap player.
“This is a golf course that both avid and casual golfers will want to travel to play, enjoy and experience,” Jones said. “The course has open entrances, pockets, and sandy areas to capture a wayward shot and keep it from going in the desert. We’ve also kept the green contours mild so that the putting surfaces are manageable in the wind.”
I got real familiar with TPC Danzante Bay during my four-day stay at Villa del Palmar, playing five rounds on the course in every type of variable – in the late afternoon and early morning, in the winds and when it was calm, and even in a 36-holes-in-one-day marathon (I liked that the best).
I’m happy to report that the experience here offered variety in every round, with the holes playing differently according to the winds, which can be stout, and the time of day.
Walking you through
The round at TPC Danzante Bay begins with two holes to get you in the swing of things – the 357-yard par-4 first and the 546-yard uphill par-5 second, the latter of which is bordered in the right by a deep arroyo and a 200-foot cliff.
Those holes prepare the golfer for perhaps the stoutest test on the course – the 207-yard par-3 third, whose putting surface juts out onto a point that’s backed by a bluff and fronted by a deep, steep canyon – if the hole is set to the right here, going for that location is a knee-knocking, all-or-nothing proposition.
The par-4 fourth ends at a pedestal green and is played into the wind; it’s easy but not too much so, especially if you are in the wrong section of the putting surface.
The par-5 611-yard fifth hole plays dramatically downhill with the resort’s hotel and Danzante Bay looking like a postcard in the near distance. Holes six and seven, two-shotters of 400 and 483 yards, respectively, run side by side alone in a deep canyon; the latter, which is played downhill with a high-desert backdrop, was, without a doubt, my favorite hole on the course.
The front side ends with the devilish 475-yard par-4 eighth, with a deep arroyo all along the left, and the 180-yard par-3 ninth, which drops 60 feet from tee to green but plays harder that it looks because of the swirling wind that whips through the canyon.
No. 10 is a 533-yard par-5 that gives golfers another chance to make birdie right out of the chute, and you’ll appreciate that quarter when you turn back into the wind for the 437-yard 11th, which seems benign but was difficult because it always seemed to play into the wind.
You’ll be tempted to go for it in two if you hit a good tee shot on the 580-yard par-5 12th, which runs alongside the hotel to a green that’s right on the beach, so go ahead a go for it, the putting surface here is very receptive to run-up shots and the only danger is to the left and short. The green for the 191-yard par-3 13this also right on the water, but don’t be distracted (good luck) as the hole requires you to hit one more club that you think off the tee.
The most difficult three-hole stretch at TPC Danzante Bay is Nos. 14, 15 and 16, all par-4s. The 14thweighs in at 451 yards and has one of the most undulating putting surfaces on the course; even though it’s sheltered a bit because it’s at the base of the dunes, it plays longer than the yardage.
The 15this just 349 yards on the scorecard, but it moves straight up the dune and played into the wind all five rounds that we were there. Likewise, for the 16th, which is even shorter (at 345 yards) but even more uphill, and ends at an elevated green that’s terraced and shallower than its predecessor.
The resort’s description of the famed 17th tells everything you need to know about one of the coolest holes you’ll ever play:
“The transition from the 16th green to the 17th tee gives little indication of what lies ahead. After cresting a ridge, golfers are presented with a dazzling view of the Sea of Cortes 250 feet below the tee. This spectacular 178-yard par-3 plays sharply downhill to a peninsula green yoked by a horseshoe-shaped bunker. The putting surface clings to a rock outcrop and sits high above the glittering sea and distant islands.”
Multiply that narrative by 10 and you’ll barely understand the thrill of seeing the hole in person. In five wind-whipped rounds, I found the green four times on this gem – the other ball lives at the bottom of the Sea of Cortez.
The round at TPC Danzante Bay ends with the epic, downhill 520-yard par-4 with the resort and the bay in the distance. It’s a gorgeous and fitting finish to a wonderful round of golf.
The resort is peerless and perfect
Billed as Mexico’s first “Million-Star Resort,” Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto, flanked by the rugged Sierra de La Giganta Mountains and the Sea of Cortez, occupies a sprawling stretch of quiet beaches, scenic vistas, and astounding natural habitat. Offering every modern amenity and exceptional service, Villa del Palmar is the perfect getaway for families, friends, couples, golf explorers, and many others.
The resort offers guest access to unparalleled sporting opportunities, including world-class fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking, and whale watching. The region is also known for its wildlife, including more than 900 species of fish off the coast in an area that has been declared a World Heritage Site.
There’s also seven pools, three fantastic restaurants, the Sabilia Spa (more than 39,000-square feet of room to relax, enjoy various treatments), a fitness center and a hill-top disco.
Villa de Palmar and the TPC Danzante Bay are best reached by air – the place is a 14-hour drive south from San Diego and six hours by auto north of Cabo. Alaska Airlines offers flights (which take about two hours) from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to the Islands of Loreto. Calafia Airlines provides service from Tijuana and Guadalajara, and WestJet offers flights from Calgary, Canada. More flights to the area are being discussed.