An undulating fairway with
Las Palomas beyond the sands.

"The course is a celebration of all that golf was meant to be—but with a twist.  It was born to a Scottish father and a Mexican mother."

Thus famed designer Forrest Richardson, who has put together an 18 hole marvel which represents the first Scottish links course in the desert southwest.

You need a setting like Las Palomas Beach & Golf Resort, near Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, to create the sort of "sea and dunes" venue which harkens back to the origins of the game in Scotland.  The word "links" refers not to chains or bratwurst, as some may assume, but to a Scottish word meaning "ridge".  Paradoxically, the misty sand-ridges of Scottish shorelines are like those along the sun-drenched Sea of Cortez.  Where desert meets sea are heaped huge "blow-outs", mounds of sand carved out by wind and held in place by native grasses.  Only in such topography exist the ingredients for a true links golf course.




The ultimate sand trap.

Puerto Peñasco (gringoized to "Rocky Point") has long been known as "Arizona's beach".  Trouble is, Arizona has no coastline. Until a few years ago reaching the Sea of Cortez from Phoenix or Tucson required a four hour drive along sand-swept desert roads.  Seemingly at the ends of the earth, you arrived to gaze upon a sleepy port town populated mostly by Sonoran fishermen.  There were few hotels or restaurants, and those were lively only when collegians migrated across the border for a spring break of beer busts and general hell-raising.




Aerial view of the Lazy River.

That was then.  In the past five years 5,000 condo units have been built around Puerto Peñasco with billions of Yankee dollars sunk into about thirty new developments of condos and home sites.  The population, swelled by Mexicans in search of construction work, has risen to 65,000 from 20,000 a decade ago.

Although several new hotels have come on line, Las Palomas—a 350-acre golf community located on Sandy Beach—represents the single luxury resort in the area.  Recently I spent several days at Las Palomas sampling the golf, accommodations and resort amenities.

Currently Las Palomas has 400 spacious 1-5 bedroom condos, individually furnished, available as hotel rentals.  My one bedroom unit—like all the others—offered a marvelous ocean view terrace, wireless Internet, satellite TV, DVD, and fully-equipped kitchen.

The master plan calls for 2000 residences, an on-site hospital, and shopping village to be completed within a few years.  The 5000 sq.ft. convention center and 34,400 sq.ft. full-service spa will be ready to receive guests before the end of 2007.

It's safe to say that Las Palomas and the pristine environs of Sandy Beach are en fuego, baby!




Five holes play along
or across waterways

But on the first day God created golf.

I'm not certain which day of Week One the Prime Mover got around to fashioning sand, but it's the first element you notice when teeing up at Las Palomas.  You begin atop a huge sand ridge, gazing down into the verdant fairway of a par four, and then continue to play downward through an obstacle course of hillocks and lagoons until, at Hole Four, you begin to come up again into dune land where holes traverse natural blow-out bunkers with challenging undulations and panoramic sea views.

If you didn't know it before, you quickly come to realize that links golf is often played on tricky ground, with deceptive shifts in elevation amid fairways and baffling rolls along greens. The turf grass at Las Palomas is a new strain of paspalum called Sea Dwarf, which can survive well on water with high salt content.




Hillocks and lagoons contour
the wind-swept course.

Another formidable element is wind, which can sail high shots off line into lagoons (five holes play along or across water) or into bush-infested dunes (trust me; you don't want to spend your day flailing out of them).  On the other hand, it is this fresh sea breeze combined with low humidity which allows you to play eighteen holes comfortably even under a baking summer sun.

Architect Richardson has succeeded in designing a course accessible to all levels of skill.  You can bang away from the back tees over a 7,000 yard/par 72 layout of championship caliber or hit from three closer launch areas which give modest hitters a decent crack at par.  There is even a Hole 19, a tricky little bonus hole running downhill about 100 yards into a rolling green that may cap off your day with a pleasant stroll—or just another touch of bewilderment.  But that's golf, right?

Let's not forget about après golf.  Las Palomas offers several refreshing encounters with water which do not involve wading into lagoons in pursuit of a little white ball. 




Relax in the Courtyard.

Resort amenities include an infinity-edge pool with swim-up bar, water slide, heated whirlpools, and a lazy river.  A few steps away the white sand beach slopes gracefully down into the warm, gentle waters of "God's Aquarium", as John Steinbeck once called the bountiful Sea of Cortez.  Of course opportunities for sailing, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and other water sports abound all along this coast of the Gulf of California, which stretches hundreds of miles southward toward the open Pacific.




Enticing lounge at La Maria Bistro.

Nourishment?  By the time its master plan is completed, Las Palomas will sport a dozen restaurants including everything from gourmet French to sushi bar.  For the moment, however, the focus is on new executive chef Patrick Elie René Louis' La Maria Bistro.

Chef Louis, a bluff and hearty Provençal who has spent many years in Mexico, plans to feature signature fusion dishes which will capitalize on the abundance of regional seafood.  Our delightful evening repasts overlooking the sea included "Mussels in a creamy white wine and mushrooms flavored with the essence of chipotle" (the mussels for which, according to Monsieur Le Chef, he had driven half the night to Ensenada in order to obtain); "Chili Crusted Tuna Steak with red curry paste, peanut sauce with a shrimp cracker and sweet potatoes" (just like mother used make it back in Minnesota); and one of the chef's particular passions, chocolate desserts (he plied us with both "Ivoire, a white chocolate fantasy" and various "folies of macaron" which had us stealing off one another's plates.)




Each condo unit offers
terrace with ocean views.

For all its beckoning stretches of beach and blue water, Puerto Peñasco has always presented one major drawback — accessibility.  Of course with billions of investment dollars at stake, that situation has begun to change.  The new international airport, with non-stop flights into several U.S. and Mexican cities, is just over the horizon.  A new shoreline highway is being built from Mexicali, which will cut considerably motoring time from southern California. A new marina will be part of the Mexican government's proposed "nautical ladder" of port facilities for sailors plying the Sea of Cortez from Cabo San Lucas north to Puerto Peñasco.




Spacious bedrooms are featured
in every unit at Las Palomas.

For now, Las Palomas has put into operation a luxury shuttle from airports in Phoenix and Tucson.  The ten passenger van features air-conditioned stretch comfort with movies and refreshment enroute through Organ Pipe National Cactus National Monument to the relatively hassle-free border crossing at Lukeville and then on into Old Mexico.

For reservations and information go online at this link. The golf special is particularly attractive, offering a luxury ocean view bedroom suite, welcome cocktail, breakfast at La Maria Bistro, gym access and a round of golf, including cart, for $129 per person.

By Jerry Nemanic, Jetsetters Magazine Golf Editor.






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