Rees Jones’ new Mexican cliffhanger will give you a peaceful, easy feeling

Developer Owen Perry knows how to throw a party, you have to give him that. To celebrate the grand opening of his Villa del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa, the man invited a few hundred close and personals, his golf course architect – Rees Jones – and his guitar-playing pal Don Felder, the former Eagles frontman. Talk about taking it to the limit.
You can bet the Jose Cuervo was flowing like the mighty Rio Grande down Loreto way when Perry welcomed a goodly gaggle of writers to sip, sup and hack away at Jones’ splendidly lush layout adjacent to the cerulean waters of the Sea of Cortez. Tough gig. If you’ve never heard of Loreto, you’re certainly not alone. It’s a four hour-drive from Baja’s provincial capital of La Paz, and six hours north of Cabo San Lucas, where the golf boom over the past two decades helped fuel a spike in tourism at the southern end of the peninsula. La Paz didn’t fare quite as well, having seen a Gary Player course – and a Tom Doak design south of the city – hit the skids after a brief, greeny existence.
So it took a mighty leap of faith on Perry’s part to roll the dice on a golf resort and residential development in sleepy Loreto, better known for sport fishing and the finale of “The Bachelor’s” seventh season back in 2005. The intrepid Spaniards were the first Loreto investors back in 1697 – followed by Jesuits, Franciscans and Dominicans.
Perry’s Danzante Bay property isn’t meant to cultivate souls, only to give a needed economic jolt to an otherwise underdeveloped piece of pristine Mexican coastline. There is one other development down the road a piece – with a David Duval-designed golf course – but Villa del Palmar is meant to attract a well-heeled horde of golfers once the word gets out.
“When I found this property in Loreto – around 6,000 acres – I thought a golf course would be a great amenity,” Perry said of his Danzante Bay project. “It’s visually stunning – it’s like the mountains of Arizona right on the ocean. I told Rees we wanted a resort course that’s challenging but friendly, so that a guest who doesn’t play that much will still have a good time.”

Jones fulfilled that mandate and then some, and
even threw in a signature par 3 – the 17th – that
ought to join a select club of world-renowned seaside
looks. Precipitous cliff-side tees look down at a
modest-sized, shallow green, which plays far shorter
than 178 yards due to its dead downhill trajectory.
And yes, those are blue whales migrating from
Alaska to Baja in the distance. As if the view wasn’t
distractingly beautiful enough.
The rest of the layout has enough topographical
variety to keep things interesting – meandering
through valleys, arroyos, dunes and foothills.
Mountain views abound, 11 holes face the water
and the winds are unpredictable, though not quite as
furious as the courses on Baja’s southern tip, such as
Quivira and Diamante.
“We’ve kept the green contours mild so that the
putting surfaces are manageable in the wind,” Jones
noted when he joined our group for the back nine.
Allow me one self-aggrandizing anecdote? After
I made two birdies in a row – and lipped out a
third – the U.S. Open Doctor himself was lining
up a 20-footer and asked me for a line. “Rees,” I
admonished him with a smile, “it’s your green, I’m
just trespassing here!” For the record, I misread the
putt and cost him a bird.
Back at the hacienda that evening, the hoi
polloi were gorging themselves on fish tacos and
margaritas and awaiting the arrival of Owen’s good
buddy Felder and his estimable back-up band.
I ambled up to Felder’s suite a half-hour prior to
the downbeat and bugged him with a few questions
about the similarities between music and golf,
his dual passions.
“I think that when people stand on the tee and
envision what they’re about to do, it’s the same
creative side of the brain that I use in the studio,”
he said. “I’m thrilled to walk into a silent recording
studio and have to conceive and create melodies
and lyrics that didn’t exist before – that were literally
pulled out of thin air. That same part of the brain is
what golfers depend on. The mental, physical and
emotional dimensions have to come together on a
given day to make the magic happen – whether in
golf or in music.”
By the time Felder’s immortal guitar licks kicked
off “Hotel California” an hour later, some were
indeed dancing to remember and others to forget.
No matter which, all in attendance were in high
spirits, due to a lethal combination of rock and roll,
free-flowing tequila and deep draughts of sweet
seaside air. No one seemed to heed the song’s dire
warning that “You can check out any time you like,
but you can never leave.” We were headed
for another tequila sunrise.

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