Before lunch, head to the clubhouse for a post-round massage. The El Tigre spa is open only to golfers, and use of the sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and showers is included in the greens fee. Your muscles sufficiently pampered, take a short cab ride to La Laguna, an out-of-the-way seafood place populated by locals. Try the camarones aguachiles, a ceviche-like Puerto Vallarta specialty of shrimp marinated in a green chile and lime sauce.
Work off the meal by strolling through the bustling streets of Puerto Vallarta. Make sure to stop at the Huichol Collection Museum Gallery to browse the town’s largest exhibit of indigenous yarn paintings and at the Galerie des Artistes for a taste of contemporary Mexican art and sculpture.
You’ll have to trek up four flights of stairs to get to the best-kept dinner secret in Puerto Vallarta: a tiny rooftop restaurant called Barcelona Tapas. Order plates of paella and grilled steak with peppers to share, and wash them down with a pitcher of sangria while watching the sun set over the bay.
Arrange an early car for the forty-five-minute drive to the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. The fifteen-hundred-acre property combines old-world charm, natural beauty and modern luxury—and its Nicklaus Signature course makes a serious case for best-in-Mexico bragging rights.
The two nines at Punta Mita are quite different from one another. Each hole on the front side is tucked away from the others, but the back is wide open, including the windswept finishing stretch hard by the Pacific Ocean.
But it’s number three that you’ll remember most. Make that "3b." There are actually two third holes: 3a is a benign one-shotter over land; 3b demands an all-carry 194-yard poke over the ocean to what’s billed as the world’s only natural island green. If the tide is up, an escort will give you a lift in an amphibious cart that can plow through water up to waist high. If the sea is any higher than that, or if for some reason you want to avoid the forced carry, you play 3a instead.
Though it will be tough to resist the urge to play thirty-six, head back for an afternoon in one of Punta Mita’s Tamai pool cabanas. You’ll have your own air-conditioned digs, satellite plasma TV and snacks to keep your mind off all the strokes that got away.
To top off the full day, attend the fascinating evening tequila lecture and tasting at the Four Seasons before settling in for the chef’s special tequila-pairing menu at dinner.
You can’t leave town without eating at Memo’s Pancake House in Puerto Vallarta. The place will be packed, but it’s worth the wait for flapjacks and huevos rancheros. If time permits, walk over to the park on La Isla Rio Cuale in the city center. There you’ll find a statue of director John Huston, whose decision to film The Night of the Iguana here sparked the city’s rich cinematic tradition. (The annual Puerto Vallarta Film Festival, held in November, has become one of the hottest showcases for independent films.)
Then it’s time for one final challenge: the Tom Weiskopf course at Vista Vallarta. Wildly unpredictable and tighter than the Nicklaus design next door, the layout carves through swaths of jungle and hurdles deep ravines. It is sure to keep you on your toes. But the lush mountain scenery will linger in your mind, as will the varied pleasures of this enduringly authentic Mexican town.