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Golf in Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo

Despite its difficulties, the Marina course has its partisans. People love Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo for its variety, and golfers are no exception. "It's a good mix," said a Santa Barbara developer in the Marina's clubhouse. "They're two different courses, and it's nice to have them both."

Ixtapa Is Not For Everyone. It Is An Early-To- bed place with a limited palette of action: golf, fishing, water sports and--did I mention golf?After dinner at Beccofino, my wife and I went for a drink at a nightclub at the top of a faux lighthouse. We rode an elevator almost ninety feet to find a bushy-haired fellow lip-synching to Elvis Presley's "The Wonder of You." Two couples swayed on a penny-postcard dance floor. We turned and left, grateful to find the skyful of stars where we'd left them.

Yet everyone we met, all week long, seemed content. They like Ixtapa because it is clean, safe, uncrowded and reasonably priced. The smallness that Cortés's scout found so contemptible is now a clear virtue; there are no traffic jams to speak of, no beach or restaurant more than twenty minutes away. There is no need to rush, no point in trying. At our hotel, USA Today didn't reach the gift shop until it was USA Yesterday. The New York Times was but a rumor. The most pressing issue lay in choosing between a mango margarita and a banana daiquiri.

My one difficulty?Finding a first-time visitor. When you reach Ixtapa, your wanderlust ebbs a bit. The happy regulars will tell you that Cancún and Acapulco are overdeveloped, Puerto Vallarta too polluted, Mazatlán too chilly and overrun by the spring-break crowd. Then they start acting like Oregonians, worried that they've said too much, that their secret will be out. "Oh, it's a terrible place, there's just nothing to do," a Wisconsin man insisted over a cold Superior after a morning round at the Campo de Golf. It was his tenth trip to Ixtapa. "The weather is miserable."

Ah, the weather: 340 days of sunshine a year. Even during the rainy season, showers wait politely till evening. In the winter, when Cancún lays hostage to the next deluge, Ixtapa rolls out one idyllic day after the next: afternoons in the eighties, evenings cool enough for a light jacket.

Typically, the rare sprinkle that had greeted us at the airport was gone by the time our cab climbed the cobbled drive to our hotel. A flat-topped pyramid banked into a hilltop, the Westin Brisas Resort Ixtapa stands above and apart from the town's hotel zone, a two-mile strip of beach opposite a string of dull shopping centers. The Westin is too big for its own good, and its food and drink can taste of the assembly line. That said, this is definitely the place to stay in Ixtapa proper--for its relative seclusion and most of all for the view. Each room looks out over Playa Vista Hermosa, the hotel's own pristine beach, framed by the Sierra Madres. Just after dawn, we'd slide open the glass door to our large, very private terrace, nestle into a lounge chair or hammock and watch the show. We might see flying fish breach the surface; or a formation of seagulls, trolling the shore for breakfast; or a silly flitting bird, some Dr. Seuss refugee with a flat, triangular head and outlandishly long tail. For background music, we had the brute song of the surf as it crashed against a jagged promontory.

The same view is on display at the Westin's lobby bar, packed every evening for happy hour, or from the nearby Villa de la Selva, one of Ixtapa's big-deal restaurants, where the fare wasn't quite worth the price. But we liked the view best in the morning, in seclusion, when we somehow felt close to the wild in the middle of a 423-room chain hotel.

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