El Tamarindo – Our Private Course

Picturesque setting at the green of El Tamarindo’s challenging 188 yd downhill Par 3!

A good friend and I have kicked around the idea of needing a vacation to start off the new year! Coming out of a cold Canadian winter, we’re looking for warm sunshine, great golf, delicious food and cold beer. We discuss a past trip, playing courses all over Vancouver Island “very” late in the year and remember that each felt like a private golf course. But we need Mexico!

The search for accommodations and golf in the State of Colima, a part of Mexico I’m very familiar with, is easy. I quickly book a great ocean-front, 3-bedroom condo with a fantastic pool and close to restaurants in the port city of Manzanillo. The list of the great golf courses we’ll play is growing.

I’ve told my buddy about the amazing golf courses in Colima many times and he’s motivated. We’ve also done some research on a couple of notable private golf courses in the next State, Jalisco. We hope to include one or both of these courses during the trip. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Attempts to crack the Private Golf Club Barrier

All golf courses, Private to municipal, generate hope and joy for golfers who’ve been inside over the cold winter. I’m confident we’ll love the courses I’m booking in Colima, but I’ve also got my sights set on one very exclusive course, El Tamarindo Golf Club, in Jalisco, about 90 minutes away.

Circa 2011 and pretty compelling reason to want to be here!!

We’ve watched this YouTube and others, read 5-star reviews and spoken with others who are well aware of this exclusive, private golf course. I have two close friends who’ve travelled to this area of Mexico often. Both speak highly about the course but haven’t actually played it. Their reasoning is simple; it’s too expensive and because it’s a private golf course we don’t know how we’d get on it anyway! Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

The property website seems dated and needs refreshing, but it’s manageable. It indicates that the property’s 88 room hotel is completely booked during the dates of our trip. With the room rack rate listed at $200-$495 USD, I find this pretty surprising even in high season. We’re very disappointed to also discover that golf is available for guests of the hotel.

I call the hotel directly and receive, not surprisingly, a Spanish voice recording. I’m hoping for a quick response and leave my phone number, email address and request for one night, two golf-game package. Nada!

Scam or No Scam-That’s the ?

We’d love stay & play but will take drive & play, if we can get a tee time. Armed with trusted Google translate, I go to the website and request a tee time at 10 am on the Wednesday of our week’s holiday, 7 weeks from now.

I’m re-routed and asked for what I translate as a credit card security deposit. It’s stated that the fee is totally refundable if I choose not to play, by giving 24 hours notice. With some hesitancy, I complete the transaction. The site indicates an email confirmation will arrive within minutes. Nada!!

I call my friend at the office and explain that I’ve booked a tee time for 10 am at El Tamarindo. We will have to get away from Manzanillo by 8 am to make it comfortably. He responds exactly as I expected, by putting me on hold to take a business call. I think I heard excitement before the music.

The great condo, rental car and tee times at Altozano Resort, Las Hadas Resort, Colima Golf Club, Club Santiago and El Tamarindo are all booked. Reservations with our great friends at WestJet might be a smart next step!!

4.5 hours direct to Manzanillo + pretzels

The Journey to a Gem

The winter rust has come off with two rounds at nearby Las Hadas GC and one at the amazing Altozano GC about 90 minutes drive time away. We both feel ready for the El Tamarindo experience and hope to enjoy the course, play well and justify the long drive and the $250 USD green fee.

Absolutely no problem getting out of bed and on our way for the 1.5-hour drive to experience a private golf course feel. A quick stop at Kiosko, (Colima’s 7-11) for coffees, waters and snacks and off we go. I’ve been told to keep an eye on the kilometers for fear of missing the turn to the resort.

Subtle and subdued entrance for a 5 star Hotel-Golf Resort

It turns out that the advice was excellent! I have to crank the steering wheel hard left, taking us across the highway to make the set-back entrance to the main gate. We proceed down a steep hill and a winding road on a traditional Mexican roadway of imbedded rocks. Driving a block or two on this type of road is acceptable. What turns out to be a 3-kilometer journey is just outside that tolerable limit. Way out!! We keep thinking we’ve missed the resort altogether. Just moments later we see the entrance and the experience is set to begin.

How Exclusive is Too Exclusive?

A well dressed but not uniformed young man appears at the entrance, with clipboard is hand. He steps up to my driver’s window with a bright smile and a dual welcome, “Buenos días señores,” “Good morning Sirs.”

Jumping into the Spanish dialogue I’ve learned over the winter at Continuing Ed classes in Calgary, I greet him warmly. I ask about his mother’s health, say the day and date and comment on the weather. As a finale, I mention I’m leaving my door closed so the dog doesn’t escape.

His face is momentarily frozen, then smiles shyly and asks what time we are scheduled to tee off. As I answer, he steps closer and unintentionally turns a bit and this allows me to see the tee sheet on his clipboard.

What I see appears to be a completely white sheet with just two names on it. Brian Gancheff, Guest, in the 10 am slot. Dozens of other lines, BLANK!

This photo, of what we know was to come once we are on the course, is largely responsible for keeping us going past the main gate!

I ask Ramon (name tag) if we’re the only two players scheduled to tee it up today. He pleasantly says, without a trace of hesitation, “yes you are but there are other players scheduled on Friday.” Two days away. Seems his “what time is your tee time?” question was unnecessary! Off to bag drop!!

The 5-Star Guest Experience

We’ve wondered for weeks what this experience would be like and here it is. At Bag-drop are three well dressed, very pleasant young males. The three of them likely played rock-paper-scissors to see which two would assist us.

The bags are removed and the car keys turned over to one underage driver. Either the winner or loser of R-P-S, ushers us to the clubhouse. It, like the website, is dated but beautifully appointed. At Guest-Services, two gracious ladies greet and welcome us to El Tamarindo. They ask if we’ve played here before and when told we hadn’t, both smile and wish us a wonderful day!

El Tamarindo’s wonderful Guest Service Ambassadors

I ask how the hotel can be fully booked when there’s absolutely no one around. They explain that the hotel has been closed for several months and that the resort has been sold to The Four Seasons group. The website is somewhat misleading they share and add that the course will close very soon. Both will undergo total re-development, expected to re-open in 2019.

We’re told that we have full access to the club for the day and invited to hit practice balls and use the putting greens. If we wish, we can also have breakfast or enjoy a refreshing shower after our long drive, before teeing off. We’re told that an expert caddie has been assigned for our added enjoyment of the course and that Luis will meet us near the first tee.

A Preview of what Lies Ahead

They direct our attention to a major display of the course layout, included below. This photo does not do justice to this stunning visual. The vast numbers of trees and many ocean-side holes jumps out at both of us. Probably should be asking if they sell golf balls at Guest Services.

Globe covered rendering of the layout of the El Tamarindo GC

My friend very graciously treats me to the game, settles the account and we’re ready to go. Just prior to sending us on our way, the ladies explain the F&B option at the turn. “On the 7th tee, Luis will assist you with the telephone if you wish to pre-order food and drinks,” one lady shares.

The other quickly adds, “Of course, if you’re not in a hurry, you can come to the restaurant to review our menu and wine list after the 9th hole.” Yes, a wine list at the 9th. Wonder what vintage goes with bogey, par, bogey?

The Right Caddy Makes the Day

Our expert caddy who made the day a great experience

Luis, our caddy, is a young man in his early 20’s who looks like he knows his way around a golf club. He’s friendly, athletic, conversational and speaks fluent English. He takes our bags on each shoulder and leads us to the driving range, the putting green and ultimately the first tee. (Skipped the shower!) This whole time, beside the clubs, he carries on both an encouraging and knowlegeable banter between practice shots and putts.

When we answer his question about where we’re from, he says, “I was sure you were Canadian because you’re so respectful.” He asks about our handicaps and makes a suggestion of the which tee of five choices we may wish to play. After checking the course yardages on the card, we concur.

Had to take a shot from that top tee-195 to small green (trap)

As we get ready to tee off, Luis says that he’s fine to run the course with our bags on a cart, if we wish to ride. Otherwise, if we wish to walk, he’ll carry both bags. We exchange a glance, a smile and rhetorically comment, “should we ride or walk? I’m fine with either. Well ok, I think we’ll ride.” All three of us sigh with relief at the very same moment!

Luis displaying His Skills

This young fellow is really a valuable asset on this course. He knows precise distances to greens and very importantly, the yardage over areas that “need” to be carried in the air. It’s obvious he’s played the course numerous times as he’s telling us about the breaks of our putts before we reach the greens. And he’s spot-on!! Twice, when we miss lengthy putts, he goes to the precise spot and hits the putt. Twice he sinks them!

We enjoy the round with him and tell him how important he’s been. He’s very thankful for his caddie fee and lunch, but is really elated with the sleeve of Titleist Pro V’s given to him at the end of the round. His excitement jumps out as he says, “these balls are worth $20-25 to me here in Mexico.”

March is out of the rainy season and thus the “green” after this 170 yd carry looks anything but green however the surface was smooth and putted beautifully
An all or nothing tee shot from a very elevated tee on this 195 yd Par 3

A “9 Hole Turn” like No Other

We skip the 7th hole F&B pre-order because we’re definitely not trying to maintain any pace of play. After 9 holes, Luis takes us to the clubhouse balcony to a specific table covered with a white linen tablecloth. It’s adorned with two china dinner settings and crystal water goblets. A quick check on the back of my fork confirms we have real silverware as well.

Our waitress greets us and invites us to sit. Our water glasses are filled by a young man who promptly leaves. The waitress opens and spreads a white linen napkin on each of our laps. She asks if she can bring us a drink and I reply, “margarita,” embarrassingly too quickly. My friend is far more reserved and calmly says, “Mmmm, yes I think I’ll have one as well, thank you.” We’re presented with leather bound menus and she leaves.

Should we just grab a Snack & Go?

After a brief review inside the cover, we order two full dinner specialties, one chicken and one beef. Both are accompanied by soup and salad and when received, we eat in eery silence. A second rita orer is placed! My buddy orders dessert. I say that I’m fine without. Buddy’s dessert arrives. There’s a brief pause to admire. I then also order dessert!

We invite Luis to join us for the meal but find this is not allowed even if we are from Canada. He does eat but sits far away from us, never taking his eyes off of us. As soon as we rise, he’s ready to go immediately. That’s been exactly 60 minutes at El Tamarindo’s model of a halfway house. This is going to be a dreaded 5-hour round of golf but no one in this group is upset.

Alberta’s Courses prepare us for this stunning Scenery

Banff, Jasper, Canmore and many non-mountain courses in Alberta are famous for the glorious on-course scenery. The same is true here with the ocean vistas including whales jumping, just meters off the shore.

This private golf course, that we “alone” snuck onto this Wednesday in March, has proven very challenging indeed. We’re satisfied with our play and loved the over-all experience. When the Four Seasons reno is complete, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be sneaking back on this course anytime soon.

Our caddy, Luis, is justifiably very proud of several natural features including these massive trees
Whales jumping viewing in the middle of the backswing

To date, 2020, covid-19 notwithstanding, we’ve been unable to determine whether the rebuilding of El Tamarindo has been completed. Late in 2019, during a drive down to Colima from Puerto Vallarta, we discovered the El Tamarindo entrance closed at mid day. We believe we may have been close to last to play the old course and enjoy the excellent service at this golf gem!

Adiós por ahora. ¡¡Espero verte de nuevo!!
90 minutes and counting…

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