When you think of Puerto Vallarta chances are good that visions of beautiful beaches, romantic mountain villas, fine dining and colorful Indian natives fills your mind. It has always been one of Mexico's oldest and well known tourist destinations, thanks in part to the 1957 film "Night of the Iguana" starring Richard Burton and Eva Gardner, which brought the spotlight to this one time exotic hideaway along the Pacific coastline.

Elizabeth Taylor and husband Burton moved to Puerto Vallarta during the filming, permanently putting this romantic beautiful city on the international map.

Since that time, this Mexican Coastal town has grown to over 350,000 residents and plays hosts to more than three million visitors a year, and now a new image and title is emerging for the city, the "Golf Mecca of Mexico."

While Puerto Vallarta has always had great golfing opportunities it now boasts seven plus golf courses and is working hard toearn the title and identity as the golfing capital of Mexico. And with the addition of the two newest golf courses, El Tigre at Paradise Village Resort designed by Robert von Hagge, and Mayan Palace Country Club designed by Roy Bechtol at the Mayan Palace Resort, it is well on it's way to holding to achieving that goal.

Von Hagge's El Tigre Course at Paradise Village, which opened earlier in November, is a 7,200-yard, par-72 layout located within the gates of a massive resort with well placed lakes and cleverly placed bunkers and swales.

Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril of the Texas firm of Robert von Hagge, Smelek and Baril, are creators of several of the world's top-ranked courses.

Like El Tigre, the Mayan Palace Country Club (6,856 yards, par-71), designed by Jack Nicklaus and son Jack Nicklaus II, is built on a relatively flat piece of land that is protected by strategically placed lakes and bunkers.

There are already two Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses there (Four Seasons Punta Mita and Vista Vallarta) as well as a Tom Weiskopf Signature Design (Vista Vallarta). Two other courses -- Marina Vallarta Golf Club and Flamingos Golf Resort -- have long been local favorites, particularly the Joe Finger-designed Marina Vallarta course (6,700 yards, par 71) that sits between the beach on one side and Banderos Bay on the other. Natural lagoons and palm tree-lined fairways keep players from overpowering the course.

One reason Flamingos (6,452 yards, par-72) is such a favorite is because its fairways average around 40 yards wide. The chipping areas around the greens put a premium on short-game skills.

Marina Vallarta sits adjacent to the Hacienda Cora hotel where it's not unusual to see guests carrying their clubs across the hotel's pool area to the back gate and alongside the practice area to the Marina Vallarta clubhouse.

The Four Seasons Punta Mita is the crown jewel for golf and luxury here. About 30 minutes from downtown (unless your bus or taxi has to pull over for cattle crossing), the 1,000-acre resort features all the lavishness one associates with a Four Seasons property, including a spa, two restaurants and a 90-unit vacation ownership development.

But the Nicklaus golf course, which opened in 1999, is the main draw, not only for the resort, but also for the entire Vallarta area.

The Punta Mita course (7,014 yards, par-72), with its wide fairways and ample greens, is a near-perfect layout, spread over more than 200 acres, with eight holes bordering the Pacific Ocean or Banderas Bay.

All of the holes here have ocean views, but none more so than hole 3B, known as "Tail of the Whale." This 194-yard, par-3 plays across the ocean to a rocky island green. The only way from the tee box to the green is to walk across a narrow rock bridge. The path is really only available at low tide.

Nicklaus' course at Vista Vallarta is nearly a completely opposite the Punta Mita layout in terms of style and terrain, the later of which dictated the former. The course (7,057 yards, par-72) is built on highly elevated, rolling terrain (reminiscent of the land on which Nicklaus built Sherwood Country ub in Thousand Oaks, Calif.) and features sloping hillsides, dense forests of palms and giant ficus trees and natural creeks.

The adjacent Weiskopf course (7,153 yards, par-72) is built on even tougher terrain, with deep jungles and ravines.

The pair offer as a good a combination of courses that exists anywhere South of the Border. Combine them with Nicklaus' design at Punta Mita, and  the newest golf course designs and it's easy to see why Puerto Vallarta is fast becoming the Golf Mecca of Mexico.

Resources for story:
PGA.com /Steve Pike, PGA.com Senior Writer
Office of the Mayor, Puerta Vallarta, Mexico