CostaBaja offers more than just golf
LA PAZ, Mexico -- Chuck Kaye and Don Edwards sat side-by-side on the clubhouse patio at CostaBaja Golf Club one afternoon in mid-December, nursing beers and enjoying the view of the Bay of La Paz. They had sailed in from Southern California earlier in the day, and had spent part of the afternoon getting their land legs by beating balls on the club’s hillside practice range, just across the highway from the resort’s marina.
The two men have visited Mexico often over the years, and Kaye said they’ve gravitated toward La Paz – on the east coast of Baja, about 130 miles from Cabo San Lucas – because of its beauty and easy access to the Sea of Cortez. For the immediate future, the marina would be his home away from home.
“I’ll be here for a few months, staying in the harbor, cruising the Sea of Cortez and playing golf,” said Kaye, a prominent record producer whose wife and daughter were flying in to join him.
Edwards planned to return home the next day and rejoin Kaye this month. He’s so enamored with the area and the culture that he intended to take a Spanish language immersion class here in February.
“I love La Paz because it is Mexican,” Edwards said. “It’s a destination for the Mexicans. So you don’t lose the flavor of Mexico. When you’re in Cabo, they try to accommodate the gringo, and they try to Anglo-ize it and make it Americana. Here, they keep it Mexico, and you don’t lose that flavor.
“And if you go into town,” he added, pointing toward the city, “those people will make you speak Spanish . . . which to me is a wonderful thing.”
Half of the residents who have bought property at CostaBaja, a 550-acre development with 1,200 homesites, are from Mexico. But the resort, less than two miles from the shops and restaurants along the city’s promenade, caters to English-only speakers.
The opening of the year-old CostaBaja Golf Club, a Gary Player design, is one of the area’s newest attractions. The clubhouse, situated near the top of the hill, serves as a showcase for the resort, owing in part to its striking design. As players approach from the parking lot, the eyes are drawn to the marina, visible through a breezeway that runs through the center of the clubhouse. The experience grows richer as players pass through the portal, until finally a panorama emerges of the bay and the city. From there, it’s possible to speculate as to why Spanish explorer Sebastían Vizcaíno, who sailed here in 1596, had the foresight to name this area La Paz, or “peace.”
“The owners really wanted to have a strong visual relationship to the marina and the water, and also the golf course and the 18th green,” said Jessica Sager, senior associate designer for SB Architects, the San Francisco firm that designed the clubhouse.
Player has done an impressive job of taming the rugged desert terrain. The steep site is thrilling, and at times distracting, because of the views from some of the higher spots on the course. (This is only somewhat diminished by power lines that wrap around the north and west sides of the course and are visible from at least five holes.) If the sales staff needs to close a deal, they need only take their client to the sixth tee, the highest point on the course, and let the customer savor all that the area has to offer.
The course’s fun factor is greatly increased by the precipitous drops – some more than 150 feet – from tee to green on several holes. None is more spectacular than the back tee on the par-5 14th, which sits more than 50 yards above the fairway and demands an exacting drive. The site is so severe that, coming off that tee, one almost expects a rock slide while zig-zagging down to the fairway.
While the course was being built, the hotel that overlooks the marina and beach club was gutted, upgraded and infused with a distinctly European vibe. That’s evident in everything from the squared desk lamp and back-lit mirrors to the faux espresso coffee and the glass-enclosed shower in the middle – yes, middle – of the room. The latter feature suggests the hotel is better suited for couples than families, though the resort has other rental units for families around the marina and on the hillside near the golf course.
The 250-slip marina provides easy access to CostaBaja’s greatest attraction.
“What we promote first is the sea,” said Gerardo Rojano, the resort’s vice president of marketing. “If we have people visiting the sea, they’ll visit CostaBaja.”
If, unlike Kaye, you don’t have your own boat, call Grupo Fun Baja, which operates seven boats out of the marina and will tailor any experience you might want on the sea. Locals strongly recommend visiting the uninhabited island of Espiritu Santo, about 20 miles off the coast. Fun Baja arranges day trips and multiday camping expeditions, allowing eco-tourists to snorkel and swim with the sea lions, or simply relax on what is regarded as one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches.
Those who have less time to spare might consider spending a half day swimming with the fishes. Our panga left the marina at 9 a.m. in search of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. Though whale sharks typically are 20 to 30 feet long and commonly weigh more than 10 tons, they’re gentle giants who feed on plankton and small fish. Snorkeling alongside them is a favorite pastime in La Paz.
Despite their size, they can be elusive, but the search is worth the effort. Two hours into our excursion, Julian Salazar of Fun Baja led me on a succession of three dives, bringing us within a few feet of the whale shark’s distinctive checkerboard skin. The sharks seemed benignly oblivious, drifting at a 45-degree angle, mouths open, sucking in food and pumping out the excess water through their gills.
Later, we enjoyed a lunch of beef and marlin burritos on Balandra Beach, just north of La Paz, before returning to the marina at 1:30 p.m.
Like Kaye and Edwards, I found there still was time to get my land legs back that afternoon at the golf course.