By Greg Niemann
Talk about something new! The flyer from the Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto clearly said “Fishing and Golf Tournament.” Now, I’d been in fishing tournaments before, but I had never, ever, swung a golf club, unless you count when I was a kid trying to putt through a windmill.
Also, while I’d fished Baja’s Loreto area before, I’d never even heard of the Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa at the Islands of Loreto. So it would be something new at someplace new. And what a resort it is!
Located 20 miles south of the historic BCS town of Loreto on the beautiful Danzante Bay, the resort looms out of the desert sand shimmering like a mirage at the water’s edge. Bright green fairways fill the arroyos and rocky hillsides to provide an incongruous yet magical backdrop.
For years Danzante Bay was an almost hidden gem just down the road from the village of Ligui and nearby rustic beach camping sites. The modest Danzante Destination Resort that later graced the bay sold its interests in 2014 to the Villa Group, a conglomerate with interests in about a dozen Mexican resort properties.
With such a dazzling landscape, including a natural bay on the Sea of Cortez backdropped by the bright and rugged Sierra de la Giganta mountains, the Villa Group did justice to nature’s palette.
The Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto is a luxury all-inclusive beachfront resort featuring 181 spacious suites offering 1, 2, or 3 bedrooms, large terraces and incredible views. There are three restaurants that offer everything from comfort food to fine dining, five swimming pools, two tennis courts, and a 39,000 square-foot spa. There are time shares, villas, and home sites available to purchase, and a day use option is offered. Guests can enjoy a plethora of aquatic activities, and a world class golf course!
Along with a business center and meeting rooms, there is a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and gym. The Plaza Café has daily buffets, including a Friday Seafood Buffet with a great paella that left me waddling out of there. There is subterranean parking and the rooms have incredible city views.
Danzante Bay Golf Club
While I can hardly judge golf courses, this one is a dazzler. It made me think of Pebble Beach, but rather than cypress tress gracing the rocky cliffs, think desert. Baja’s newest, and already called Mexico’s best new course, Danzante Bay Golf Club was designed by Rees Jones who laid out the diverse course over rocky outcrops, native desert arroyos, and sand dunes. With an elevation change of 250 feet, the signature hole is the breathtaking par-3 Hole 17.
While the fishing lured me to this Baja outpost, I was encouraged to try my hand on the as-yet totally unfinished course (some holes are played twice). Golf pro Danny Garcia was helpful and patient as I kept missing the ball and/or digging up divots. My group only played about half the holes while the more experienced players went 18 for the gold the next day.
To me, hitting the green on the 17th hole seemed as onerous a task as dropping a marble into a paint bucket from a bridge. I didn’t even want to waste a ball. Yet, golfers regularly pinpoint that clifftop green which is surrounded on three sides by the sea way below. My partner Rich Holland of Western Outdoor News got his second shot on the pinnacle and close enough to chip in, while Joe Shields of the Virginia Sportsman donated a few balls to King Neptune. Sid Dobrin, a principal of Inventive Fishing and University of Florida English professor, just said “Wow,” and called it, “Visually stunning.”
A rewarding finale hole is the downhill 18th, a 520-yard, par 4. From the clifftop back tees, I could hardly see the fairway!
Winning Tournament golfers were Ignacio Gutierrez (1st) who snagged 4 nights in a Resort Deluxe room; Paul Moreno won the 2nd place $500 (U.S.) prize. Moreno, the COO of the Villa Group, donated the money to Casa Hogar (home for kids with no parents or family problems). Cynthia Valdez won the $200 3rd place honors.
The last of the 18 holes are currently being completed to create a 7,107-yard, par-72 course, that according to Bryan Hendricks, Outdoors Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “I can’t imagine a golfer not enjoying this course.”
Chasing Dorado in Loreto
The golf portion of “The Islands of Loreto Fishing and Golf Tournament 2017 by the Villa Group” attracted only 16 participants, but most of us were after the feisty dorado (mahi mahi) hoping to win part of the $100,000 (MXN) prize. Each day of the two-day tourney, a dozen teams left Puerto Escondido to fish the sea around Carmen and Danzante Islands. I only fished the second day, having been humbled on the golf course the first day.
Three of our group (Shields, Holland, and myself) left the aptly named Puerto Escondido (means Hidden) on a boat provided by Wild Loreto for the glassy sea as the sun was rising over Carmen Island. Our skipper Humberto Burgoin Mayoral opted to fish the area north of the island that is often hot for dorado and yielded some small ones the previous day. After a couple of bites and one brief hookup by our team, I landed a 10 pounder that seemed heavier than it was. Maybe I’m just getting old.
At weigh-in, there were several in the 10-12 pound range that missed the money. The winning team, Los Mayates, checked in with a 25.3 pound beauty and claimed $100,000 (MXN), about $5,500 U.S. Second place, with a 14.3 pounder, was the Los Primos team, who won $50,000 (MXN), while the third-place honors and $30,000 (MXN) went to Los Compadres del Dorado with a 13 pounder.
It was a Dorado Tournament but a special prize was awarded to the Maros Team from Cabo San Lucas for bringing in a 279 lb. Black Marlin. The huge fish had to be hoisted from a balcony to be weighed to the delight of the considerable onlookers. Team Maros won a free pass to the exclusive Bisbee’s Los Cabos Offshore Tournament to be held this October. According to Captain Rafael Alvarado, the 10-foot marlin took two hours to land.
The 2nd annual Islands of Loreto Fishing and Golf Tournament 2017 by the Villa Group drew twice as many entrants as last year. Sponsors included Marina Puerto Escondido, Danzante Bay Golf Club, Danzante Tours, Bisbees, Blue Anchor Restaurant, and Outpost Charters.
Next year’s tourney promises to be even better with the golf course completed and a greater awareness of all that Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto has to offer. The spa is top-notch, offering a number of treatments. After swinging that golf club I enjoyed a relaxing back massage.
Guests can fly from LAX to Loreto on Alaska Airlines in less than two hours, and the airport is also served by WestJet from Canada. Highway 1 travelers can access the resort 20 miles south of the historic (1697) town of Loreto. I advise all to take time to explore Loreto, the first settlement in the Californias. The resort has regular shuttles to town.
Baja Bound readers can snag a 15% resort discount, $25.00 U.S. per person off in the spa, and 20% off in the golf shop by referencing the code FISHING17 when making a reservation.
As a long-time Baja Buff, my experience at the Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto was certainly different for me. I personally missed the bouncing dirt roads, the uncertainties of lodging and campsites, the ubiquitous street food, and mingling with the locals. But to a new wave of vacationers, this resort is as good as it gets. I found a beautiful new place, and I tried something new – but I think I’ll go back to putting in the windmills and castles – when I’m not romping Baja’s back roads.
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.