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Deep Culture Travel:

Golfers Head South:
The Five Top Golf Resorts in Latin America

by Karen Misuraca, published in The Miami Herald

The Llao
Llao Hotel in PatagoniaVacation resorts in Mexico, Central and South America, are known for tropical beauty, gracious hospitality, and charming, Old World architecture. Nonetheless, when it comes to the perfect combination of a five-star hotel and a world-class golf course, just a precious handful in Latin America are on a par with the famous resorts of Europe and North America. From Argentina to the Baja Peninsula, these are the five that show up on every golfer's dream list.

On a wooded hill between two spectacular mountain lakes in Patagonia's Nahuel Huapi National Park, a masterpiece of a country lodge, the Llao Llao Hotel, was built in 1940. Now a resort, the entire property and the 18-hole golf course were entirely renovated in recent years, with a marina, a luxury spa and swimming pools added. Surrounded by snowcapped Andean peaks, golfers may imagine they are in Switzerland; in fact, this Argentine Lake District is called "Little Switzerland." Menaced by doglegs, tight fairways and battalions of cypress and larch trees, every hole lies within sight of the crystalline lakes, and the 18th presents a thrilling finish with a long, forced carry over water. After golf, river rafting, fishing and scenic drives, guests relax in deep armchairs in the cavernous, timbered lobby by the stone fireplace.

On a private tropical island off Brazil's Bahia coast, the sprawling Transamérica Ilha de Comandatuba Hotel and golf course are surrounded by a blue-water bay and the tranquil lagoons of the Rio Doce. Golfers on the Ocean Course are distracted by a lively parade of yachts and sailboats, windsurfers and jet skis. The 6,928 yard track lies on a palm-studded, flat peninsula where plenty of sand and water create the challenge; Golf Digest called it the "Best Golf Course in Brazil." Deep sea fishing fans gather here for trophy-sized blue and white marlin, sailfish and swordfish. Not into golf or fishing? Surrender to a coconut oil massage at Spa L'Occitane. Take a wildlife boat tour and laze on your lace-trimmed hammock, enjoying ocean views from your suite or beachfront bungalow.

The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica hotel in Costa Rica Arnold Palmer laid a sinuous, sexy golf course on the narrow tip of the lushly forested Papagayo Peninsula, at the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast. Cliff-top tees and greens; deep ravines, and 360-degree views of the ocean from most holes create one of the most exciting golf experiences in Central America. Adding to the fun are erratic winds off the water and the occasional scurrying coatimundi and mischievous monkeys in the trees. Opened in 2003, the low-rise, lavishly-appointed resort is tucked into the mountains above Culebra Bay in a paradise of luxuriant gardens and natural rainforest. Ocean fishing, boating and water sports, and wildlife tours of three nearby national parks keep the non-golfers happy.

On a high bluff above the cerulean Sea of Cortés, in a stark and striking desert landscape, new owners have transformed a beloved landmark hotel on the Los Cabos coast into the One&Only Palmilla, a Shangri-la of bubbling fountains, thousands of palms and oceans of bougainvillea. A Hummer transports you from the airport; your butler unpacks; and the full-service spa, a Margarita on the terrace, and a palapa on the beach await. Palmilla has one of the largest deep-sea fishing fleets in Baja, manned by top crews who guarantee prized game fish—marlin, sailfish and the other large species that bring fishermen from around the world. On twenty-seven holes of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Palmilla Golf Course in the rugged foothills, among century-old Cardon cacti and pinon woodlands, golfers brave dramatic elevation changes and forced canyon carries; the reward is dazzling sea views from nearly every hole. If you can bear to leave the One&Only, the Hummer will take you to another Nicklaus masterwork, the Ocean Course, and Tom Weiskopf's Desert Course, both at Cabo del Sol, a short distance from Palmilla.

Four Seasons Resort
Punta Mita near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico
Secluded in a jungle garden on an isthmus above Bahia Banderas, fringed by twin white beaches and backed by the Sierra Madre Mountains, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, near Puerto Vallarta, is a favorite with golfers. The Jack Nicklaus-designed layout here is a coastal masterpiece with eight breezy oceanside holes. Wide fairways and five sets of tees are the defense against steady winds and narrow approaches, 96 sand bunkers and well-guarded greens. Besides supreme luxury and service, guests enjoy water sports, scuba diving on the coral reef; shopping in Puerto Vallarta and deep-sea fishing. Apuane Spa caters to golfers with a Sports Massage and the "Man for All Seasons Facial," meant to neutralize the effects of the southern sun. Completing this golf destination are the nearby Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf-designed tracks at Vista Vallarta, where fairways roll and twist through a native forest of palms and giant ficus, across creeks and formidable arroyos.

If You Go

Llao Llao Hotel and Resort
Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina 25 8409
(800) 745-8883
http://www.llaollao.com, http://www.lhw.com
Rates start at $175
161 rooms and suites
2-hour flight from Buenos Aires to private airport

Transamérica Ilha de Comandatuba Hotel
Ilha de Comandatuba Hotel
Una, Bahia, Brazil 45690-000
55 11 5693 4929, 4098
Rates start at $250 for two, including breakfast and dinner
370 suites, bungalows and apartments
3 flights a day from São Paulo to private airport

B>Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica
Peninsula Papagayo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
(800) 332-3442
153 suites and villas
Rates start at $335

Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita
Bahia de Banderas
Nayarit, 63734 Mexico
(800) 332-3442
140 rooms and suites
Rates start at $305

One&Only Palmilla
San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S. Mexico 23400
(888) 691-8081
(800) 637-2226
172 rooms, suites and spa villas
Rates start at $325
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