Coffee and Golf...Mexican Style!
Story by: Bill Nestor

Argovia Finca in mountains of Chiapas

The Aeromexico prop craft from Mexico City followed the Pacific Ocean coastline with waves visibly crashing into shore.  Heading for five days of golf in Riviera Nayarit on Mexico's west central coast, I decided to first steady my nerves with a good cup of java.  To do that, I was about to land in Chiapas, the southwestern most state of Mexico.  Coffee and tourism are behind only oil as the country's most important products.

From my 3,000-foot vantage, the land looked pristine, underdeveloped, and surprisingly uninhabited.  In the distance majestic Tacana, a 13,450-foot dormant volcano, thrust through the clouds.   Vast, lush agricultural plantations of mango, banana, and exotic flowers became increasingly evident as the plane descended.
 
The land rises quickly east from seaside Tapachula, to an elevation of 7,875 feet, where numerous coffee fincas (farms), located in out of the way places in the region's ruggedly beautiful topography, produce 60% of Mexico's coffee.  Founded by German and Swiss families in the late 19th century, the plantations are today owned and operated by their descendants.

Casita in forest canopy at Argovia Finca

The drive to Hamburgo finca, set at 3,600 feet, 24 miles from Tapachula, took two hours, the first 12 miles on paved road and jolting the rest of the way over rocky, rutted dirt.  The aroma of coffee pervaded the air when passing buildings where coffee was stored, processed, roasted, or where beans lay drying in the open air.

Hamburgo finca is appropriately referred to as a half a block from heaven, perched on a precipice with a 180-dgree view of hills, farmland and Pacific sunsets.  The open-air restaurant on site was an ideal spot to have a cup and take in the panorama.
 
Fourth generation Edleman family members run this large commercial operation that produces hundreds of tons of coffee annually.  “We have 200 full time resident workers and their families living on the finca.  We provide housing, medical care, schools and services for them.  During harvest there are 700 working at the farm,” said administration manager Gustavo Salazar Orduna.  

Four Seasons Punta Mita golf course, Riviera Nayarit

Essence of Mexico's Pacific coast, Riviera Nayarit

Rows and rows of the coffee trees (a variety of tropical evergreen shrub) grow on steep hillsides, down and up the valley.  Hamburgo and the other remote fincas enjoy an almost optimum growing environment of sunlight, humidity, temperature and an annual rainfall of 12+ feet.

“A coffee bean, seed of the coffee plant, is the pit inside a reddish purple fruit. The fruits, coffee cherries or coffee berries, most commonly contain two stones with their flat sides together. Coffee beans contain 0.8 - 2.5 % caffeine, which is one of the main reasons the plants are cultivated,” said Argovia finca owner Bruno Giesemann.

Four Seasons Punta Mita golf course

Power from hydroelectric sources along rivers has enabled mechanization brought from Germany to be used in the production process for more than 100 years - a span well depicted in the coffee museum at Hamburgo.

Diversifying to eco-adventure tourism helped ease financial pressures when world wide coffee prices plummeted, around the time NAFTA was initiated.  Spacious and comfortable cabanas were built at Hamburgo to accommodate overnight guests and maximize vistas.  And when served on the patio outside the lodging, the day’s first cup of coffee delivers an ambrosial morning greeting.

Argovia finca, down the mountain a bit, is a unique organic plantation of both coffee and exotic flowers.  “We produce about 70 tons of coffee annually, grown, processed, and packaged here at the finca.  We ship to markets around the world,” said Bruno Giesemann, the fourth generation, great grandson of Argovia's original owner.  “Our power comes from river turbines, equipment is energy efficient and most of the materials are recycled and/or composted.”
 
Here stone inlaid pathways lead to roomy guest casitas and cabanas set in the forest's canopy with patio/balconies cantilevered over sloping terrain, ideal for rest, bird watching, or sipping the house special.   

 FlamingosGC_(1).jpg

Flamingos Golf Club, Riviera Nayarit

Walking, mountain biking and jeep trails take visitors to vantage points where brightly colored parrots, chacalaca, magpie jays, quetzals, and trograns flock.   Argovia's texamal, a traditional Mexican sweat bath, styled after the ancient Aztec version can be enjoyed for its therapeutic benefits.

The second floor open air, thatched roof restaurant serves an array of scrumptious, authentic Mexican and fusion dishes. It provides a sheltered dining area, both inside and out, to enjoy a delicious meal and a cup of fresh coffee, day and night.

Riviera Nayarit Beach and Golf Resorts
The sunset from my seventh floor room patio balcony at Paradise Village Resort was spectacular, the bright orange globe looming larger the closer it sank to the horizon.  Munching tortillas chips and guacamole, sipping Don Julio Repasado and drinking Negra Modelo, I began to slip into another reality at the all-inclusive oceanside escape.  Paradise lost--the hills of Chiapas 300 miles to the south - Paradise found--the golf and beaches of the Riviera Nayarit.

Swim in the pool or ocean at Punta Mita

Development of Mexico's newest tourism initiative began relatively recently, with plans calling for 3,900 new hotel units, spas, resorts and golf courses to be added in the state of Nayarit by 2011.  Riviera Nayarit spools out along 100 miles of pristine coastline, showcasing white sand beaches, native and migratory wildlife, unspoiled fishing villages and a history dating back to the Aztecs. 

This fall designs by Jack Nicklaus (at Punta Mita) and Greg Norman (in Litibu) will join Riviera Nayarit's already-rich golf portfolio: El Tigre Golf Club at Paradise Village, The Four Seasons Golf Club at Punta Mita, Flamingos Golf Club and The Mayan Palace Golf Club in Nuevo Vallarta.  More are on the boards.

“Nayarit is fourth in the country for dollars being invested--$3.61 billion from the government, Mexican and foreign investors,” said Richard Zarkin, public relations manager for Riviera Nayarit CVB.  “Of the 20 projects currently in development, 15% of the money comes from U.S. investments.  With the ambitious plans for new resorts, hotels and recreational facilities this destination will have a major impact on North American tourism.” 

My first round was at the Flamingos Golf Club, first in the area, a 1978 design on Banderas Bay by Percy Clifford.  Flamingos' mature growth and bordering vegetation clearly defines its layout, intertwined amongst natural areas.  Ample fairways and short rough quickly give way to dense stands of tropical plants that deter venturing in search of an errant shot.  The fairways are firm, adding distance and rewarding any shot down the middle.

Nicklaus island hole 3B at Punta Mita

Flamingos' design incorporates natural marshes, lagoons and estuaries that are pleasing to the eye and habitat for mammals, reptiles and over 100 species of birds. Water on nine of 18 holes adds to the animal diversity and also to the challenge.  Flamingos measures 6,852 yards with a 130 slope from the back tees and 4,697 yards with a 110 slope from the forward markings. 

The open air, thatched roof 19th hole palapa serves authentic Mexican dishes, offering a shaded, cooling retreat to enjoy tequila or cold beer after the round.

Jack Nicklaus designed the Four Seasons golf course at Punta Mita, opening in 1999 the semiprivate club can also be played by Four Seasons Resort guests.  Laid out on 200 acres, it has eight holes on the ocean, generous fairways and greens, and many strategically placed fine sand bunkers. 

Dining at Punta Mita

Five tee markets stretch the course from 5,037 to 7,014 yards, including 19 holes, thanks to back-to-back par threes, 3A and 3B.  The island 3B green is accessible over a sand road when the tide is out, or via an amphibious tank track vehicle at mid tide.   

The resort is enchanting, delivering understated elegance in a setting that has captured the essence of Mexico's Pacific coast and added luxury. 

The Nuevo Vallarta Golf Club at the Mayan Palace resort is a challenging par-71 track poised between the Pacific Ocean and the Ameca River with views of the surrounding Sierra Madre Mountains.  The Jim Lipe design opened in 2001. 

The flat, open topography and ocean front exposure brings the sea breezes into play and makes the wide fairways pinch up.  There are five sets of tees to choose from, ranging from 6,936 to 4,942 yards.

Island Green at Paradise Village's El Tigre Golf Club, Riviera Nayarit

The Robert Von Hagge designed course at Paradise Village's El Tigre Golf Club has twelve holes with water and 144 bunkers, all guarding greens like the Bengal tigers at the arched entrance to the property.  The wide fairways are forgiving, but the undulating fairways and greens present challenging obstacles, as do the 7,239 yards from tips.  Four additional tee boxes are available for mortals.

I dined my last night in Riviera Nayarit at Pescatore Restaurant, dockside at the marina.  The night air temperature was perfect, as was the exquisite meal and my post-prandial espresso.  Actually, the entire trip, of mountain coffee culture, beach side resort living, and superb tropical golf, was good to the last drop.

Bill Nestor writes about global travel, golf, food, nature and lifestyle from his home in Vermont.


For more information visit: 
Aeromexico -  www.aeromexico.com
Chiapas-  www.turismochiapas.gob.mx
Hamburgo -  www.fincahamburgo.com
Argovia -  www.argovia.com.mx
Riviera Nayarit - www.rivieranayarit.com
Mexico- www.visitmexico.com