It wasn’t until after I left Puerta Vallarta for a quick stop in Los Cabos that I realized just how big Punta Mita’s Gourmet and Golf event really is. Stepping into the clubhouse at Quivira, I mentioned to my partner for the next 18 holes that I’d just come from a “little food festival” that took place at the Four Seasons and St. Regis, and jaws around the room dropped before I even said the name.
“I’ve been dying to attend that,” a longtime golf writer told me. Another insisted that the golf tournament is high up on his list. And pretty much everyone agreed that they wouldn’t mind staying there for a week or four.
That’s Punta Mita in nutshell. On reputation alone, it has become one of the most beloved, dreamt about vacation destinations in Mexico’s popular Riviera Nayarit region, and well beyond. Every Instagram post is met with heart emojis and followers wishing to visit one day soon. But to almost everyone who attended Gourmet and Golf, this is basically home away from home, as the opening night’s food and drink event felt like a family reunion, with Carl Emberson serving as the patriarch of this grand gathering.
Punta Mita’s Director of Marketing and Operations, Emberson also handles emcee duties, and it was evident by the way he wore his emotion on his sleeve just how special this year’s event was to him and his “family” in the audience. There was no Gourmet and Golf in 2020, for obvious reasons, and so he was choked up several times as he detailed the importance this celebration holds not just for the resort community, but the charities and people that benefit from it. (For example, special guest and LPGA legend Lorena Ochoa shared the efforts of her Fundación Lorena Ochoa and aiding the students and families of La Barranca Educational Center.)
Ochoa was one-third of a crew of special guests that had the crowd buzzing from the start. Fellow pro golfers Jean Van de Velde and Craig Stadler worked the crowd like rock stars, since golf is obviously one-half of this affair, but also because Ven de Velde is the Guest Pro at Punta Mita’s Golf Academy, so he’s basically royalty. And Stadler, well, who doesn’t already adore the Walrus?
The “Golf” aspect of the event takes place over two days and includes both of Punta Mita’s glorious, Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, Pacifico and Bahia. While both boast captivating designs and feature elements that make them incredibly fun for casual golfers, while still challenging to even the pros, the former is far more famous for arguably one of the best holes on the planet: the par-3 Tail of the Whale, which is billed as the “world’s only natural ocean island hole,” but the simpler way to describe it is “absolutely awesome.”
That’s not to say the newer Bahia isn’t also a blast. With every golfer having the opportunity to play both courses over two days (best ball and scramble), the tournament was as much about enjoying the experience as it was winning. There was little wonder why the many participants had ear-to-ear grins as they boarded their shuttles to visit each night’s dining venue.
As much fun as it was to rub elbows with a trio of famous golfers, it was equally thrilling to meet and munch with the baker’s dozen of world-famous chefs taking part. Mind-bendingly delicious lunch and dinner items were prepared and served by Abraham Salum, Abril Galindo, Alfredo Villanueva, Andrew Ormsby, Diane Dimeo, Felipe Armenta, Fernando Martinez Zavala, Juan Manuel Guizzo, Leslie Durso, Sam Choy, Sylvain Desbois, Thierry Blouet, and Yasuo Asai, in addition to host chefs David Vidales, Edgar Torres, Jorge Gonzalez, Manuel Peruyero, and Sergio Chavez.
To say there was a “best” dish would be unfair (and far too difficult to determine), but I haven’t stopped thinking about the host team’s grilled octopus and Choy’s awesome pistachio fried chicken, which was served to guests by Stadler, who should have taken home the award for slowest service (still waiting on my seconds, Walrus).
Phenomenal enough for the food and golf, the event’s biggest stars of the weekend are not the chefs or PGA pros, but instead the properties. It’s obviously unfair to compare anything or anyone to the Four Seasons Punta Mita and St. Regis Punta Mita, because these properties are just… wow. We always know what to expect from such prestigious names, but waking up and walking to the Four Seasons’ blissful infinity pool or sitting down for dinner and enjoying the epic views from the St. Regis Mita Mary Boat Bar and Bistro just push everything over the top. And those are barely even the tip of the iceberg, if you consider the scope of luxury rentals available for everyone from golf foursomes and extended families to couples celebrating milestones and honeymooners just getting started.
Watching the sun set from the fabulous Kupuri Beach Club, I spotted Emberson in the crowd as he made a well-earned victory lap. The tears of his welcome speech had turned into one of the biggest smiles a human face can create. As guests lined up to shake his hand and congratulate him, it was so much easier to see why Punta Mita’s Gourmet and Golf is so important to everyone involved.
It’s not because it’s a chance to play golf on two world-famous courses and eat some incredible food. It’s because it was their chance to show the rest of the world why Punta Mita is so special, and they succeeded. Now, they’ll just need to deal with a much busier clubhouse for next year’s event.