Pleasurable golfing in Mexican desert

What a fascinating setup, this part of Mexico: Here, 30 miles south of Tucson , Arizona, and 400 miles north of Mazatlan, Mexico, the Sonoran Desert and the Sea of Cortez meet with dramatic impact. Exotically shaped mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental form a backdrop, their colors shifting with the hours of the day from purple to brown, rust to orange.

For years, Guaymas has been famous for deep-sea fishing. Now golf has come upon the scene. You'll find the San Carlos Country Club at the newish resort area of Bahia San Carlos, 12 miles north of the old port city.

Now don't expect swaying palms or a lush desert oasis. Oh, it's green in all the right places, thanks to frequent watering, but it's the preserving of the natural desert that gives this new course its personality.

Step briskly through the pebbly sand traps, lest you tread on a lurking scorpion. Avoid hitting (if you can) the small, straggly, bird-pecked "hito" trees. Keep calm when tiny, defenseless lizards scuttle across your path. And, yes, that most certainly is some animal's sun-bleached skull and bones out by the fifth green, intentionally left there for "atmosphere."

All holes have Spanish names. Beginning with the first one, El Mirador (the balcony), which is 40 feet above sea level, shooting downhill, you realize this course is anything but easy.

What to aim for? It's hard to know, so deceivingly open is the landscape. How to club for the ever-changing winds swooping down from the mountains, sweeping in form the sea? Yawning barrancas (ravines) wait to snare mishits. There are doglegs and invisible trenches galore. On the greens, tricky dips and slopes, like those in Scotland, make putting elusive. Zooming in on the ninth hole, you find 14 traps barring the way.

Still, it's fun to play, as are most Roy Dye-designed coursms. Besides golf, the club, whose facilities are open to visiting tourists, offers a large swimming pool and more than a dozen tennis courts, equipped with lights for cool night play.

It's blissfully peaceful here. No TV, no radio, only one phone in the whole tiny town. The most attractive place to stay, and on the best beach, is Condominios Pilar. Three other small hotels are priced a bit lower. They all cooperate in various package plans for golfers, tennis players, scuba divers, and fishermen.

The vitals: San Carlos Country Club, Bahia San Carlos, Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. Par 72, yardage 6,717-6,850. Greens fee $10 weekdays, $12 weekends, carts $7 per person sharing. Three day, two-night Golf Getaway Plan costs from Or write San Carlos Country Club, 2744 East Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85716.

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