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Besides considering climate and convenience, Troy Post selected Acapulco because construction costs there are still relatively cheap. A club with the dimensions of Tres Vidas simply could not have been built in the United States or in Europe for less than the cost of, say, reconstructing Englewood, N.J. For one thing, the club as envisioned by Post's architects and designers—among whom was the intercontinental dandy Valerian Rybar—called for an incredible amount of handcrafted work, mosaics, carvings, intricately laid patterns of stone and brick. This is artisan stuff. Work of this quality can still be obtained in the United States but at enormous expense and uncertain quality. In our work ethic it has somehow become thought of as unmanly, even embarrassing and suckerish, for a worker to be proud of a masterful job.
That is not the case in Mexico. Whatever faults Mexican workers may have, they do not lack pride or skill. "These people are natural artists," says Post "They've had to use their hands to exist. In our country we've pretty much gotten away from using our hands, but the Mexicans still work on a building the way an artist works on a statue."
Land in Mexico is cheap, too, compared with prices in other choice and convenient locales, particularly considering Acapulco's beauty. There are laws, however, that are meant to regulate the exploitation of Mexican land. No foreigner may own property within 50 miles of the coast. The beaches are for the use of the people. A tourist who is paying $75 per day to lie on the sand has no more privacy than the natives who walk on it for free. On the beaches in front of the very swankiest of hotels on the Acapulco strip, peddlers roam with sunglasses and armloads of huaraches and children come down from the hills to play in the surf.
But the law about owning coastal property has a loophole the Mexican navy could sail through. Hundreds of gringos own homes in Acapulco, for example, by owning control of small Mexican corporations that in turn own the homes. With a good Mexican lawyer or a friend of Mexican citizenship it is simple to acquire at least a long lease on a piece of land on the shore. When Post announced his corporation would pour $20 million into the Mexican economy (some of his Dallas associates say Post has put more than $30 million into Tres Vidas, exceeding his corporate authorization but unlikely to bring complaints from Mexico), the government welcomed him as if he were Quetzalcoatl returning from the sea.
The site Post picked is about 20 miles down the coast from Acapulco, beyond the new airport. He obtained anywhere from six to 15 miles of oceanfront, depending on who tells the story, in a stretch that faces the Pacific and backs up to copra fields, with gigantic Lake Papagayo, six times larger than Acapulco Bay and as yet undeveloped, a few miles farther inland. In contrast to the splendor of Acapulco Bay, with its steeply rising hills that evoke comparison with Hong Kong, Post's land was flat, barren and uninteresting; the gray surf crashed onto muddy sand and there were mountains back in the distance, but one would never have gone there for scenery.
On Good Friday four years ago the Mexican army, with bayonets, moved onto the future Post land, cleared out squatters who had lived there for generations and bulldozed their huts. This move was not greatly popular with the squatters, but real-estate speculators cheered it as progress of the happiest sort. Post himself estimates that since the onset of the Tres Vidas project, land in the area is worth more than 10 times what it cost him to buy it. "The one big reason for the existence of Tres Vidas is to make money on land development around the club," says an Acapulco real-estate dealer. Post admits that the initiation fees, monthly dues and even the exorbitant daily rental on a suite or villa at Tres Vidas can never pay half of what the club cost to build and operate.
"I'm not crazy," Post says. "I didn't go into this to lose my shirt. But I don't intend to make a profit off the members of Tres Vidas. My return will be in the adjoining land, in rising property values." He intends to build a public golf course and other hotels on his land outside the Tres Vidas walls, to create a new Miami Beach-like resort strip, another tourist city reaching down the Costa Chica. Already J. Paul Getty, D. K. Ludwig and Warren Avis are deeply involved in resort developments near Tres Vidas and potential investors step off nearly every airliner into the dazzling heat.
Before developments of the scope of Tres Vidas could be financially successful there had to be better transportation into Acapulco. Post helped to convince the Mexican government to allow airlines other than government-owned Aeronaves to fly directly to Acapulco rather than having to unload passengers in Mexico City. The airline Post had primarily in mind was, naturally, Braniff. "I knew we couldn't get in, though, without taking in several other airlines," says Post. "I don't guess they'll ever thank me for it, but everybody has benefited from this deal."
With land acquired and transportation available, Tres Vidas began to become a fact. An army of 2,300 workers started making furniture and fixtures in wood and metal shops, laying cobblestone streets and walkways, digging wells, making bricks. More than 6,000 palm trees were planted on what had been grassy dunes, and uncountable numbers of flowers, spice and fruit plants were sown about the grounds. By now Post had hired Jimmy Ukauka from Hawaii as executive vice-president to supervise the project and see to the two golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones. Post felt that if his intention of never having to wait in line to tee off were to be realized, Tres Vidas demanded two golf courses for its quota of 800 members. "I belong to six country clubs, and not one of them has as few as 400 members per course," he says. "With those other clubs, too, the members live within driving distance. Our members live all over the world, with the exception of Acapulco. We don't want resident members. So I don't see how our courses can ever be crowded."
Jimmy Ukauka, a golf pro, had known both Post and Jim Ling for years. He and Post are partners in a golf course in Hawaii. Ukauka was not eager to leave the Islands, but he packed up his family and bought a house in Acapulco. To his surprise he found that shallow wells brought fresh water for Tres Vidas grasses and plants. Though the city of Acapulco has a constant water shortage, Tres Vidas seemed to have all the water it could ever need. For a while they even thought the water would be fresh enough to drink, but there was a complication. Although the water is fairly free of bacteria it has a potent mineral content. "Drinking this water is like taking a dose of salts," says one Tres Vidas employee.