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Sunday December 17 2017
Golfing in the Caribbean
Charles Kinder

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Cancun and the Riviera Maya region has overcome Los Cabos with the most rounds played in Mexico and now boasts the most popular golf destination in Mexico.

Cancun attracts upwards of seven million visitors a year. To golfers, it offers a couple of vintage courses in and around the main tourism area and a host of new ones along the expanded corridor to the south, called the Riviera Maya. This is truly a golf destination set on gaining market share in the world of golf, as it is now the most played area in Mexico with 10 challenging golf courses open for play; 3 more are scheduled to open by the end of 2009 and 5 more by 2010.

Courses in Cancun

It all started with FONATUR’s Robert Trent Jones-designed Pok-Ta-Pok course (today called the Cancun Golf Club) that was part of the original development in the early 1970’s. It is now a playable public type course with value-priced daily fees; new management plans to improve the quality of the course in the next couple of years.

Nearby, the KuKulcan at Hilton Cancun Spa & Golf Resort, formerly known as Hilton Cancun Beach & Golf Resort, is a landmark 426-room property, patterned after a three-tiered pyramid. It offers guests an ocean view from every room and an interesting layout with several sightings Mayan ruins. In 2007, this Mayan playground had a $2 million dollar remake by Pedro Güereca and has regained its credibility as an enjoyable golf course amongst visitors as well as locals.

Four miles north of Cancun on a small, secluded peninsula nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Chacmochuc Lagoon is a budding 930-acre development known as Playa Mujeres Resort; its Greg Norman designed golf course is rated number 11 by BEST’s TOP Resort Golf Courses in Mexico. The resort will eventually feature four luxury hotels (including the Excellence Hotel), a high-end retail shopping, horse stables, a 50-slip marina, and 50-plus exclusive waterfront homes. Playa Mujeres utilized a rearrangement of the site’s native vegetation, notably palms; Norman predicts that “when players walk on that first tee for the first time, the course is going to look like it’s been there for 20 years.”

The Riviera Cancun Golf Course, a Jack Nicklaus signature-design 7,000 yard course, opened in 2008 and is part of the mega Palace Resort Group. The club features a first-class clubhouse and country club facilities, and offers all-inclusive rates that include pick up and return transportation from local hotels and condos, green fees, clubhouse use, and on cart refreshments and snacks. It is located on the hotel zone close to the airport.

Puerto Cancun Golf Course, scheduled to open October 2009, will be an elite 18-hole golf course nestled within 75 hectares of gorgeous ocean and tropical forest views, comfortably lodged between Cancun's hotel strip and the downtown area. This will be the third course in Mexico designed by award winning designer and British Open champion Tom Weiskopf.

Courses on the Corridor

From Cancun you must go south into the Riviera Maya corridor – close to Playa del Carmen and Tulum - to play at some of the best golf resorts in the world.

The first stop along the corridor is the Palace Resort’s Moon Palace with 27 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus. As fine as the course is, and it’s one of the fairest tracks on Jack’s long resume. The Moon Palace course has the distinction of having the most rounds of golf played in Mexico. The Palace Resort itself is a successful real estate venture via their timeshare offering; here you can get a great property with golf privileges and exchange opportunities. Rates here also include local transportation, food and beverage in the clubhouse and on course. Director of Golf Akira Tominaga oversees three Palace resorts properties, including Riviera Cancun and Playacar.

Driving south you will find the El Manglar Golf Course (formerly The Mayan Palace), an exciting executive par-3 Jack Nicklaus design golf course. The par 54 course is filled with radiant white sand traps, pristine lakes, and large greens to delight golf lovers. The lakes and native plant life that make the Mayan Jungle such an extraordinary natural landscape are seamlessly integrated into all 18 holes.

Next door is the mega resort Iberostar Paraiso Maya, home to a great championship caliber course by Pete Dye’s eldest son PB Dye. Iberostar Paraiso Maya, an upscale all-inclusive property with 432 junior suites opened in late 2004. The golf course, located on the west side of the highway, is accessible via tunnel from the resort hotels. While the site was solid rock - caliche, Dye calls it - the water table was low enough for him to dig down 15 feet. “And if I can go down 15 feet, I can go up 15 feet,” he chuckled, referring to his conspicuous mounds and bold shaping. The course is covered with Paspalum from tee to green. Iberostar guests receive preferred tee times, but the course is open to the public; it has hosted the Canadian Tour for the last three years and is the qualifier host for the PGA Mayakoba Golf Classic every year.

Forty miles south of Cancun, OHL, a Madrid-based company, has fashioned a 1,600-acre complex featuring five of Yucatan Peninsula’s best hotels. The hotels at Mayakoba were expertly conceived and are among the finest in all of Mexico. The 401-room Fairmont Mayakoba is a low-rise property that winds through the property with deluxe rooms, suites, and Casitas with lagoon views, or beachfront villas. The Mandarin Oriental Resort offers a hideaway where luxury and natural beauty are in complete harmony with 128 guestrooms within a series of villas. Automobile traffic is prohibited in the entire complex, and guests get around on foot, on bicycles, in golf carts, or in canopied launches powered by electric motors.

Mayakoba features the Greg Norman-designed El Camaleon Golf Course, site of the third annual Mayakoba Classic, the first-ever PGA event in Mexico. TV coverage of the PGA tournament has brought fame to the area and its golf courses. Fred Funk managed to hold on for a playoff win at the site’s first PGA Event in 2007. Brain Gay, in his 293 career start, battled for the title and trophy by winning in 2008 shooting the low tournament score to date of 264. Mark Wilson followed to win earlier this year for a first place prize of $648,000.

Ranked number 4 in BEST’s TOP 30 Resort courses, El Camaleon has sinuous fairways that trace the curve of the meandering waterways, with cenotes and even a few limestone caves in play. Two of the holes are links-style creations routed among dunes near the sea, but for the most part, the golf experience, like the hotel experience, is set well back from the beach and the ocean’s turquoise-blue waters.

The Mayakoba complex also houses several independent real estate developments that are noteworthy. Laguna Kai is a mixed-use resort and residential project that features a 120-room hotel managed by Rosewood. Another part of the master plan is Banyan Tree, the exclusive Singapore-based hotel and Resort Company. Mayakoba also set the stage for Viceroy Riviera Maya themed Urban Retreats and Uncommon Resorts, Kor Group's first international resort.

Courses in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is one hour south of Cancun, and is the major crossroad in this corridor. It is home to the highly-rated Robert von Hagge course at Playacar Golf Club, considered one of the most challenging courses in Mexico at 7,202 yards. Opened in 1994 with a slope rating of 148 from the tips, the course incorporates a number of cenotes, or sinkholes, used by the ancient Mayans to collect rainwater. A common von Hagge characteristic seen here once again is the use of steep mounds to guard long 5 pars, some over 600 yards.

From Playa del Carmen, ferries run on the hour to Cozumel, one of the region’s prettiest seaside towns. The island has unveiled its only golf course, the Cozumel Country Club designed by Nicklaus. Having been granted the first permit in almost 20 years for golf construction in the Yucatan Peninsula, ClubCorp, in conjunction with Diamond Golf Construction, fashioned a championship course that is serving as an ecological model for all future golf developments in the area. From pulverizing rock into bunker sand to hewing trees into lumber for a bridge over a mangrove swamp, this project is an environmental masterpiece. Playa Azul, a lovely family style hotel on the beach across from the golf course has value-priced golf packages.

Beyond Playa del Carmen

Located halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Bahia Principe Residencial Golf Resort is taking shape on 717 acres of tropical jungle area, 223 of which are devoted to 27 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., an executive 9 hole golf course, and a practice center; nine holes are scheduled to open before the end of 2009.

Punta Maroma, designed by Rees Jones, will be built at the Capella Residences and will be the only private golf course on the Riviera Maya. The course is designed in a neoclassic style which can be friendly to members and challenging to all with many different tee locations. Many of the holes feature striking views of the crystal blue Caribbean Sea, with the 9th and 17th finishing directly at water’s edge. In the tradition of great seaside courses, the 18th fairway runs parallel to the water for a finish on the Caribbean.

Great golf experiences await those traveling to this beautiful destination along the Caribbean Ocean.


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