Americans much more than Europeans visit Mexico to play golf. Consequently, the courses look and feel as if they were made in the USA. Most of them have been designed by famous American course architects such as Tom Weiskopf, Robert Van Hagge, Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio. Jack Nicklaus has more than 20 courses up and running and plenty more in the pipeline, which is more than he has anywhere else outside of the USA.
The overall experience, including top quality service, is aimed at satisfying the demanding American golfer. So, having passed through the security gate, you will be warmly greeted, your clubs will be strapped to the back of a buggy and you will be well looked after. Even the cost has been tailored for the American pocket and so visitors looking for a cheap alternative to Florida will be wasting their time and pesos.
Despite the fact that there are fast approaching 200 courses in Mexico and that, until she retired a few years back, Lorena Ochoa was the number one female golfer on the planet, Mexicans haven’t embraced golf with as much enthusiasm as one might have hoped. Principally due to the expense, it is still regarded as essentially an elitist sport.
You Can in Cancun
None of which need bother the visitor looking for exceptionally good golf in an interesting country which, barring the odd hurricane, enjoys a benign climate and spectacular scenery.
Although there are some great courses in the interior of the country, especially around Mexico City, Guadelajara, Morelos and along the Pacific coastline, Cancun is the best known golfing area.
How the place came about is an interesting story. Looking for ways to earn more dollars, the Banco de México scoured the country for likely areas for tourism development and selected a pretty inhospitable stretch of coastal swamp that, back in 1967, only had three residents. Cancun, incidentally, translates from the Mayan language as ‘Snakes Den’, which gives a clue as to how unappealing it was at the time. Undeterred, developers began creating what was to become the Mexican Riviera.
The Target is 20 by 2020
The stats are impressive. There are about 150 hotels in Cancun with more than 24,000 rooms that accommodate four million visitors a year. The hotels are strung out along both legs of an island that is shaped like the figure ‘7’. There are bridges at both ends that straddle a lagoon and connect it to the mainland.
And it’s on the mainland that you’ll find the dozen courses that have already been built. More are under construction and the plan is to have 20 by 2020. Most can be found on either side of the highway that runs parallel with the coast and are an inexpensive taxi ride from the hotels.
One of Only Two
Golfers love nothing more than playing a course the pros play, especially if they’ve seen it on TV. And the USPGA tour regularly visits the El Camaleón course at the Mayakoba Resort. In fact, the OHLClassic, as it’s called, is one of only two US Tour events that are held outside of the USA. The other is the Canadian Open.
Just 40 miles south of Cancun on the southern tip of the Gulf of Mexico near Playa del Carmen, the resort reeks of class and quality. The Greg Norman designed seaside course only opened in 2006 but, with the help of the TV exposure, is already one of the best known in Mexico.
Carved through tropical jungle and thick mangroves before emerging alongside a stunning sandy beach, it is simply spectacular. Although easy to walk, it’s also pretty tough around the jungle and holes with water hazards may claim a significant number of balls.
You’ll see quite a few iguana, turtles, loads of furry characters called coatimundi, beautiful butterflies and other fascinating wildlife that will certainly enrich your round.
So stunning is the location, you might very well want to stay a few nights and play the course a couple more times. In which case, you’re spoilt for choice with no fewer than three top-notch, five-star establishments.
With its unique blend of Mexican culture and Asian hospitality, the Banyan Tree offers all the tranquility and comfort you could possibly want. Any one of the 118 elegant and private villas is an ideal place to relax after a round and chill out in the most perfect and peaceful of settings.
The Rosewood Mayakoba offers an equally serene oasis as far removed from the hectic world outside as one could imagine. With 130 exclusive suites, each crafted from indigenous materials, it offers comfort, luxury and tranquility.
The Fairmont Mayakoba resort boasts 401 elegant rooms scattered among the main building and casitas (villas) spread through 47 acres of indigenous jungle. One of the most appealing aspects of the resort is that the various areas are connected by a series of navigable lagoons and guests can travel around on the complimentary ‘lanchas’, canal boats.
Other Places to Play
I played four other courses in the area – Playacar, Moon, Playa Mujeres and Playa Paraiso – which were all well laid out and beautifully maintained. The thickness of the mangrove swamps and jungle varies from course to course but nowhere does it look inviting.
As there isn’t an enormous amount of natural elevation in this relatively low-lying area in and around Cancun, a lot of earth has been moved and intelligent use has been made of the plentiful water features, mostly in the form of lakes and lagoons, which are liberally sprinkled about.
Why We Like It
You can’t beat good ol’ fashioned service, which is what you get at the courses in and around Cancun. We must thank the Yanks for that because they simply won’t tolerate anything less than the best. And the weather is wonderful with an annual average temperature of 26°C (79°F), 3000 hours of sunshine and moderating marine breezes that take the edge of the heat.
While You’re There
Things to look out for, but not necessarily on the golf course, are Mariarchi bands, authentic tortilla chips, dolphins, alligators and tequila. There are hundreds of sites associated with the ancient Mayan civilisation; you should try and take in at least one.