Not only is the Yucatan Peninsula Mexico’s’ richest destination in terms of golf courses, it is simply one of the top golf vacation destinations in the world. The region is jam-packed with things to see and do, including numerous ancient Mayan ruins (Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza), the world’s second-largest barrier reef, every conceivable inland eco-adventure, world-class snorkeling, fishing, and diving, endless beaches, quaint towns and bustling urban areas. There are resorts at every price point — both all-inclusive and a la carte; the food is delicious; and the golfing opportunities are exceptional.
For golf travelers, the Yucatan can be broken into three easy pieces: the densely developed Cancun “Hotel Zone” near the airport; the 80 miles of coastline immediately to the south stretching to Tulum — known as the Mayan Riviera or Rivera Maya; and the island of Cozumel, accessible by plane or ferry, that fronts Playa de Carmen, the Riviera Maya’s charming epicenter. Cozumel — a place where you rarely have to wear shoes — has the least golf, with exactly one course, though it is a good one: the Jack Nicklaus-designed Cozumel Country Club, just 15 minutes from the ferry pier. Carved from thick tropical jungle and a vast mangrove forest, the first course in Mexico to be approved as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary teems with reptiles and birds, and has water in play on 14 holes.
Cancun has seen a recent surge in golf offerings with the opening last year of the TPC Cancun, the only course in Mexico that is part of the PGA Tour’s Tournament Players Club (TPC) network. This Nick Price-designed course features extensive bunkering while winding around five lakes. Welcoming and playable — with no rough, wide fairways and plenty of room off the tee — it’s conveniently located to the city’s hotels and international airport.
Another recent addition is Riviera Cancun, an excellent Jack Nicklaus design and Mexico’s best-kept golf secret. Someday the course will anchor a real-estate community, but for now it is a quality daily-fee course — easily the best near Cancun’s Hotel Zone. Riviera Cancun is unique in the region, with a desert feel and each hole isolated from the others. While most nearby layouts are “resort” courses, this is a high-caliber challenge with smaller, undulating greens that are tricky to hold and putt.
The recently renovated 4-Diamond all-inclusive Iberostar Cancun is the only resort in the Hotel Zone with its own on-site course that is also open to outside play. The Iberostar Cancun Golf Club‘s well-groomed design is pleasant to play and showcases extensive water hazards and bunkering, but the show-stealer is the 1,500-year-old Mayan Ruins of El Rey, which run along the signature par-5 sixteenth hole. The other public course in the area is the Cancun Golf Club at Pok-ta-Pok, an understated but attractive course that plays right up to the beach in a few spots and has its own assortment of ancient ruins.
The heart of the Yucatan’s golf is the Riviera Maya, with five important courses by top designers, the highest profile of which is El Camaleon within the upscale Mayakoba resort. Mayakoba boasts three luxury hotels — a Fairmont, Rosewood and Banyan Tree — and this spectacular course, arguably the best in Mexico and site of the only PGA Tour event outside the USA., November’s Mayakoba Classic. Greg Norman’s design is named the Chameleon for the way it dramatically changes character every few holes, with distinct sections carved through jungle, mangrove forest, rocky canyons, around lagoons, and right to the edge of the sea. Water is in play on 15 holes and the first two feature the most unusual hazards in golf: cenotes, or limestone sinkholes common in the Yucatan — essentially gaping cave entrances.
There are two higher-end all-inclusive resorts with their own golf courses in the area: the Iberostar Playa Paraiso and the Moon Palace. The former is a massive complex that contains four connected all-inclusive Iberostar resorts at different price points. All have access to the excellent PB Dye-designed course, carved through dense jungle that frames most holes and often blocks vision from one hole to another. Golfers get plenty of variety, with lakes and exposed rocky waste areas, plus an enormous replica Mayan pyramid framing the ninth hole. The Moon Palace also has different all-inclusive lodging options, with swank golf-course villas for foursomes and a full-service, high-tech golf academy for instruction. The course consists of three very good nines, all designed by Jack Nicklaus. The best of these is the “Dunes” nine, set in hillier terrain flanked by high ridges, so if you are playing 18, make sure the Dunes is incorporated (or simply play all 27 holes). All three nines end right in front of the clubhouse, with dramatic water hazards along the final holes.
The two newcomers to the area include Grand Coral, a Nick Price design next to the coast in Playa del Carmen — a great choice for anyone staying in the city. Part of a real-estate development with no associated hotel, it is open to all visitors and offers a tropical parkland layout with lots of lakes and gleaming bunkers in play amid the indigenous flora.
The all-inclusive Gran Bahia Principe Sian Ka’an Golf Resort & Spa in Tulum has an impressive new Robert Trent Jones II course — the Riviera Maya Golf Club, routed through jungle, mangroves and around several stunning lagoons. The resort is one of the few all-inclusives to include free golf in its room rates; it also has a 9-hole par-3 executive course.
And at last, but not least, you must travel 200 miles West of the Riviera Maya, to live the unique experience of golfing at “El Jaguar” (The Jaguar), located in the north side of Merida, the Capital City of the State of Yucatan, designed by Jack Nicklaus, this course features ancient archaeological vestiges and mysterious cenotes, sacred to the Mayan culture.
This professional golf course offers 18 par holes, 72 with a playing distance of 7282 yards, wide fairways and greens distributed around 11 lakes. Sports shop, delicatessen, 2 lounges and 1 bar, with all the options offered by the YUCATAN COUNTRY CLUB to satisfy players used to the best.
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