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|Nicklaus Design provided a first-rate layout for Cozumel Country Club. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)|
Free golf in a Mexican island paradise? Stay at the Playa Azul Golf Scuba Spa Hotel in Cozumel and you get not just Caribbean views but also no green fees at nearby Cozumel Country Club's first-rate Nicklaus Design golf course.
COZUMEL, Mexico - Maybe your grandmother told you that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Mine certainly did, and that's why I was skeptical when I heard the golf is free on the lovely island of Cozumel.
I got on a plane, I came here, and I kept waiting for the catch. There is one, it turns out, which I'll get to later. But as catches go, it's pretty moderate.
Staying at the Playa Azul Golf Scuba Spa Hotel does indeed waive your green fee at Cozumel Country Club. The small print is pretty big here - you can play and practice from the time the early sun paints the clouds pink on until it drops like a curtain on the tropics.
The club, about five minutes from the hotel, is the only course on this island of about 60,000 people just off the Mexican mainland. It winds around the clubhouse/restaurant at the center to a pretty good length (a touch over 6,700 yards from the back tees), much of it through protected wetlands that hold some interesting Mexican critters.
"Anywhere there's water, there's crocodiles," general manager Benny Campos said.
Being from Florida, I'm accustomed to alligators, but crocs are a different - and supposedly more aggressive - breed. However, officials here say the only things the crocs have ever attacked are other crocs.
The layout is courtesy of Nicklaus Design, with Jack's son Steve the main planner.
Regulars here seem to go sparing on the driver; if you're confident with the big stick I see no reason not to unsheathe it more, "but you'd better hit it pretty straight," Campos warned. "It's basically either the fairway or the jungle. The course doesn't forgive bad shots."
Most of the jungle is lateral, on the periphery. The interior of the course is relatively open, though there are some interesting jungle carries, particularly on the back nine. It's also relatively flat, though the Nicklauses, known for their fondness for bulldozers, built in some nice fairway movement.
The course is all-Bermuda and the greens are excellent, with good slope and undulation, surrounded by closely mown collection areas that usually give you a fair shot at getting up and down.
There are a number of holes that will hold your interest, notably the drivable par-4 fourth hole, the split-fairway ninth and the par-5 16th, with its marsh lay-up off the tee. Several of the par-5s are reachable, offering interesting risk/reward options.
The closing hole is another winner, with a marsh carry off the tee to a fairway difficult to hit, sitting at an angle to the tee box. Your approach is over another strip of jungle to a tricky green.
The only catch regarding the free golf deal is that you must pay cart fees of $25 per person. Walking is not allowed and, at least in the summer heat, you probably wouldn't want to walk anyway.
I still consider it an excellent bargain, for the beauty of the island and the lure of the course itself. It's a track worthy of repeat play; indeed, the wind, typically 10-15 mph, can make it almost a different course from day to day.
Conditioning is very good throughout, and the club has a natural feel, with no houses or condos and only an occasional glimpse of the hotels rising above the mangroves.
Playa Azul Golf Scuba Spa Hotel is a pretty little boutique hotel about five minutes from both the airport and the golf course. It has that soft, appealing Spanish architecture, a pool, a spa and an excellent restaurant. All the rooms have balconies and views of the Caribbean Sea.
There is a nice beach, a dive shop (the diving here is world-class, as you might have heard), thatched huts, Corona - everything you'd expect from a Caribbean resort. For more information, see www.playa-azul.com.
June 26, 2007
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
There are many stay-and-play options in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C region, but none can match the combination of upscale amenities at a reasonable price, the private-course conditions, the diversity of courses and the Interstate convenience of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, Md.
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