CANCUN, Mexico - The Hilton Cancun Golf Club is the Internet dating ad of Mexico golf courses. Forget not being close to what's advertised. It's not even in the same high-end ballpark.
That prince online turns out to be a mama's boy frog in the restaurant. That woman who lists herself as carrying a few extra pounds ends up being a candidate for a Dr. Phil emergency intervention. That golf course in the jungle located between the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupte Lagoon ends up being on a flat, long-ago-commercialized piece of land right behind a hotel where giant mosquitoes, not the much-touted crocodiles, are by far the most likely wildlife sighting you'll make.
Get the idea?
The brochure oversells the Hilton Cancun Golf Club so much that you'll wonder if you're on the right course when you step up to the first tee.
It's not that the Hilton Cancun is engaged in false advertising. Everything it claims in its course literature is true. Technically. In the same way a job applicant who's out of work has been pursuing other opportunities. Maybe, it's the fault of the tourist golfer who reads that a course is in a jungle in Mexico with ancient Mayan ruins along the side and expects a wonder.
Then again, the Hilton Cancun Golf Club does charge a $175 greens fee ($125 for Hilton guests). It's clearly set up to be perceived as a high-end resort course.
"Do you know what you can buy for $175 U.S. in Mexico?" vacationing English golfer Ian McKuen asked.
You'd at least expect to get a golf course that is maintained to standard resort levels. This trip to Mexico showed Hilton Cancun Golf Club to be anything but. Director of Golf Julio Viscontti noted that the course had "a few rough spots" in the early summer low season before sending a writer out onto the course. But that it's summer excuse could not brush away the array of unfixed divot digs in the tee box, the unchecked deep brown patches in the fairways and several huge puddles.
Not when you're still paying full price. These are the types of conditioning problems you might expect in a neighborhood muni. Found in a $175 resort course, they are just sort of depressing.
Even if it was in pristine condition, the Hilton Cancun Golf Club is unlikely to satisfy golf thrill seekers. No. 14 - its supposed-to-be-dramatic, water-carry par 3, the one that has "Signature Hole" above it in the fancy yardage book - comes with highway noise in the background.
The Mayan El Rey Ruins, which date back to 300 A.D. and are featured heavily in course promotion, are stones set far behind a chain-link fence along No. 16. It's hard to get lost in history when you're staring at it in the distance through a common fence.
In fact, Hilton Cancun Golf Club could be mistaken as a cookie cutter resort course in a number of communities across the U.S. There are the requisite par 3s with water (Nos. 3, 8, 12 and 14). There are the two dogleg par 5s (Nos. 5 and 11). There's the easy par 4 followed by the tough par 4 (Nos. 17 and 18). This is golf design by rote with little that's likely to stick in your memory.
There are signs on the course telling you what types of exotic wildlife you're liable to run into, printed rules that include the line "Crocodiles should be considered an immovable obstruction." But the crocs must have been on vacation this day. The lagoon off No. 12 that's supposed to be home to plenty of the beasts stood as still and quiet as could be. In truth, you're much more likely to run into a creature in Kiawah Island, S.C. (okay, so they have alligators, not crocs).
Which is really no surprise when you consider Hilton Cancun Golf Club's true setting. The towering Hilton is the most noticeably visible landmark throughout the course. The tourist heavy streets of downtown are only a short golf cart ride away. This place is about as secluded as Disney World. You'll see some iguanas, Mexico's version of the squirrel.
Don't mistake Hilton Cancun Golf Club for one of them. This 11-year-old course began its life under Japanese corporate ownership and is one of the older ones in Cancun.
Japanese golf legend Isao Aoki is credited with helping come up with the design. If this is indicative of Aoki's powers, the golfer nicknamed The Tower should have stuck to hitting shots.
The need for celebrity architects is often overrated, but Hilton Cancun Golf Club is one course that cries for some sense of theater. This is a course, and a green fee, to avoid on that Cancun golf vacation.
Chances are if you're in Cancun, you're staying at an all-inclusive resort. Your hotel choice will largely determine your meal choice.
For golfers staying in the four-hotel Iberostar, the gourmet Mexican restaurant is the best pick for a celebratory dinner. While the fish palace features a small-scale reproduction of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and elegant surroundings, the gourmet Mexican place delivers more consistently tasty dishes.
Even if you're in an all-inclusive hotel, it's worth it to go into the town of Playa Del Carmen one night and try one of the restaurants up on the hill. Here you'll get authentic and often more creative cuisine.
If you're looking for an experience the equal of luxury hotels in the U.S. and Europe, the Iberostar complex is clearly the best choice. Many places will talk about bringing the high-end experience to the Cancun corridor. Iberostar's complex of four hotels in Riviera Maya actually does.
The Iberostar Paraiso Maya offers the best rooms and amenities of all. Staying here you get access to a few restaurants, bars and pools that even the guests at the other three Iberostar hotels do not. Of course, it's also the most expensive of the four options.
Avoid staying at a Howard Johnson or other low-budget U.S. hotel chain here, for the standards of a Howard Johnson in Mexico seem to be lower than those of one in Illinois. You could be unwittingly roughing it even more than you expected.
September 29, 2005
Chris Baldwin 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.
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