CANCUN, Mexico -- In the United States, Jack Nicklaus is known as the Golden Bear. But in Mexico, a more appropriate nickname might be the Godfather of Golf. After all, Nicklaus literally put golf in Mexico on the map, at least for tourists, when he built Cabo del Sol and followed it up with two other courses in Los Cabos, one in Puerto Vallarta and one at the Four Seasons in Punta Mita. He not only single-handedly turned Mexico into a high-end golf destination; he paved the way for the other big name designers who followed in his path.
That being said, there has been one big problem with Nicklaus' work south of the border: It has all been on the Pacific coast, a long way from the dense population centers of the eastern seaboard of the United States. But when the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at the Moon Palace resort in Cancun opened in early 2003, the drought ended. Now high-quality resort-based golf, with all the off-course bells and whistles, is an easy non-stop flight from myriad cities throughout the East, Midwest and Texas. And with the Moon Palace located just 10 minutes from Cancun's Airport, getting there couldn't be much easier.
One of the largest hotels in North America outside of Las Vegas, the Moon Palace has more than 2,000 rooms, but it does an excellent job of spreading out guests so it never appears crowded. There are multiple swimming pools, bars and a dozen restaurants. All food and beverages, including alcohol, are included in the very reasonable room rates. There are even stocked mini-bars in the hotel rooms, which is very unusual for all-inclusive properties. But the biggest surprise is the rooms themselves, which are spacious and luxurious, with large marble bathrooms and a full-sized hot tub in every single room.
The golf operations are equally upscale, with a brand new clubhouse and first-rate maintenance, with excellent conditions, especially for a new course. The layout is much different than Nicklaus' works on the west coast of Mexico, many of which are in the desert or on the coast. The terrain here is flat, and the routing is carved through dense jungle, but the charm is that each hole has its own isolated corridor, and you rarely see one hole from another. A wide variety of tee distances make it play as a fun resort course for most guests, or as a championship caliber challenge for those inclined to tackle the 7,201-yard black tees.
Besides the omnipresent jungle, which frames the wide playing areas, the main feature is the extensive use of water hazards and waste areas, and sometimes the two are combined in Nicklaus' trademark "beach bunkers," sand traps or waste areas that bleed right into the water's edge. For example, the sixth hole is a short and reachable par-4, playing just 264-yards from the popular blue tees, but golfers have to carry a lake to reach the green in one.
The second hole is a beautiful par-3 over a lake that features a low retaining wall of native stone fronting the green, with the angle set up to carry more of the lake the further back you play from.
As is often the case with Nicklaus, the final few holes are the most challenging: No. 16 features a heroic carry off the tee to an angled fairway, letting each golfer decide how much distance to cut off from the tee. Seventeen is the course's signature hole, a peninsula par-3 with water front, back and left. Eighteen is a long par-4 that curves around a lake with water in play on both shots. Complete this sequence with one ball and you've earned your margarita.
The course is open to the public, but unless you are a high roller, staying at the Moon Palace on a golf package is the only way to go. Greens fees for outside play are $250, but if you opt for a golf package at the resort, two people can pay less than $350 per night for golf, plus room, board and drinks. The package also lets you opt for a round or two on the Von Hagge course at the nearby Playacar Resort.
Both Playacar and the Moon Palace are part of the all-inclusive Palace Resorts group, a locally owned chain that operates five resorts throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, each with a different theme. Since the new course opened, the Moon is positioned as the main golf resort. Other Palace resorts include an upscale, adult only spa property and an eco-resort set in a protected nature reserve. Guests of the Moon Palace can visit and use the facilities at any of the other properties, opening up a wealth of diversions and facilities for every taste. Shuttle buses whisk guests back and forth between properties, so whether you choose to play golf at Playacar or go for a massage, it couldn't be much easier.
Like most all-inclusive resorts, Moon has a handful of restaurants offering buffets for every meal, including Italian, Continental and of course, Mexican. There is even food available 24-hours for late-night revelers, or those coming out of the resort's popular disco. All food and beverages, including alcohol, are included in the very reasonable room rates.
But there are some more refined sit down eateries which require reservations, such as Mo Mo No Hana, an Asian restaurant serving a mix of Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine in the resort's most elegant setting. Los Caporales offers a menu of Spanish cuisine for dinner, and one of the hidden gems is the poolside Palapa Barracuda, which offers grilled fish and Cajun cuisine in the evenings.
The beauty of the Moon Palace is that its location and wealth of activities make it perfect for either a quick weekend escape from the States or as a weeklong vacation destination. Besides golf, the resort itself offers:
If you are here for longer, you can take advantage of myriad local activities, including the stunning Mayan ruins at Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza, with their pyramids and temples.
There is also the tourist mecca of Cancun itself, including the strip of resort hotels and shops, the pedestrian friendly downtown of "Old" Cancun, and the quaint fishing village of Playa del Carmen.
The nearby island of Cozumel offers an additional wealth of shops, restaurants and some of the world's best diving. In fact, the only thing lacking for tourists visiting the very popular region has been golf, and Jack Nicklaus took care of that.
For details on the Moon Palace Resort and Golf Club, visit palaceresorts.com or call 800-635-1836.
Overall Rating: 3.9
May 14, 2003
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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