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Cancun gearing up to lure high-end tourists, especially golfers

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

If you've ever been to Cancun, Mexico, you probably didn't pack your golf bag. You probably packed a swimsuit, sun screen, the hangover cure of your choice and little else.

That could change. Cancun is gearing up to grab its share of a much more upscale market, which is where golf comes in. The area, which was basically invented by the Mexican government in the 1970s to draw the Yankee dollar, has Wal-Marts and Hooters, but is beginning to lure more, shall we say, refined commercial enterprises, like Cartier's.

There are ambitious plans to build more marinas, to draw wealthy yachtsmen and to come up with more luxury eco-tourism hot spots, where you can dwell on nature while getting your massage and nails done.

The hotel boom pretty much ended in the 1990s, but more high-end motels and eco-destinations are being built. The airport, which handles more traffic that any other Mexican resort, is talking of expanding and there is speculation another airport will be built. The Cancun-Maya Riviera is one of the top international destinations for many Americans.

All this may be bad news for environmentalists and those who prefer their third-world adventures more "pure," but good news for golfers. There are three new courses scheduled to open this year and those, as well as most of the existing ones, are open to the public, though you get a price break if you're a guest at a resort. Some predictions are that the Cancun-Maya Riviera area will have 15 to 16 courses in the next five to six years.

Competitive golf is also making inroads - Cancun was the site of last year's Texas Professional Golf Tour Championship; this year it will be in Cozumel.

The three new courses scheduled to open this year:

• The Golf Club at Iberostar in Riviera Maya. Iberostar Hotels and Resorts has properties in the Caribbean, Europe and at least 15 golf courses. The new one in Cancun will be near Playa del Carmen. It's a P.B. Dye design, scheduled for a May opening, across from the Iberostar Paraiso Maya resort.

Dye is the son of famed architect Pete Dye. P.B. was 16 years old when he helped his father design Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind. He has done Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the Gauntlet (re-named the Founders) at St. James, N.C., and the Legends Club Moorland Course in Myrtle Beach. With his dad, he helped design Prestwick Country Club in Myrtle Beach and West Bay Golf Club in Naples.

• The first nine holes at the Golf Club At Mayakoba are scheduled to open this summer. Managed by Fairmont Hotels, the course - close to Playa del Carmen - is designed by Greg Norman. It sits on 1,600 acres and in the next two years, plans call for three hotels plus a marina, condos and private homes.

Playa Mujeres, in the Costa Mujeres area, is a few miles north of Cancun. It's also designed by Norman, with an opening date scheduled for October. Toucans, snakes and jaguars are kept in cages on the grounds and the $1.3 billion plan calls for four hotels, condos, homes, a marina and another Norman-designed course.

There are also plans in the works for several other courses, like an 18-holer at the Puerto Cancun course designed by Tom Weiskopf, just northwest of the Cancun hotel zone as well as a Nicklaus-designed projects at the Costa Cancun project, south of the hotel zone. In addition, a PGA tournament players course designed by Tom Fazio and Nick Price is in the works at the La Roca development.

These courses would complement several existing courses, like:

Moon Palace Golf Club at Riviera Maya, just south of Cancun. It's a Nicklaus Signature course, given four stars recently by Travel & Leisure magazine. With green fees of $250, tee times for the 7,165-yard course are available only when booked as part of a package.

The Cozumel Country Club, a ferry ride away from Cancun. It's another course by the Nicklaus Design Group, opened in 2001. Green fees are $155.

The Mayan Palace Golf Club, Riviera Maya is a par-3 course, also designed by Nicklaus, that opened in 2003. Though a par-3, green fees are $129.

The Playacar Golf Club in Riviera Maya opened 1994. Robert Von Hagge designed the course, carved out of the Mayan jungle. It, too, is available only in stay-and-play packages.

The Hilton Cancun Golf Resort in the hotel zone was designed by Isao Aoki. It's close to the Mayan ruins, with peacocks, crocodiles and iguanas running around on the grounds. Opened in 1994, green fees are $175.

Pok-Ta-Pok, at the Cancun Country Club, opened in 1976, a design by Robert Trent Jones. Green fees are $120.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • information about website

    Gloria Morales wrote on: Apr 22, 2005

    Hello i work for Mayan Resorts Golf we have 5 golf courses in Mexico (Acapulco, Los Cabos, Nvo. Vallarta, Riviera Maya y Puerto Peñasco) please could you help me We would like to appear in your website with information about our courses.
    email me,
    Gloria Morales


      • RE: information about website

        STEPHEN J GINSBERG wrote on: Nov 5, 2007

        I am part of a group that will be down during the last week of January 2008. We will be staying at the Xcariat and would like to know if we can get a special rate for golf at Playacar. What time does it get dark in January? Can we get in 18 holes if we play aftr 2PM. Pleases respond ASAP
        Stephen Ginsberg everny@optonline.net