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|Fairmont Mayakoba Resort winds through a collection of canals just off the Gulf of Mexico. (Courtesy of Fairmont Mayakoba)|
Host of the PGA Tour's Mayakoba Classic, El Camaleon Golf Club and the Fairmont Mayakoba Resort present one of Mexico's most exclusive golf resorts near Cancun, and it's recently gone even more tour-worthy with the new Jim McLean Golf Academy.
You won't find much in the form of natural water hazards along Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula for one reason: practically all the water is underground.
Yucatan's porous limestone land has led to the creation of a series of underground rivers and caves, including the world's longest known underground river.
But what good is water if you can't see it? For that very reason, miles of canals have been uncovered at Mayakoba, a resort and golf development 42 miles south of Cancun on the Riviera Maya.
The revealing of the water, collected over the years from rain water that seeps through the limestone, has made Mayakoba a one-of-a-kind retreat in Mexico. The development features four separate resort brands, though the Fairmont Mayakoba is the closest linked to the El Camaleon as they manage the golf club next door.
The Fairmont Mayakoba Resort isn't like your common, Mexican beachfront high-rise resort. While there are some beachfront luxury villas (the highest end of which are complete with rooftop balconies with private pools for ultimate privacy), the majority of the 401 units are luxury casitas set along canals. They boast marble floors, both shower and baths and private balconies overlooking the canals.
Also, each of these units has access to a dock, where you can be picked up for your own canal tour. When the resort initially opened, guests were taken via boat to their guest room before it became apparent not every guest saw the charm in taking the romantic way to their guest room after the flight and taxi just to get here. The resort is comprised of 240 acres, so guests may choose how to navigate the grounds, whether it's by walking through densely forested paths, riding a smooth BMW bike, receiving golf-cart transport or taking a ride on the canal.
Canals, thick mangrove forest, cenotes and two beachfront holes makes for 18 holes with many faces at El Camaleon Golf Club.
Debuted in 2005, the course was designed by Greg Norman, and during early phases of construction, a "cenote" or "sinkhole" was discovered the hard way by a piece of heavy machinery that plowed into it. It's the focal point of the opening par 5, sitting in the middle of the fairway and posing as a threat to long tee balls or second shots.
El Camaleon's two par 3s make the most of the beachfront property, where you can stop and get distracted by checking out the surf or bronzed women strolling the beaches. No. 7, while just a chip shot to a green on the beach and next to Las Brisas' palapa, one of three signature restaurants at Fairmont, can play into the wind and cause havoc with your ball.
The same can be said about the slightly longer par-3 beachfront 15th hole, which plays parallel with the coast and not towards it, so wind direction will most likely be different.
The canals creep up to the fairways on many spots, too. In fact, the majority of the holes at El Camaleon feature water hazards of some kind, usually a result of the canals, which can creep up most dramatically on the 10th hole, a par 3 overlooking the cliffs of the canals, as well as No. 17, a tight, drivable par 4 with mangrove forest on the right and the canal closely hugging the left-hand side.
The PGA Tour's Mayakoba Classic came here in 2007, and this year it plays opposite the Accenture Match Play Championships in Tucson. While it's just more than 7,000 yards (not overly long by PGA Tour standards anymore) it defends itself with tight fairways, plenty of hazards and often stiff winds coming in off the coast.
The golf course has four sets of tees, but a tough shot for everyone will be on No. 6, a narrow, 389-yard par 4 that requires an approach shot over the canal and bunkers. Into the wind, it's the toughest shot on the golf course, coming right before the prettiest on No. 7
One thing is clear from the second you step inside one of Jim McLean's signature "super stations," it's deeper than any other instruction hitting station you've seen, and that's not random.
"At other schools, the cameras are set up too close to the swing, causing distortion," said McLean. "We can set up our camera further back so you can see what you're doing."
Video instruction is a large part of the McLean philosophy, each school of his has an unprecedented library of tour golf swings and ensuring proper analysis of your swing by setting up the camera much further back to eliminate any distortion. It helps, of course, to have a pro-class facility to teach on, and outside the super station is a 350-yard range and multiple practice greens to practice every shot imaginable.
One and two-day programs are available with a maximum 3-1 teaching ratio, video analysis and playing lessons. And once you've beaten balls to your heart's content, you're just around the corner from Fairmont's Willow Stream Spa, beach, five pools and three signature restaurants.
February 11, 2010
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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