Holiday lessons from Cancun

By David Pottage

Earlier in the year I had a couple of days to spare in Cancun,Mexico.

Not being a beach or swimming pool guy I thought 'why not give the golf a look?' So off I set in my hired Chevy to see what I could find.

First stop was Greg Norman's new course, Los Mujeros, just north of Cancun. I didn't have an appointment, so I was not allowed inside the gates, and had to do my visiting from the perimeter road.Highly annoying as it is the only current development north of the town, one reason why it will be successful and popular with green fee golfers, should they be welcome.

I started with a list of ten courses in the area, immediately discarded Cozumel Country Club as impractical, and Puerta Aventuras because it was too distant. That left me with seven more. The nearest two I decided to leave until the next morning, leaving five more for today. Not a problem, I did not want to play, just get a feel for the developments.

First stop Playacar. I fell in love with the place long before I found the golf course – it is a vibrant well established development with multicoloured and quirkily designed properties, well landscaped and welcoming. A good start, but what about the golf? Designed by Robert von Hagge and opened in 1994, it looked pretty standard stuff, plenty of water, well kept greens, lush fairways. It also had numerous unnatural steep sided mounds which I always hate to see. The effect was quite pleasing with green fees of US$180. I didn't see anyone playing golf, but the numerous iguanas seemed to like it.

Next up was El Camaleon at Mayakoba, Greg Norman's first course in the area.

What a job I had to get in! I don't know how they expect to sell all the building plots, but unexpected visitors were definitely not welcome. Eventually I was allowed to look at the golf. It looked a very nice layout, if a bit of a corridor. There are big plans for the first PGA Tour event in Mexico to be held here in February 2007.

Green fees US$240. It was here that I saw my only four golfers of the day. One of them described it as "a pretty little course".

I think I would want a little more than that for my thousand bucks! I popped briefly into Iberostar, which was designed to serve the numerous hotels on the site, was not impressed with what I saw, so moved on.

My next port of call was something a little different – an eighteen hole par three course. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it has some great holes, although the maximum length hole, 276 yards, was out of my range, and I am not sure about the credibility of a bunker in the middle of a green. However, it is at least novel.

Now on to my last call of the day – Moon Spa and Golf Club. A Jack Nicklaus signature course, laid out in three loops of nine holes, each of which Jungle – Lakes and Dunes – had a very different feel. The overall appearance of the course was excellent and most of the holes I visited were spectacular. As it was the end of the day, the course starter, a very pleasant young man in his late teens or early twenties, took me on a white knuckle buggy ride round the Dunes course, an extremely difficult looking nine holes with what seemed to be equal areas of grass and sand with some impossible looking bunkers. Sadly, by now my camera battery was flat so I missed the best shot of the day, a raccoon sat on a hole indicator sign, taking in the last of the days sun.

Although I did not see anyone playing, my host for the buggy ride told me of daily averages of around 300 golfers during the high season and about half that in the off season, with a maximum of just under 400.Where were they all? The following morning I set out to cover the remaining two courses, heading first for the Hilton Hotel and Beach Resort, only to find it closed. Being unable to charm my way past a ferocious lady security guard I had to view the course from the outside before moving on to my final golfing destination of the day, Pok-Ta Pok, better known as Cancun Golf Club.

This course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II in 1976, is right in the heart of Cancun's hotel zone. The course was busy, with a steady flow of golfers to both the first and tenth tees, access to which was by driving the buggy along public roadside footpaths. Green fees here are US$140 before 2pm and US$90 after. This seemed to be the best value, but the course appeared somewhat rundown. It does however occupy some great seafront land and is some of the most valuable real estate I have seen.

Although green fees are generally expensive, the courses distant from the hotel zone usually include pick-up, food, water and buggy. Some hotels I presume offer concession deals as I do not see casual golfers paying the sums quoted.

Walking was never an option and nowhere could I buy a strokesaver guide.

All in all I had had a pleasant day and a half briefly visiting Cancun's golf, but it all seemed a bit samey and a little false. The main golf developments are well away from the action and seemed out of place and isolated and the whole exercise left me wondering if it was all about anything but making money, with golf once again being exploited in the name of the great American dollar.

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