By Mike Lednovich, Editor & Publisher
On the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico’s southeastern border, Cancun is the life of the party. If memories of your wilder days are a bit hazy, consider making the short drive south to Playa del Carmen, home to good golf and plenty of family activities.
The 260-acre Fairmont Mayakoba is one of the all-inclusive options in the region. Helping it stand out are El Camaleon Golf Club, site of a PGA Tour event the past 11 years, and a bevy of activities that include beach time, five freshwater pools and excursions on snaking waterways that are home to abundant wildlife.
“Mayakoba is quickly earning the reputation as one of the best golf destinations for the golfer who also wants to bring their family along for a great vacation,” said Jorge Franssen, director of marketing at El Camaleon. “There are so many things for a family to do here; we have that rare combination of golf and extraordinary non-golf activities.”
There are seven other golf courses within a 30–minute drive of what’s known as the Mayan Trail, including TPC Cancun, Riviera Maya Golf Club and the Golf Club at Playacar. But golfers can’t go wrong by staying and playing several rounds at El Camaleon, which has been home to the OHL Classic at Mayakoba since 2007.
“We have one of the finest golf courses anywhere and a great practice facility,” said Yayoi Garcia, golf sales and marketing executive at the Greg Norman-designed course. “We have a 70-person full–time grounds crew, which means the golf course is in perfect condition year round.”
Surrounded by mangrove forests and tropical jungles and with lagoons and canals bordering many holes, El Camaleon is an adventure from the start. Just beyond driving distance for most amateurs on the first hole is a huge sinkhole, or, as they’re called in Mexico, a cenote, in the middle of the fairway. Because the golf course is built on limestone and the area has several surface rivers, there are several cenotes on the course, but none as massive as seen on the opening hole.
The signature par-3 15th hole doesn’t have a cenote, but its view of the Caribbean Sea is a real charmer. While short and scenic, most tee shots are hit into a blustery wind, which ups the ante for shot concentration.
Aside from 15, Norman did an admirable job keeping the features of each hole interesting. On the fifth, a par-5 of 554 yards, the fairway is bordered by mangrove stands and a sparkling waterway, with a pond and a row of resort casitas near the green. The third hole is a 389-yard par-4 with two forced carries over water, with approach shots seeking an elevated green with deep bunkers on the right. Hole 16 is a 450-yard par-4 with mangroves on both sides of the fairway and a large perpendicular green well guarded by bunkers.
The mangroves and jungles that protect Mayakoba from tropical storms are home to an array of wildlife that includes close to 300 species of birds, iguanas, crocodiles, monkeys and other creatures that often sun themselves on the limestone rocks or frolic on the fairways. It’s all part of the man-mingling-with-nature feel that exists on the sprawling property.
Because of its many canals, the Fairmont Mayakoba has a nickname of the “Venice of the Caribbean,” with many of its 400 rooms and suites featuring private entrances and furnished balconies or terraces that overlook the forest, waterways, gardens or Caribbean Sea. The resort is set up in a residential-like format, with rows of rooms stretching from the resort lobby to the shore. For those nearest the entrance, bicycles are located throughout the property to get you to the beach or other site in a quick and casual manner.
For help with your game, El Camaleon is home to a Jim McLean Golf School that features a full range, practice greens and short-game complex. And if you ditched or dunked a few too many balls on the fringes of El Cameleon, there’s no better place to decompress than on a 40-minute tour of the lagoons through limestone caverns and mangrove stands. Or you could opt for beer and chocolate. In Mayan culture, chocolate was a valued possession, so at Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spa a sweet tooth can be satisfied with the Chocolate, Food of the Gods full body treatment. Follow that with a Mexican craft beer tasting that includes a selection of fourcervezas artesanalesthat embody aromas of orange, vanilla and, yes, even chocolate.
“We have perfect golf and perfect days and nights of fine dining and activities,” said Stuart McColl, regional director of marketing at the Fairmont Mayakoba. “It’s all here.”