Golfing - in Cancun & the Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico
By Bart Smith of Turtle Bay Cafe in Akumal.
First let me introduce myself, my name is Bart Smith and I have the privilege of residing in Akumal year round. When I'm not working I'm usually trying to figure out a way to squeeze in a round and that's why I have been enlisted to give a golfers' insight in what to expect if you have designs on playing a round or two while you are in the Akumal area. Let me preface this by letting you know that I have only played one course in the immediate Cancun vicinity and that's due to the time it takes to get there from Akumal. While there are some great courses in that area, I believe the best set of courses lie in the Playa Del Carmen area, which is about thirty minutes north of Akumal. In each description I will try give you a travel time from Akumal, a brief description of the course and its facilities, and some contact info for them.
There are a few things that are inherently common with all these courses, in the way they play and in what you should expect. Wind is a constant factor when it comes down to shot selection and play. The tree line down here is very short and as soon as your ball climbs above that line anything can happen, so make sure to watch your ball out to the finish. Some of the most common words I hear to describe any of the courses down here are narrow and tight. The bomb and gouge method won't work here, and if you employ that method you should bring a lot of balls. Most fairways are lined by thick ball-consuming jungle, so keeping your shot somewhere in and around the fairway is very important and also why we sometimes like to play, what we call down here, the "provisional mulligan". All these courses have clubs and shoes for rent. They are usually good quality with Taylor Made, Titlelist and Callaway clubs seeming to be the most common. Reservations should be made in advance but you can usually walk on anywhere at any time. I have seen people turned away because of no collar but have yet to see any shoe restrictions enforced. All the pro shops sell everything you would expect but at a premium so bring along a couple of gloves and if you have room in your bag, some balls. If you call any one of these courses they will have someone who can speak english and answer most of your questions. All courses offer twilight rates around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and that can cut your cost considerably. If you're lucky enough to own some property down here, most courses will offer a substantial discount but you need to check what they require as proof. Right now locals are paying $35 USD at all Palace Resort Courses for twilight play, and that includes all food and beverages off of the drink cart. Now that the basics are out of way I am going to start north and work my way south.
The Iberostar "Mayan Riviera"; ph. 984-877-2847 is north of Playa del Carmen so count on an hour drive from Akumal. It's a par 72, P.B. Dye designed course that is set in the jungle and plays host to both a Canadian Tour Event and a qualifying round for a PGA event held at Mayakoba. It's "All-Inclusive" meaning the price includes cart, round, food, drinks, beer, liquor and anything in the restaurant, but a bucket of balls for the range is extra. The course doesn't play particularly long but it will make you use most of your clubs, and it's the most forgiving of all the courses I will mention. Although I don't play it as much as I would like, this is my favorite course down here and it's always in great condition, with fun greens and some very interesting shots from tee to green. Playa Paraiso Golf Club Review
Mayakoba Resort Course "El Camaleon"; ph. 984-206-3088 is north of Playa del Carmen so count on an hour drive from Akumal. It's a par 72 course designed by Greg Norman. This course plays host to a PGA tour event late in February every year. it has a beautiful layout that winds through jungle, mangrove and along the beach, and has been described by the pros as one of their favorite layouts for a resort course on tour. It plays very fair, with interesting hard to hit and hold greens, and absolutely stunning facilities. If you want to play the way it's set up for the tourney you need to play it from the tips, and as a 70 par. This course is by far the best practice facility and most impressive layout on the coast. The cost of a round is up there and nothing is included so be prepared to lay out some money.
Playacar Golf Course and Spa owned by Palace Resorts is a par 72 Robert Von Hagge design; 984-873-4990. Travel time is about 30 minutes and it's also north of Akumal. This course works its way through the jungle and will test your limits, and sometimes in the end make you question your very existence. It has one of the hardest par 4's in the world (no.7) and a par 5 (no. 11) that takes two good shots before you ever see the green. It's a beautiful course but it is considered the toughest down here. On the bright side, its all-inclusive, so if you decide to turn to alcohol at some point that won't cost you anything extra. They have a pretty decent practice facility so warming up isn't a problem. Taking into account the cost, distance and facilities, this is what I believe to be your best bet if you're around Akumal and want to play some golf. And the all-inclusive aspect makes it a great place for groups.
Puerto Aventuras Golf Course is a Tom Lehman design, ph. 984-873-5109; located 15 minutes north of Akumal in the center of Puerto Aventuras. This is a nine hole course that's usually not very busy except on weekends. No range here and the facilities aren't the best, but it's a great practice course. Take as many shots as you want because you won't be bothering anybody. I try to walk nine here once every two or three weeks just to practice. When compared to some other courses the cost may be considered high, for what you get, but if you're looking for a quick round it's not bad.
Riviera Maya Golf Club at Bahia Principe, Course Review
Well folks we have some great news for those who are planning a visit Akumal or anywhere else along the Mayan Riviera. The long anticipated opening of the Riviera Maya Golf Club at Bahia Principe Resort has finally happened (2010). Designed by Robert Tent Jones, the club offers both an 18 hole par 72 layout as well as a 9 hole par 36 layout.
I have yet to play the 9 hole par 36 layout but from what I have heard it is quite nice, with nothing too demanding. I have played the full 18 several times with many players at all skill levels and to a man or woman they have all raved about the beauty and playability of the course. Many who have played all of the courses down here - including myself - believe it is one of the nicest, if not the nicest, that can be found on the coast. If you're in the Akumal area and want to play golf it's a no-brainer that you should play this course.
The course entrance is located on the west side of the main highway directly across from the Bahia Principe main entrance and winds its through mature jungle growth. You are close to the ocean so wind is always a factor here and something to be considered when deciding which tees to play from. Several times I have started with people on the Blues and after the second hole, a 210yd up hill par 3 playing into a stiff wind, we immediately went back to playing the whites. If you keep your shots in and around the fairway you're pretty much guaranteed a great lie with a challenging but fair approach shot. The clubhouse should be finished sometime in the next two or three months but don't worry, you can buy some necessary items when you pay for your round, and they keep a food and beverage cart in the main area full time. Practice at the range is included when you pay for a round as well as anything off of the drink carts that circle the course.
"Golfers in the Playa del Carmen - Tulum area
This is where you want to play! No matter what your skill level."
- Local Rates Mon-Fri
- Regular: $130
- Twilight: $100
- Regular: $80
- Twilight: $65
- Guest of Bahia
- Reg. or Twilight $65
Below are names and links to courses in the immediate Cancun area that should be checked out if you're okay with an hour and half to two hours travel time.
Moon Palace; 27 Hole Jack Nicklaus Design. All-Inclusive Set-Up just south of the Cancun airport. Count on one and half hours travel time from Akumal.Hilton Cancun Golf and Spa In the heart of the Cancun hotel with travel from Akumal taking about 1:45. Pok Ta Pok is the oldest golf course down here. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1976. Travel time from Akumal is about two hours. Playa Mujeres Golf Course is Greg Normans' latest design and facility and I have heard nothing but great things about this layout. Travel time from Akumal is about two hours.
About Bart: When he is not on the green, he and his wife Jen own and operate the Turtle Bay Cafe in Akumal. Stop in and say hello if you are in town.