Known for its sugar-sand beaches and mouth-watering margaritas, Mexico is now adding luxury golf destinations to its repertoire.
Two new Greg Norman-designed courses are joining an upgraded 27-hole Jack Nicklaus course to offer a first-class golf experience south of the border.
The PGA is even taking notice, adding one of Mexico's new courses to its regular tour schedule.
For Greg Norman's first course in Mexico, he created El Camaleon 35 miles south of Cancun.
Its 18 challenging holes are all designed to fit in with and highlight the local environment. One minute you're playing in the jungle and on the next shot, you're surrounded by a swamp, hitting toward the ocean. The course weaves in and out of mangroves, and some holes even play right up next to huge ancient cenotes, or caves.
In 2007, the PGA Tour came to El Camaleon for its first official event in Mexico. It was such a success the tour came back to Mexico again in February of this year.
"Mayakoba is truly a special place," says designer and golf great Greg Norman. The director of golf at El Camaleon, Douglas Goubault, agrees, adding that, "Mexico is the fastest-growing golf destination in the world."
So how does this course stack up? Here are the stats.
By: Douglas Goubault-El Camaleon Director of Golf
1. Stretch before you play to loosen up your muscles and ensure your mind and body are ready to play golf.
2. To better control your chip shots around the green, try using your putting grip on a low-lofted club like an 8-iron.
3. Many golfers stand with their feet too close together. Make sure you have a solid stance and that your feet are slightly farther apart than the width of your shoulders.
Where to Stay
Next door at the new Fairmont Mayakoba (www.fairmont.com/mayakoba). The Fairmont manages the course and has special stay-and-play packages.
Playa Mujeres Golf Club
Another Greg Norman creation, Playa Mujeres sports 18 eco-friendly holes just five miles outside of Cancun.
Featuring tight fairways, tricky trade winds and seven picturesque lagoon and oceanfront holes, this first-class golf club is already recognized as one of the top courses in Mexico. Playa Mujeres also is a standout because it has a full service driving range along with two putting greens and a short game area.
You'll also find a modern clubhouse with showers, a pro shop stocked with the latest golf clothes and equipment, as well as indoor and outdoor dining areas — popular with golfers for post-course meals and margaritas.
Popular with female golfers, Playa Mujeres (which translates to "Women Beach") is also the first course in Latin America certified as "Women Friendly" by the Executive Women's Golf Association.
Playa Mujeres Golf Club
Rating 74.5 Men & 69.5 Women
By: Julio Viscontti, General Manager, PGA at Playa Mujeres
1. To help handle the tricky trade winds, go up one club. Less loft will keep the ball lower against the wind.
2. When straight downwind, tee higher to take advantage of the wind.
3. Swing easier than you normally would when it's windy.
Where to Stay
Try the just-opened Playa Mujeres Resort next door. Or back in Cancun, the JW Marriott, Marriott and Le Meridien all offer stay-and-play golf packages.
Palmilla Golf Club
Way ahead of its time, this award-winning, 27-hole, Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Los Cabos has been waiting for the rest of Mexico to catch up. For years The Palmilla Golf Club has enjoyed bragging rights because players can see the Sea of Cortez hole from all 27 holes.
And every view is amazing. Rated one of the top 100 courses in the world by "Great Golf Resorts of the World," Palmilla used to be one of the only luxury courses in Mexico. But not anymore, so now Palmilla is upping the ante with some serious upgrades.
Now you'll find air-conditioning on all golf carts, and from May to November 2008 the course is undergoing a major redesign, starting with the Arroyo course. During this upgrade, Palmilla will keep 18 holes operating at all times, so you can still get in a great round.
When the project is finished Palmilla will have new grass on the greens, restored sand bunkers, an expanded practice facility and more.
Insider tip: Don't miss the chocolate chip cookies. They make them fresh every day.
Here's how Palmilla's 27 holes stack up.
Arroyo/Mountain Men 73.7 & Women 69.2
Mountain/Ocean Men 74.2 & Women 71.3
Ocean/Arroyo Men 72.9 & Women 69.3
By: Jason Ballog, PGA, Director of Golf, Palmilla Golf Club
1. When in the Bermuda rough, the ball tends to "shoot" as you're playing the shot, so take five to eight yards when figuring your yardage.
2. Watch your elevation change. Are you playing uphill or downhill? This significantly impacts your yardage.
3. Beware of where the ocean is; it affects how the putts and greens break.
Where to Stay
Check out the famed One & Only Palmilla (www.oneandonlyresorts.com), which features, among other amenities, massage and yoga especially for golfers.
Generally speaking, playing these courses — the best in Mexico — will cost you top dollar. The rates change depending on the time of year, but high season rates reach up to $200 for a round.
Your smartest bet: take advantage of the "stay-and-play" specials offered at the different resorts. What's more, some healthy competition is on the horizon: More than a dozen new courses are being built in Mexico right now.
More: Check out Karen's Schaler's Travel Blog.