The Active Life

East v. West

Golfers who want to book a vacation in Mexico dedicated to chasing the little white ball have plenty of excellent choices in destinations. And, perhaps, just one big decision to make at the outset: east or west?

That’s not to say there aren’t dozens of good golf courses and resorts all across our southern neighbor. But the cream of the crop these days is in one of two areas: the Maya Riviera near Cancun on the Caribbean coast (east) and the Cabo San Lucas area at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula on the Pacific coast (west).

Both east and west have enough top quality golf courses to keep a visitor happy for a month, along with excellent selections in resorts and hotels, efficient air access to the states, and lots of tourist infrastructure. Not to mention the warm Mexican sun and sunny Mexican disposition.

It’s all good down Mexico way, and hard to choose which side is better. Here are some of the courses the experts rate the highest, East vs. West.

EAST – El Camaleon, Mayakoba

El-Cameleon-Mayakoba-1This Greg Norman-designed course plays host to the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Classic every November, and from the 7,000-yard tips it must be a handful. There’s usually a steady wind off the nearby ocean, the holes are all bordered by mangrove swamps and canals and dotted with the occasional cenote, or rocky sinkhole caves where the indigenous Maya stopped for water.

Mere mortals can play the course at a more reasonable 6,500 yards and take advantage of the wide resort fairways. Still, there are plenty of forced carries, all that water to avoid and the unforgiving mangroves waiting to swallow an errant shot. Each of the nines pays a visit to the beachfront, usually bathed in brilliant bright sunshine, before ducking back into the verdant inner regions, where the resort’s quiet motorboats shuttle guests back and forth throughout the resort.

Preferred rates are offered to guests of the two resorts at Mayakoba: the luxury Fairmont and the sublime Rosewood. Some of the very comfortable villas and private homes are also rented out to vacationers.

WEST – Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol

Cabo-Ocean-Course-hoyo-17-PrimaryOne of Jack Nicklaus’ first signature designs in Mexico, this course helped put the Cabo San Lucas area on the map of great golf destinations. Like most of the area in Cabo, this is a desert that flows down to a rocky Pacific beach, the terrain filled with cactus and rocky outcroppings atop which Jack gently draped his fairways and greens.

The elevation changes and the wind provide good sport and the holes that play along the beach are breathtaking. The ocean is always in view on this course and the experience unforgettable.

Golfers can book into the five-star Sheraton Hacienda del Mar or the Fiesta Americana Grand resorts on site, or book a luxury villa overlooking the ocean. All are top drawer.

EAST – Riviera Maya Golf Club

riviera-maya-golf-club2Located in the Bahia Principe resort community near the ancient Mayan city of Tulum, features 27 holes hacked out of the surrounding jungle, dotted with cenotes and bordered by swampy lakes and streams. Robert Trent Jones II did the design and created a sporty and challenging layout. If you’re not trying to keep the ball on the straight and narrow fairways, you’ll be faced with forced carries over water or sand. There are three hotel properties within the development, and the Bahia Principe Sin Kaan is located right at the golf course.

WEST – Quivira Golf Club

Quivera-6th-holeThis new entry from Jack Nicklaus, opened last year, has been described as “like playing golf inside a Salvadore Dali painting.” No, there are no melting watches, but there are sand dunes and rocky cliffs and holes perching 100 feet above the beach. Jack threw in a 625-yard par five hole that, luckily for us mortals, runs downhill all the way from tee to green (which is next to a beach on which scenes from the movie “Troy” were filmed. Bring plenty of golf balls but be prepared to enjoy yourself thoroughly.

EAST – Hard Rock Golf Club

hard-rock-Golf-Club-001This course, which began life as the Playacar Golf Club back in the 1990s, is now affiliated with the all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel on the beach in Cancun. The course itself is a half-hour drive away, near the quaint town of Playa del Carmen. Architect Robert von Hagge designed this jungle jewel with wider fairways and a bit less water than some others in the area, which is good news for high-handicappers. Still, it’s an enjoyable round and the Mayan pyramid-shaped clubhouse is a great spot to relive the round with food and drink.

WEST – Club Campestre San Jose

Club-Campestre-San-Jose-PrimaryFive minutes north of the town of San Jose del Cabo, this residential development features an enjoyable golf course from the Nicklaus Design shop. Resembling an Arizona-type course, with swards of green fairways bisected and bordered by the stark earth tones of desert and sand, Club Campestre has a mature, settled-in feeling. The green complexes are well guarded with white-flashed bunkers, the back nine rises to the rolling foothills, yet the ocean is always in sight in the distance, which provides a relaxing backdrop to the experience. A nice day’s outing and not the most expensive course in town.

Those are our favorites: both East and West destinations offer other courses to explore as well. And don’t forget Puerto Vallarta, further south down the Pacific Coast, where the golf inventory has also grown by leaps and bounds. Mexico continues to be a very golf-centric destination.

By James Y. Bartlett

In an award-winning career of more than three decades, Jim Bartlett has published more than 500 articles in magazines ranging from Esquire to Bon Appetit, Forbes to Sports Illustrated. As a freelancer, he was one of the most published golf and travel writers of his generation. He has also edited a half dozen national publications, including Golfweek, Caribbean Travel & Life, Luxury Golf, Our Place and now, Distincte. Bartlett is also the author of the Hacker series of golf murder mysteries and ten other works of fiction and nonfiction.