I’m recently back from a visit to the Fairmont Mayakoba, just north of Playa del Carmen, to celebrate the opening of the first and only Jim McLean Golf Academy. The affable McLean, acknowledged as one of the top five golf instructors in the world, operates several golf schools in the U.S and has worked with many of the top touring pros but he has also developed facilities and state-of-the-art teaching tools to help duffers like me.
El Camaleon, Mayakoba’s golf course, is the PGA TOUR site for the Mayakoba Classic, the first full field event ever held outside of USA or Canada. The debut of this prestigious challenge took place in 2007; this year, the fifth competition takes place from February 23 to 27. Those of you who watch the event on TV will no doubt want to pack your clubs and head south of the borders once you lay your eyes on this gorgeous course, the first in Mexico to be designed by Greg Norman.
Like its namesake, the 18-hole El Camaleon changes and blends with an environment that winds under a mangrove canopy, along banks of turquoise lagoons, past natural ceynotes (limestone sinkholes unique to the Yucatan Peninsula) to within a pitching wedge of the rolling surf.
Adding the Mayakoba Golf Classic to the PGA Tour in 2007 put the Mayan Riviera on the world golf map. Mayakoba’s director of golf, Kevin Sebulski, who hails from Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge, enthusiastically reports that the area has become a serious swinger’s destination. Stretching from just north of Cancun south to Playacar, there more than a dozen courses open for play and more under construction.
Historically, golf has been pretty much a rich man’s sport in Mexico. However, the folks at the Fairmont Mayakoba are trying to change that by introducing Golf Para Todos—another first. The day I was there almost 1,000 locals of all ages attended a free afternoon clinic on the El Camaleon driving range. There were prizes, games and free refreshments. And, who knows, maybe the next Lorena Ochoa was amongst the enthusiastic crowd?
Beyond the noteworthy firsts and achievements on the golf course, the Mayakoba Resort also has reason to break out the tequila and celebrate. After evaluating 56 of its properties around the world, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts awarded Fairmont Mayakoba the coveted “Hotel of the Year” award for 2008, which recognizes the best overall operating performance based on exceptional service and guest, client and staff satisfaction.
The Fairmont Mayakoba is the first in a series of planned developments, billed as “a new civilization on Mexico’s Riviera Maya,” that currently include Rosewood, Banyan Tree and Viceroy properties.
“We have always believed that Mayakoba and El Camaleon will set the standard for new luxury resort and golf experience in Mexico,” says Salvador Linares, general manager of new developments for the project’s Spanish owner, OHL, and the visionary behind this unique resort.
It took OHL six years to research this particular area of the Mayan Riviera. A team of architects and biologists painstakingly transplanted and grafted thousands of native trees and flowers using both traditional Mayan and cutting-edge techniques.
The eco-sensitive complex is located on nine kilometres of crystal clear freshwater lagoons leading to a virgin beach and the Caribbean Sea. Guests are transported through the resort via custom-built mahogany gondolas, one of the reasons the project has been dubbed, “the Venice of the Yucatan.”