Drive to Paradise
Many of the world’s best golf courses are designed as experiences rather than mere layouts. At El Camaleón, at Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, the two go hand-in-hand.
El Camaleón was named the best new course outside the U.S. in 2006 by Golf Magazine and is home to the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Classic. The course was designed by legendary architect and pro golfer Greg Norman.
And the setting? It’s right on the ocean and it encompasses three different ecosystems, not to mention a cenote, or limestone sinkhole, complete with stalactites.
Here’s a guide to some of the spectacular holes a golfer can play at El Camaleón.
That cenote? It’s right in the middle of the broad fairway on the par-5, 554-yard opener. Your drive probably won’t reach it (thankfully, unless you relish the challenge of playing your second from a cavern beloved by bats) but stop and take a look anyway.
A tough par-4 through the jungle that plays even longer than its 462 yards. El Camaleón is at sea level and the entire course is seeded with paspalum, a type of grass that can be irrigated by seawater and can be a little grabby. Most players will find themselves losing a club to half a club of distance, a factor that should be considered when deciding which of four tees to play.
Another interesting par-4 runs through the jungle. At 438 yards, this one’s a little shorter, but it’s played into the prevailing sea breeze. A fig tree guarding the left side may call for a right-to-left shot on your approach to a green that’s only medium-size for El Camaleón but large by most standards.
The first of two short par-3s that play almost onto the beach. Reach into your bag and pull out a knock-down shot because the sea breeze is so brisk your normal 125-yard club could land you 30 yards short.
A 220-yard par-3 to a green that’s perched on the edge of a limestone quarry filled with crystal-clear water. The view is absolutely beautiful and the experience even more so if you par it.
For the touring pros, this 532-yard par-5 is a two-shotter, and the easiest hole on the course. It’s also one of the few holes incorporating both jungle and mangrove swamp.
At the Mayakoba Classic this 452-yard par-4 into the breeze plays as the hardest hole. Let the wind push your drive to the right side of the generous fairway. From there, you’re in a good spot to set up the best approach to the raised green guarded on the left by a large bunker.
The other short par-3 plays right onto the beach, and this one is even prettier. If you managed to two-putt the steeply canted seventh green, well done. Lots of luck with this one, as it straddles a natural dune.
At almost 460 yards, this worthy finishing hole calls for an accurate tee shot to a well-bunkered landing area, followed by a long approach shot, with bunkers again coming into play.
Text: Jim Sutherland
Photos: Michael O'Bryon (Holes 3, 4, 13, 14)