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Tequila and Golf? Your Mexican Dream Vacation in Cancun and Cozumel

By Diana Rowe Martinez, Contributor

From your approach in the air, a city rises out of thick sultry forests. Dozens of hotels line pristine beaches frosted with white-sugary sand and border brilliant turquoise waters that protect coral reefs.

For a moment, you're concerned. Sure, beaches are nice, but.Then you see it. The manicured, undulating fairways, peek out of the jungle, offering a verdant lushness not at all like home and the views of crystal clear ocean and lagoons that city purification plants can only dream of. You've arrived in Mexico at the tropical paradise of Cancun in the Quintana Roo, the easternmost state of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Twenty-five years ago, Cancun was a tourist's dream concocted by the Mexican government. These visionaries carved a paradise out of a thick, low, jungle-smothered fourteen-mile islet off the East Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

This flawless world offers temperatures averaging 80, with summer and autumn more humid, giving us the most opportune season to visit-winter. How perfect is that? A time of year when many of us look out on our own golf courses and only see snow covered bunkers.

The international airport is a short bus ride to the Hotel Zone, featuring over 26,000 hotel rooms that lure almost 3 million visitors each year. No Espanol? No problemo. Although Spanish is the primary language, with Cancun's primary industry being tourism, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't know English. French and German are also heard due to the international tourist trade.

Okay, so now you're here. What's next?

For those serious golfers without much time to waste, a stay at the award-winning Hilton Cancun Hotel & Golf Club (www.hiltoncancun.com) is highly recommended. A 15-minute ride from the airport, the Hilton Cancun's architectural design of a Mayan pyramid will render you speechless.

Cancun and Cozumel on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula present a most intriguing and cultural history.

Surrounded by sparkling Caribbean water, this beachside resort features 426 guestrooms, with panoramic ocean views. Not only is there a Caribbean view, but in the courtyard are seven heated cascading pools and two Jacuzzis. A few steps more and you're on the beach. A service bar hut under a thatched roof sits in the middle of the pools, for those thirsty beach bums.

The Hilton is a perfect choice for entertaining family vacations. A health club with a sauna massage, a fully equipped gym, sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, diving, fishing and two lighted tennis courts will keep even the most energetic family active. Perhaps your children are younger? No problemo. Hilton offers a supervised Kids Club and Red Cross certified babysitting services.

You'll never go hungry at the Hilton with Executive Chef Hans Gruber and his mouth-watering menus. How about dinner at the beachside La Sirenita for seafood and oriental specialties? The ocean provides the background music to your romantic dinner. Inside the hotel, Spices Restaurant offers buffet or a la cart breakfast and three kitchens serving menus for dinner: Mexican, Italian and fine meat cuts.

But wait! That's not why you're here, is it? Designed around the Nichupte Lagoon, Hilton Cancun Golf Club (www.hiltoncancun.com/golf.htm) is an 18-hole, par 72 course, 6,767-yard encounter. With brochure captions reading "A Resort Without Golf Isn't Up To Par," and "At Hilton, golf is a way of life," the golfer is in for special treatment.

For those intent on making the most of their golfing vacation, Hilton Cancun offers high season (January-April) 18-hole rates of only $110, but you can do one better by purchasing "Golf in Paradise" packages. Packages include an ocean view room, breakfast, welcome cocktail, and unlimited green fees, starting as low as $988 for 4 days/3 nights.

Manicured fairways and greens, spectacular scenery, and exotic wildlife awaits you at the Hilton's course, with the special service of Mexican hospitality. All skills of golfers will fair well here with three tee options. Lush Bermuda fairways and greens are designed and constructed with challenges of 78 sand traps, water hazards on each hole and water channels coursing through the grounds.

Your first hole starts off fairly sedate with a 381-yard slightly left, but dry par 4, with bunkers tormenting you along the fairway and surrounding the green. After you've eased into the game, challenges and distractions will await you at every turn. Iguanas, peacocks and all manner of bird life are seen at every picturesque hole. Huge fish swim beside hole #3.

Lagoon sailboats tease you alongside hole #12. Pelicans, geese and three kinds of herons taunt you along Hole #13. If the water doesn't soak up your golf balls, the back nine hosts a mangrove jungle to test your accuracy. Exhausted, you'll drive up to the 562-yard 18th hole only to be rendered speechless by a peek at the El Rey Mayan Ruin, the closest ruin to the Hotel Zone.

But as with any golf game, there's always that 19th hole. When in Mexico, well, it's a golfing tradition to kick back with a cerveza and tequila and why not start here at the Hilton?

Now that you've golfed the Hilton Cancun once or twice, you're ready for another challenge. Lucky for you Cancun has more golf choices.

Golf addicts will drool over Pok-ta-Pok Club De Golf, with championship yardage of 6,602 on a par 72 and hundreds of meters of dramatic shoreline and hosting ancient Mayan ruins.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., it is the oldest course in Cancun. Snuggled between the Nichupte Lagoon and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, Pok-ta-Pok is only 20 minutes from the airport with easy access from the Hotel Zone via bus or taxi. Special golf rates are offered to some of the Cancun hotels.

Hole 1 starts off with a straight and open 354 yard, par 4. At the 3rd hole, beware the Mayan ruins, uncovered during construction. These ruins roost left of the green and only presents trouble for those with a slice. Tall bush-like flowers called txoras and tulipanes are scattered throughout the course in celebration of the bright Mexican colors of red, yellow and pink.

Hole 12's par 4, and 14's par 3 have spectacular, shimmering ocean vistas, with sailboats and parasails drifting on the horizon just beyond the green. The par 5's at Pok-ta-Pok range from 556 to 527 yards, straight shots with trouble in the bunkers. Bunkers are generally wide and long. Sloping greens give you plenty of room but demand a strong putter.

Advance tee times may be made by email at poktapok@sybcom.com. A round of golf at Pok-ta-Pok is very reasonable: low season :$70, high season $105. Mobile cart service is available to those thirsty golfers.

A well-stocked Pro Shop and a restaurant and bar await you at Hole 19. While you sip your drink, choose from authentic and tasty Mexican cuisine, or for those less adventurous palates, order a hamburger. As you relax, you'll look out over the Nichupte Lagoon and Hotel Zone and reminisce over your successful golf vacation adventure.

For those history buffs, the phrase "Pok-ta-Pok" refers to the ancient Mayan sport where the victors were actually put to death. But you can rest easy here. Although your golf game could easily "hurt" you, it won't be the death of you here.unless you spend too much time nursing tequila on Hole 19.

Other quick golf fixes in Cancun can be found on the 18-hole par 3 at the Melia Cancun Hotel, and the 9-hole, par 3 at the Gran Oasis Hotel.

No matter your golfing pleasure, you'll find it here in Cancun and Cozumel. And then there is the tequila.

For those determined to get the most out of their golf vacation, there's more golf to love just outside of Cancun's Hotel Zone.

A short 45-minute drive south through thick jungle and grasslands, past ranches big and small, leads to the once sleepy fishing village of Playa del Carmen, one of the fastest growing communities in Mexico. Once again, miles of sandy, palm-lined beaches border the crystal-clear Caribbean.

Dozens of restaurants and hotels are available for any budget or taste. A shopper's haven, Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) runs through the center of the town, open to foot traffic only. Restaurants, cafes, artisans' shops, dive shops and boutiques line this busy street, a short block from the beach. Or perhaps you'd rather lie on the beach or boogie the night away at the local discos.

Better yet, how about another round of golf? Yep, just south of Playa del Carmen, you will find Playacar Club de Golf, a course that opened in 1994. Surrounded by resort hotels, you have the choice of hopping hotels and spending a few days here, or staying in Cancun and making the drive. Whatever your decision, the Playacar is a must-play course. Reservations can be made in advance via telephone/fax: (987) 3-06-24 / 3-06-74.

At 7,202 championship yards, this 72 par is an exceptionally long and challenging course, although three tee boxes offer a game for all skills. At many holes, the jungle crawls to the edge of the fairway, trying to escape and run free across the course. Golf rules cite the jungle as a lateral hazard.

Balls lost are to be played from within two club lengths of entering the thicket, and the player is penalized one-stroke. A caution to the stubborn golfer, searching for your errant ball might net snakes, crocs or other predators.

Playacar's fairways undulate like the waves rolling in from the Caribbean. The golf gods will knock you down a notch or two when your perfect drive kicks the direction of the rolling hills. Hole 1 starts the golfer with a dogleg at about the 160 marker, for a 389 yard, par 4, an attainable par 4 for the smart shooter.

And this is, excuse the pun, par for the course. Risk takers will be rewarded, and at the same time, unsuccessful risk takers will struggle on this course. Bunkers here are deep, long and wide. Hole 13 even has bunkers sculpted into a gully to the left of the green-not a place even the best sand wedger wants to be!

Oftentimes, a tall and wide tree sits in the middle of the fairway or in front of the green, an obstacle difficult to miss. Hole 15 offers up a groove of trees to the left of the fairway, but still a threat to the golfer. Two of the four par 5's are very long and difficult - 607 and 622 yards respectively.

Although the ocean doesn't play in this course, Playacar has made good use of the jungle, water hazards (lakes) and bunkers. Playacar's vistas might not be open like the other courses in Cancun, but it is still awe-inspiring.

The finishing hole curves left around the lake, with the jungle crowding on the right side. With the typical long and deep bunker at the dogleg, the golfer either plays it smart or ends up in the sand or swimming in the lake-quite the predicament for a finishing hole.

The 19th hole is a few steps from the finishing hole and overlooks the front of the course. When you take a look at where you've been and what you've accomplished at Playacar Club de Golf, you'll know you are well deserving of that finishing cerveza or refreshing agua.

The added benefit of venturing this far outside of Cancun is you can hop the ferry that heads over to the Isla Cozumel for less than the cost of an American lunch. Cozumel, the largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, is best known for its international reputation of diving and snorkeling in the world's second-largest coral reef network featuring limestone caves, tunnels and rare block coral.

The west side of the island hosts those same sugar-white sand beaches with the intensely turquoise water. Venture seaside to the east of the island, and you'll find beaches, but with stronger currents and shorter, more desert like vegetation.

Take some time to discover Cozumel and its hidden beauties. And in the spring of 2001, you'll find another beauty-Cozumel Country Club, Cozumel's first golf course! The Nicklaus-designed, 18-hole, 6,847 yard, par 72 golf course is being managed by Clubs Corporation of America and is still under construction at press time by Diamond Golf International.

A special preview was given to TravelGolf.com. This course is guaranteed to be a beauty. The greens will consist of hybrid Bermuda turf. Fairways will be built around Cozumel's trees, mangroves and wetlands to preserve ecologically sensitive areas.

Mangroves (and marshes) are one of the most important ecosystems in the state. Mangroves are rich in flora and fauna and their immense value to coastal ecology is only just being understood. Many birds make their home in area mangroves, including 15 members of the heron and egret family, ibis and roseate spoonbill, to mention a few.

Although initially being temporarily removed, the mangroves are being replanted throughout the course to maintain ecological stability, and as another golfer obstacle. This course's challenges may begin with a drive over a water supply thick with mangroves or end with a shot over the top or around mangroves onto long sloping greens. Enough to make you praise or curse the golf gods.

Diamond Golf Corporation should be commended for their extraordinary efforts to carve this amazing course literally out of the jungle, yet attempting to maintain the façade of the tangled jungle, vegetation and wildlife.

According to Cozumel Country Club's representative Martin Delgadillo, "When our workers cut through the jungle and uncover palm trees, we have one worker in charge of retrieving these palms and replanting them elsewhere on the course. So far we've been very successful."

The cart paths are designed such that a manmade path does not alter the golfer's view of the magnificence of Cozumel. The jungle will border the fairways in much the same way as Playacar, and again, a ball off the fairway is not worth retrieving in the jungle because of the crocs and snakes.

All greens will be elevated above sea level to prevent flooding. Three tees, including championship, offer all levels of golfers a challenge, yet the beginners will still enjoy the game.

President of the Isla Cozumel Hotel Association and private sector representative for the tourism foundation, Gastonia Chanterelle Diaz said it best, "We are thrilled to welcome the addition of this world-class golf course and country club. In playing the course, our visitors will be in touch with nature, the environment and the ecologically preserved areas that are so special to the island of Cozumel."

Posted public green fees will be approximately $110 per person for 18 holes and a discounted twilight rate. Keep checking Cozumel's web site at www.islacozumel.com.mx for Cozumel Country Club's opening schedule.

Why not stay and play in Cozumel? The island offers accommodations for every budget, from posh five-star hotels to all-inclusive resorts. There are more than 3,600 rooms on the island.

The 254 room, all-inclusive resort El Cozumeleno is situated directly across from the new Cozumel Country Club, with a view of the course from its open hotel corridors. The rooms' décor is bright, colorful, and airy, with a Caribbean flair, offering balconies with an ocean view.

The service and food is excellent (especially since it's included in the price!), with the staff always offering a friendly smile. Again, the pool is enticing opening out to the Santa Pilar Beach on the lee side of the Isla Cozumel. Many activities and lessons are included in the package, including a specially designed Kid's Program, as well as elective water sports.

If that isn't enough, El Cozumeleno's location is enticing-just five minutes from the airport and San Miguel, and minutes away from the new Cozumel Country Club's entrance. (Contact info: email: hotelcoz@cozumel.czm.com.mx or call 800-742-4276.)

With approximately 185 daily domestic and international flights into Cancun, and numerous flights including island-hoppers into Cozumel, this tropical paradise is reachable and affordable. There are no excuses to take the time to play and golf in Cancun and Cozumel.

Cancun and Cozumel on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula present a most intriguing and cultural history, excellent Mayan and Mexican food and drink, and diving and snorkeling adventures. Blend this with several dashes of golf rounds and you'll have a vacation to remember.

Hilton Cancun Golf Club

Retorno Lacandones KM.17
Zona Hotelera
Cancun, Q. Roo, 77500. Mexico
Tel: (529) 881-8000 or 1-800-HILTONS

Pok-ta-Pok Club De Golf Cancun

Blvd. Kukulcan, Km 7.5, Zona Hotelera
Tel: (98) 83-12-30, 83-12-77, 83-08-71
From US dial (011-52-98+number)

Playacar Club de Golf

Paseo Xaman-Ha s/n Mza. No. 26, Fracc. Playacar
Playa del Carmen, Q. Roo, Mexico, CP 77710
Tel: (987) 306 24
From the USA: 011-52 (987) 306-24

Cozumel Country Club

(New Course-for more information contact Pok-ta-Pok) or visit Cozumel on web site www.islacozumel.com.mx

Images courtesy of the author and the Cancun Convention & Visitor's Bureau.

Diana Rowe MartinezDiana Rowe Martinez, Contributor

A Denver-based freelance writer, Diana Rowe Martinez is a member of Colorado Travel Writers and writes for other publications, both print and online, in the industries of travel, nonfiction, and business. She writes a monthly column for a Denver based newspaper, Singles Entertainment.

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