Bathed by the spectacular Riviera Maya, festooned by the crystalline waters of channels and lagoons, sheltered by a tropical jungle and prominent mangroves, one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, The Mayakoba Chameleon, looms majestically over the Mexican Caribbean.
Designed by one of the greatest golf stars of all time, Greg Norman, the course is not exceptional simply because of its beauty, quality and natural environment, but also because it was the first to host a US PGA Tour tournament outside the United States and Canada. That was in 2007, just one year after the opening of the course, and Fred Funk was the winner of the first edition of the Mayakoba Golf Classic. The reigning champion is Matt Kuchar, who beat Danny Lee last year by a stroke. The tournament is played in November, brings together the cream of world golf, and offers more than seven million dollars in prize money.
"Obviously," says the Great White Shark referring to his stunning Mexican creation, "I love positive comments and seeing my work on the international stage, but I don’t design a course for a week-long tournament played by professionals. Nevertheless, I must admit that it is a testimony to my design philosophy when the best players in the game openly praise one of my courses. It's the stamp of approval for a job well done!"
Located just 30 minutes from Cancun airport and 15 from Playa del Carmen, Mayakoba is an ecological complex surrounded by the natural beauty of its lagoons, pools and beaches. Apart from El Camaleón Golf Course, the resort has four luxury hotels, each with its corresponding beach club, and also several residential properties.
Since its inception, Mayakoba was conceived as a tourist complex without equal. The design consisted of conserving the existing geography to enhance, without replacing, the stunning natural environment that surrounds it.
The Camaleón, a par-72 of 6,422 metres, extends through three different environments: tropical rainforest, dense mangroves and sandy areas on the seashore, with the holes separated by huge limestone channels. The design incorporates a “cenote” (sinkhole) - a huge and ancient cavern typical of the region - in the heart of the first fairway, a par-5 hole of 506 metres, and there is another next to the green on the next hole, a par-3 of 138 metres.
The constantly changing views, the sinkholes, the lagoons, the mangroves, the jungle and the Mexican Caribbean all frame a perfect setting for an experience that can be enjoyed by golfers of all levels. This is not just the hackneyed phrase claimed by all golf courses: in this case it is completely true because, thanks to, among other aspects, having five different tees, the holes are extremely versatile and perfectly adapt to the needs and challenges of both a seasoned player and a beginner.
The ocean side of the course is part of a vast system of mangrove wetlands with minimal undulations. The holes in the upper area are undulating and rocky. The design details are spectacular and the sinkholes create risky, and unusual, landing areas. This, together with its excellent maintenance and presentation, make it a truly first-class course.
El Camaleón has the only Jim McLean Golf School in Mexico, including swing analysis cameras with JC Video System and the best certified instructors. Its Koba restaurant adds the final touch to an unforgettable day of golf with a delicious concept based on fresh, local and high-quality products.
The Price of Quality
The high season at El Camaleón runs from 1 November to 31 May, with the rest of the year considered to be the low season. Prices in the high season range from $239 to $329, depending on the time of departure, and include buggy, practice balls and transportation to the hotel.
Hole with the Best Views
The best views at El Camaleón Mayakoba can be seen from the 15th hole. A high green offers an exceptional panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea, with the island of Cozumel on the horizon, and the coast of what is considered the best stretch of beach in the entire Mayan Riviera area: Maroma.
The course record is 61 (11-under-par), which Roland Thatcher carded on 23 February 2008 during the second edition of the Mayakoba Golf Classic, the first US PGA Tour tournament to be held outside the United States and Canada.
Mayakoba: “City on Water”
Mayakoba, which means "city on water" in the Mayan language, has 10 kilometres of crystal-clear freshwater channels that connect Greg Norman's masterpiece, El Camaleón golf course, with four luxury hotels: Fairmont, Banyan Tree, Rosewood and Andaz. In addition there are private residences. Guests at the resort’s hotels and home owners enjoy preferential rates at El Camaleón.
Nestled in front of the second largest coral reef in the world, the Mayakoba Eco-Friendly Resort is Rain Forest Alliance Verified and Audubon International Certified, and has been honoured with the UNWTO Ulysses UWTO Award for its commitment to the environment.
The Andaz Mayakoba is surrounded by tranquil lagoons and lush vegetation with winding nature trails. Its 214 rooms and suites are inspired in a natural way with open designs, flooded with natural light and featuring a refined artisanal décor. Local works of art adorn the walls, and decorative tiles dress the floors.
The jewel of the Riviera Maya is the Banyan Tree Mayakoba. A sanctuary for the senses where ancient civilisations embrace each other and where the passionate nature of Mexico is relieved by a gentle touch of the Far East. It has 121 private villas with their own pools.
It is known as the "Venice of the Caribbean," and most of the 401 rooms and suites at Fairmont Mayakoba have private entrances, spa-style bathrooms and furnished balconies or terraces overlooking the tropical forest, well-tended gardens or Caribbean Sea.
Surrounded by emerald jungle and spectacular white beaches with turquoise waters, Rosewood Mayakoba defines a private world of exceptional luxury and refined beauty. Inspired by Mayan traditions and designed to combine harmony with natural landscapes, it is an oasis of luxury, offering 130 suites with private pools.
Luxury properties in the Riviera Maya… Located in 240 hectares of tropical jungle and mangroves bordering the white sandy beaches of the Mexican Caribbean, the natural beauty of Mayakoba provides the inspiration for the Riviera Maya’s most exclusive and private houses. Mayakoba Residences is a celebration of the enveloping nature of luxury with an unparalleled collection of residences (Banyan Tree, Fairmont and Rosewood) that offer an individual vision for guests to experience. The owners of Mayakoba Residences enjoy preferential rates and benefits at the El Camaleón golf course.
The Great White Shark
The designer of El Camaleón, Greg Norman - arguably the most successful athlete-turned-businessman in the world - is known as much for his entrepreneurial spirit in the boardroom as for his domination on the golf course. The internationally renowned “Great White Shark” won more than 90 tournaments worldwide, including two British Open Championships, and holds the distinction of defending his number one position in the world golf rankings for 331 weeks.
Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD) is recognised as the premier signature golf course design firm in the world, featuring over 100 courses opened across 34 countries and six continents, with many having won prestigious design awards.
Greg’s experience playing many of the world’s great golf courses over a 25-year career served as a catalyst to develop his interest in golf course design. Because each design bears his name, he personally makes it his mission to get involved with every step of the design process, from walking the virgin site, to planning and construction, all the way to opening day.
Notable for his environmental stewardship, Norman’s “least disturbance” design philosophy creates golf courses that enhance their surrounding environment and highlight each property’s natural features. “We believe that we have a responsibility to our customers, to the communities and to the environment in which we have a presence, which means sustainability is the only acceptable model for our business.
“We take seriously the legacy we create in designing and developing each golf course. GNGCD is committed to building lasting relationships with our clients and making a global impact by creating courses that courses that withstand the test of time.”
David López Monar, Director of El Camaleón: “The most important course in the history of Latin American golf”
He is - with every justification - proud to manage this extraordinary golf course. He has held the position since September 2017 and before that was director of instruction at the Jim McLean Golf School in Mayakoba and golf director of Club Campestre Tampico.
What are the characteristics that best define El Camaleón in your opinion?
The Chameleon changes constantly. This golf course is set in three different scenarios: the tropical jungle, the mangroves and the amazing coastal straits, intertwined with channels surrounded by solid limestone.
What hole or holes would you highlight on the course and why?
The first hole is unique in the world. At about 270 metres from the professionals’ tee you will find in the middle of the fairway an impressive sinkhole. It is undoubtedly one of the most attractive holes I have ever seen. Our 15th hole is also a gem: nothing like a par-3 with the Mexican Caribbean on one side.
What does it mean for the course to have been the first to host a US PGA Tour tournament outside the United States and Canada?
A lot, and not only have been the venue for 12 PGA Tour events, which is impressive enough in itself, but we were also the host venue for the 2015 World Amateur Championship and in 2020 we will host the Latin America Championship, with the winner earning a place in the Masters. Unquestionably, it is the most important course in the history of Latin American golf.
Riviera Maya and all of Mexico have great golf courses. Where in a hypothetical ranking would you place El Camaleón?
Number one: I could not contemplate any other one.