El Camaleon Mayakoba Golf Course

DEL CARMEN, Mexico — From the very first hole, you get the sense that El Camaleon Golf Club is different than your typical resort course. Off in the distance, unreachable by mortal players on this 554-yard par 5, is a cenote, or sinkhole in the middle of the
fairway. The course builders didn’t know about it until a bulldozer fell through the ground
to expose it.
Instead of trying to fill it, designer Greg Norman left it there, creating an unusual
hazard. As it turns out, these cenotes exist throughout the Fairmont
Mayakoba, exposing an underground river system below. There’s another one in
behind the green of the par-3 second hole, but that’s just the beginning of the
topographical anomalies that set this 7,024-yard golf course apart from other
golf courses.
El Camaleon, which has played host to the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic since
2007, has become a quiet favorite among tour players. The PGA Tour event is
played opposite the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Marana, Ariz., which is open to
the top 64 available players in the world. Instead of taking the week off, many
of those players who don’t make the Accenture are choosing to make their way to
the Yucatan Peninsula, 40 minutes south of Cancun to the Mayakoba Resort. The
fields have been improving every year, not only because of the hospitality and
quality of the resort, but the golf course has impressed as well.
“It’s really been word of mouth,” said Director of Golf Kevin Sebulski.
“Guys play here and tell other guys how good it is, and they want to come.
Really, it’s not so bad to be the 65th-ranked player in the world. They have it
pretty good here.”
El Camaleon is a golf course for all levels
Operated by the Fairmont Mayakoba resort, the golf course is 100 percent paspalum,
providing perfect lies on the fairways and consistent, albeit slower green
speeds than found on most tour courses.
But around those perfect fairways is plenty of trouble, including miles of natural
mangrove forests, which are home to all kinds of natural species of wildlife,
including tropical birds and fish and iguanas everywhere (no, there are no
chameleons). Certified by Audubon International, El Camaleon has lots of holes
that are also bordered by canals that were painstakingly carved through the
limestone during construction of the resort. They reveal crystal clear water
that not only provides water hazards on the golf course, but a waterway between
hotels and the golf course. And two holes, including the signature par-3 15th,
are set against the Caribbean Sea, exposed to the sea breeze, which adds
another element of difficulty.
In short, the golf course is anything but easy for the world’s best players, who
play it as a par 71. It requires accuracy, course management and an excellent
short game. The holes are all memorable, especially the finishing stretch.
Fortunately, there are four sets of tees, playing as little as 5,000 yards from the forward
tees. For the resort player, choosing the right set of tees is paramount
because you’ll want to have a shortish club for approaches to avoid finding the
water hazards, which are present on 80 percent of the holes.
El Camaleon Golf Club: The verdict
El Camaleon Golf Club gets high marks for conditioning, interest and beauty. The
golf course is truly one of Norman’s best designs, offering a variety of holes
with different backdrops. There’s nothing boring about El Camaleon. It forces
you to pay attention, but it’s fair. If you manage your game and have
reasonable control over your shots, you can have success. If you spray it,
however, make sure you’ve got several sleeves of golf balls.
Naturally, practice facilities are also outstanding, including an extensive short-game
area, complete with practice putting greens, practice bunker and pitching
Guests will also enjoy the dining at El Camaleon’s clubhouse, which serves up fresh
pico-de gallo, avocadoes, fresh seafood, burgers and quesadillas.
Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer

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