With the opening of a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at the Moon Palace, Cancun has added a new dimension to its sports offerings. The $22 million, 18-hole championship course, which promises to attract more of the lucrative golf market from the U.S., is part of a series of new golf projects for this resort destination.
The new course was created out of the Yucatan jungle with care taken to protect the environment. And play on the course is challenging but not excessively difficult, making it ideal for U.S. golfers who want to relax over a few rounds.
“We didn’t ‘carve’ this golf course out of the jungle, we ‘drew’ it from the jungle, taking advantage of the local ecology,” says Nicklaus. “It molds itself to the environment. It has its own personality, which has been dictated by the characteristics of the terrain–very flat with lush vegetation. Many of the plants were salvaged, and the flora and fauna offer more diversity than before–so much so that it serves as a refuge for several species.”
MAJOR GOLF DESTINATION
This investment from the luxury all-inclusive Palace Resorts takes a serious step toward making this region, which is the fastest-growing in Mexico, a major golf destination, says USTOA President Robert Whitley, CTC, a golf enthusiast. He points out that golf constitutes an important ingredient that had been lacking in the Cancun-Riviera Maya area. “These facilities will now make the region a major golf destination because of its convenience and nearness to the U.S. market; you can leave on a morning flight and tee up at noon,” he says.
The Moon Palace’s new golf facility is just one of nine new golf projects that have been in the works along the Mexican Caribbean coast. Two years ago, Palace Resorts also acquired a Robert von Hagge-designed championship golf course in Playacar, a tourism development near Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya. The company has so far invested $12 million to improve and renovate this facility and its golf club.
This latter investment is located near Palace’s new properties, the Xpu-ha Palace and the Spa Palace. “The golf courses at the Moon Palace and in Playacar are a great asset to market the destination,” says Mark Meuwissen, product manager-international for MLT Vacations in Edina, Minn.
He says this holds especially true in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, where golf is a popular pastime. “The upper Midwest has a golf season of seven months out of the year because of the severe winters, so playing in Cancun and the Riviera Maya offer a great alternative,” he says. “It creates more demand from people who don’t think of this region as a golf destination.”
MLT is selling golf packages from its U.S. gateways at the Palace as well as in other resorts in Cozumel, such as the all-inclusive Melia Cozumel and the new all-inclusive Mayan Palace in the Riviera Maya. In addition, Northwest Airlines has announced year-round daily service from Memphis to Cancun, with feeder markets from the southeast.
Other points of origin in the U.S. are also enthusiastic. “This is a wonderful thing for our FIT clients,” says Ed Jackson, president of Runaway Tours in San Francisco. “Business is growing dramatically from California to Cancun, and more golf will enhance the destination tremendously.”
Joe McCarthy, director general of FONATUR (the tourism development fund for Mexico) says golf is a great way to attract more visitors to Cancun and the rest of the Mexican Caribbean. “It’s a great way to diversify the market and get good rates for the hotels,” he says.
More golf courses are planned for the Riviera Maya, which boasts 50,000 hotel rooms and can easily accommodate more golfers. Among the new projects are two PGA golf courses in Punta Nizuc that are part of FONATUR’s third stage of development for Cancun. In addition, plans to build a golf course in Puerto Cancun, which were on hold, are being revived.
The Moon Palace golf course has been a success so far, with 250 to 300 people playing there each day since its opening. Jose Chapur, co-owner of Palace Resorts with brother Roberto, the company president, says Palace Resorts plans to build two more golf courses there.
And according to Jose’s brother Roberto Chapur, president and the other co-owner of Palace Resorts: “Golf attracts people who are willing to pay for a quality product.”