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This rich corner of Mexican golf is now easily accessible

Aerial view of the 6th hole at PGA Riviera Maya, a Robert Trent Jones II design that runs between natural pools and cenotes.

Courtesy of PGA Riviera Maya

Stop on Federal Highway 307, an artery that runs north and south along the eastern corridor of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and you’re likely to find a few temporary items. First, the name the main road he is a little rich. A rough, used road that is reduced to two lanes for more than half of its 224-mile length, there is nothing particularly elevated about it. And then there are speed bumps, either up. Sometimes they are well marked, sometimes they are not marked at all, they can move if you are tearing at the speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour. Of particular concern, at least for marginal Americanos with rental car plates, is the proliferation of police checkpoints, where drivers are forced to surrender their license plates to be inspected. The Nissan Sentra is small, quite a bit Narcosbut mostly – mostly – a great display of machismo.

Perhaps the odd highlight of the 307 freeway is its lack of exits. There are few signs and no exits, especially in the undeveloped, densely forested areas of Yucatán that divide the coastal chain of sun-drenched tourist destinations: Cancún leading the way in the north, Playa del Carmen a little further south and the southern areas of Akumal, Tulum and Chetumal. For miles and miles, there is no way to get there turned off Highway 307. But if there’s a hemmed-in, you-can-check-out-whenever-you-want-but-you’ll-never-leave-it quality, who’s complaining? Instead of exits, what are the most heavily trafficked dots are 307 large, ornately designed portals to luxurious playgrounds hidden beyond the forest line. The highway signs don’t read MAIN STREET or MINNEAPOLIS, they read BAHIA PRINCIPE and SECRETS AKUMAL — the names of the resorts. And behind each ornate marble or limestone gate sits a pleasure palace and a quintessential piece of the Caribbean.

Aerial view of conrad
Aerial view of Conrad Tulum.

Victor Elias/Victor Elias Photography

Over the years, Highway 307 has made travel difficult for tourists. The development of lower Yucatán is, to some extent, hindered by the region’s limited access. Until recently, travelers booked into resorts in and around Tulum, for example, had to endure a two-hour-plus trip from Cancun airport before tucking into their first margaritas. That long haul kept some of these resorts and municipalities at an attractively low standard, but it didn’t quite match Mexico’s tourism aspirations. After years of speculation, the state-funded Tulum International Airport opened last December, with major airlines – including Delta and American – committed to bringing direct flights to Tulum from Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Miami and Newark, among other key US locations. International flights will follow.

What does this mean for Yucatán hospitality players? Expansion and, they hope, a rush of new business. What does it mean for golfers? In the case of one luxury resort, it’s a tempting offer.

The Conrad Tulum Riviera Maya is tucked behind one of the luxury sites along Highway 307. An hour’s drive north of the new “jungle airport,” the resort welcomes its guests with what one driver called a “free Mayan massage” — a twist. walk through the palm cobblestoned entryway, it’s stunningly beautiful and bursting to relax your chi before you search for your room key. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of an enclosed utopia like the Conrad, you’ll be familiar with its immediate rewiring of your senses, starting with an airy, open space big enough to contain a Carrier Dome and chic enough to take a breather. You will also know the power of restoring space. In a few days, your most pressing life decisions will involve choosing between sunrise yoga or a sumptuous breakfast buffet, a white sand beach or pooled infinity pools, a paloma or a mojito, a “sea wave” massage or culture of detoxification ” connected to the gods of the sun and the wisdom of the Mayors,” an authentic Mexican feast or high-quality teppanyaki, sushi and short ribs.

The Conrad – one of the most luxurious hotels in the Hilton empire – also tempts you to throw in the towel. Its nearly 200 rooms feature balconies with ocean views and a private hot tub, with a few Tetris steps, seating two. The indoor shower also has a view of the Caribbean – assuming you can get away from the view of the flat screen TV about the width of your king size bed.

The par-3 15th hole at Mayakoba.
The par-3 15th hole at Mayakoba.

Honoring El Chamaleón/Mayakoba

By design, Conrad Tulum leaves you relaxed and pampered. But if you’re a golfer, it wants to take you out too. At the beginning of this year, the resort made an interesting deal. On top of the cost of a double room ($469 per night for a king with ocean view), a fee of about $430 buys you and your partner playing rights to two of Yucatán’s best courses: Robert Trent Jones II’s PGA Riviera Maya, a five-minute drive from the resort for recreation, too, an hour up Highway 307, Greg Norman’s Tour- and LIV-tested El Camaleón in Mayakoba.

“Every day when I’m on this side of the big divot, I feel good,” said the 84-year-old Jones, who remembers filming his Tulum (originally called Bahia Principe Riviera Maya) course from the jungle ahead. opened in 2010. The architect has built buildings on both coasts of Mexico, the Pacific and the Caribbean. He says the difference is that the Caribbean side is “unending, green.” So is the forest. “You have to keep fighting it,” said Jones, “because it will come back if you don’t take care of it.”

The PGA Riviera Maya proves his point. From 290 acres next to a limestone quarry, this course is full of crystal water features, bordered by impenetrable tree lines and – because Mexico is where the wild things are – crawling through experienced jungles. Lizards are almost as deceptive as the builder, who likes to play fun with the fly. Jones is a big proponent of the fun system – rolling fairways and greens, epic doglegs, cool elevation changes – and insects at the same time. Here, after sticking it on the par-3 5th, it makes you wait ten holes for the next par 3, then hits you with a 245-yarder to the high green. He joked about one of the course’s signature holes, No. 6, which has a cenote — one of Yucatán’s estimated 10,000 dive sites — to the left of its green. “If you want to get your ball back, just get a scuba suit,” he says. Sometimes water holes are not visible below you.”

Almost four years ago, the course of Jones – in the country, playing and ranked in the best 30 in Mexico – formed an alliance with the PGA of America, and it is worth the cooperation. By the time your car – loaded with snacks and soft drinks and included in the golf package – returns you to Conrad you’ll appreciate what Jones, the master of high-flying putts, says is the best design for the course. it’s not about repetition, “it’s like a symphony.”

voting in conrad tulum.
Poolside at Conrad Tulum? It’s hard to beat.

Victor Elias/Victor Elias Photography

Greg Norman has gone to punk rock these days, but his lessons in Mayakoba, never touched the Caribbean and even tougher, are a mix of tangled mangrove songs, tropical foliage, rugged wastelands and Instagram-friendly canals and harbors. . Even wild animals agree. In the first group, the task of the beginner is not to define the boundaries but to ease the fear of what may appear in the trees. Fans at the Tour’s WWT Championship at Mayakoba or, more recently, the LIV Golf roadshow, have seen raccoon-like coats roaming Norman’s courses. After the starter warns you to protect your grub from this scavenging food, he, ironically, encourages you to take the free fruit. Obviously, coatis are good for business. It turns out that this boy is a novice, a zookeeper again the merchant of El Camaleón.

Not that it needs to be sold. The course, still covered with billboards from the LIV event in February, is green to green with golfers. If the pace of play at PGA Riviera Maya is good because of the open tee sheet, play at El Camaleón is slower, in part, because of the woods. Hit your ball at the cop and you just won’t get it, you won’t get it anywhere football. It’s a mysterious and expensive Houdini feat, but it’s worth it when you consider how much the resort pays you for quality golf and Mayakoba scorecard bragging rights.

The question is, does the Conrad golf bag push a pencil? Green fees at the Jones and Norman courses run in the $250 range per player, so the four rounds, top-of-the-line transportation and the resort’s stacked course management are a steal.

There’s one last idiosyncrasy you can’t negotiate with Funky Highway 307, which will, in the years to come, get a little tired as Mexico unveils one of its biggest tourist attractions: El Tren Maya, 290 miles of train service connecting resorts, historic ruins, airports and towns big and small up and down the Caribbean coast. RETORNO is the symbol you see repeatedly as you roll 307. It’s the equivalent of sending a U-turn and realizing that it’s almost the only way to reverse the path on that never-ending highway. RETORNO. RETORNO. RETORNO. As the signs fly by on your way out of Tulum, the repetition is lulling.

Don’t put it in Mexico to send you a message.

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John McAlley Contributor

McAlley is the editor-in-chief of GOLF Magazine. He started writing about golf when he was the editor-in-chief of the Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine. That led to a marketing gig with Ashworth Golf, where he wrote about quality golf experiences from coast to coast. His resume includes staff positions at Entertainment Weekly, InStyle again Harper’s Bazaar, and five years working at National Public Radio. His text appeared in GQ, Rolling Stone again Spin, among other books. He has been with GOLF since 2015.

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