Cancun golf soon among Caribbean's best

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

CANCUN, Mexico -- OK, Cancun may be famous for leisurely family getaways, ritzy business conventions and notorious teenage spring break friskiness. But when it comes to golf, it's an afterthought, right?

Not so fast. Right now, Cancun has a handful of worthy courses, albeit kept relatively under the radar in comparison to its traditional fun-in-the-sun image. But within the next few years Cancun is set to explode into a Caribbean golf mecca.

While the golf course building industry in the United States appears to be slowing, Cancun's golf output is set to boom.

"There are 18 more courses currently in their permit or construction phase in Cancun," notes Julio Viscontti, director of golf operations at the Hilton Cancun Beach and Golf Club. "In Mexico, Cancun will soon pass Cabo [as a golf destination]."

Viscontti says this is why in the next year you'll see Cancun's tourist marketing strategy switch from its traditional beaches and snorkeling scheme to a golf-oriented one instead.

While a plethora of Cancun courses are currently in development, travelers can already come to Cancun for a golf-first vacation, Viscontti said.

"We get all types of travelers here, from golf vacations, to just a round or two on their trip. Some are hardcore golf every day, and others just play one round," he said.

Golf in Cancun

No course in Cancun is cheap. In fact, expect to pay at least $100 for 18 holes, especially during Mexico's peak golf season from mid-December to May. Winters in Cancun are significantly less rainy than the spring and summer months. The high temperature doesn't change much, but summers are a bit warmer with highs in the upper 80s. Cancun's busiest weeks over the course of the year are the weeks before and after Christmas, when many Mexicans visit for a weekend. Also, March and April is the spring break invasion, so if you are planning a visit during this time, call way ahead and expect to pay top Peso.

Moon Palace

Just over a year old, the new Jack Nicklaus course makes Moon Palace the only multi-course resort in Cancun. The newest course currently in Cancun, the design was intent on harmonizing the routing of the course with the surrounding lush vegetation. Many natural wetlands come into play from the surrounding thick jungle. The island green 17th is a mere 141 yards, but is followed by a 442-yard monster closing hole.

Moon Palace Resort's other course, The Golf Club at Playacar is no pushover either, and is widely regarded as one of Mexico's best. Designed by Robert Van Hagge in 1994, the course is just a few hundred yards from the crystal blue ocean but is carved mostly through dense inland jungle. The Golf Club at Playacar currently flexes its muscles as the longest in Cancun at 7,204 yards.

Moon Palace is an all-inclusive resort, but it does not include golf at either course (but all beverages are included). Guests staying at Moon Palace do get a discounted greens fee compared to the street rate.

Hilton Cancun Beach and Golf Club

Hilton Beach's Golf Club will host a European Tour Challenge Tour event (the Eurpean Tour's equivalent to the Nationwide Tour) in January. For the event, the Golf Club is currently undergoing a slight redesign, including new tee boxes to increase the modest 6,767-yard current length. The course plays very wet, with the beautiful yet penal Nichupte Lagoon on one side and the Caribbean Sea dominating the other.

Viscontti says the course setting and the native wildlife is something not found elsewhere in Cancun.

"We're basically the only golf course right on Cancun Copper," notes Viscontti. "On the golf course itself we have wildlife ranging from flamingos to peacocks to crocodiles."

Pok-ta-Pok Golf Club

Pok-ta-Pok Golf Club, the oldest club in Cancun, opened in 1976. Also known simply as Club de Golf Cancun to locals, the club has a Mayan feel to it, as ancient ruins are scattered throughout the course. Many holes play right out to the Caribbean Sea as well, providing a stunning view from several greens. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed this classic beauty, a modest 6,602 yards from the tips.

Pok-ta-Pok is a golf club only, with no accommodations on site. It does, however, have a driving range, practice facility and a full-service pro shop with rental clubs and the works. Specific area hotels do have special rates for guests to play. Visit for the resort list in its entirety. Rates at Pok-ta-Pok for non-guests at these participating hotels are $125 in the high season.

Mayan Palace

Mayan Palace is Cancun's executive course and was designed by Jim Lipe of the Nicklaus design team. Located between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, the 18-hold Mayan Palace is 2,923 yards with 28 bunkers. The course is an inland course but does have two lakes that come into play on many of the holes. The course compliments the Mayan Palace Resort, which is 45 minutes from downtown Cancun. Greens Fees at Mayan Palace is a hefty $150, but is all-inclusive, including food, drink and transportation.

Off the course

So Cancun has beaches, lagoons, and just about everything under the sun. But what you may not know about are unique attractions unfound anywhere else in the Caribbean. The Mayan civilization, which thrived in Mexico as well as Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and several other parts of Central America, left some astonishing ruin sites dating back to the first and second centuries. A handful of Mayan ruin sites are within an hour or two of Cancun. Several buses leave each day from downtown Cancun to these sites, which provide a day's worth of entertainment. Tours of the ruins run $60-$80 per person. Tulum is a two-hour trip from downtown Cancun and is one of the most popular ruins to visit.

Cancun has beaches and sunshine, of course. But the deep jungle further inland is a total 180 degree spin. Cancun has dubbed itself "The World's Water Sport's Capital." Cancun prides itself on its adventure and outdoor challenges over its lazy beaches. Snorkeling, scuba diving wrecked ships, swimming with the sharks, skydiving, or merely taking in the natural beauty of the surrounding jungle.

While Cancun at status quo may not be a bon-a-fide golf resort kind of locale, beware, because in the next few years it will make a push to be the best in the Caribbean. But right now, it does the trick for travelers looking to squeeze in a round or two.

"Our visitors on average stay seven to 10 days for pleasure," says Viscontti. "There's stuff to do for everyone, from ruins to deep sea fishing and romantic stuff, too."

Where to Eat

Cancun has gone American in many parts in terms of eating, so don't be shocked when you find TGI Friday, Rainforest Caf', Hard Rock Caf' and others.

La Habichuela -- Located in downtown Cancun, La Habichuela prides itself on its "old Cancun" style. La Habichuela serves Mexican and Caribbean food as well as traditional seafood. Adding to its historic flavor, the restaurant is set in an ancient Mayan tone.

Captain's Cove -- Located right on the Nichipute Lagoon with decks that extend right out to the water, Captain's Cove's setting is great for romantic, sunset dinners. The food isn't too bad either, serving everything from seafood to Angus beef.

Arrecifies -- Located on Cancun's "Restaurant Row", Arrecifes is one of the most upscale on the strip. Arrecifies is located in the Westin Regina Resort and serves seafood and Italian. Its elegant setting of dim lighting and live piano music are also a treat.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment

    Rab Nelson wrote on: Nov 17, 2005

    When in Cancun why not visit the Ancient Mayan FRESH WATER Cenotes and caves or the Sea Turtles swimming amongst the coral reefs.
    Who knows if the construction and maintainence of golf courses continues it may all be gone in the next few years.
    Enjoy your round


  • Cancun Golf

    Tony T wrote on: Oct 4, 2004

    As a former resident of Cancun, let me say that the courses in Cancun proper, Pok-ta-Pok and the Hilton course (formerly Caesar Park when I lived there) are interesting layouts. Not of the strength of other resort area courses but quite good for this area, albeit overpriced. A note - Playacar is not actually in Cancun, but about 40-50 miles south of Cancun near Playa del Carmen.


    • RE: Cancun Golf

      steve wrote on: Jan 8, 2005

      I am headed for the Sunscape at Puerto Adventurs. Looks like the course at Placar might be the best choice for me


  • Cancun Golf

    Mike Klemme wrote on: Aug 18, 2004

    The headline lead us to believe we were going to learn something about the new courses coming on line in Cancun. We didn't. Just a rehash of what can be found now. What a waste of time!


  • Golf in Cancun

    Joe G wrote on: Aug 18, 2004

    As someone who contemplated a golf trip to Cancun, and decided against it, thanks for the story. It would have been nice to see what how long timewise all of the new course construction is expected to come online in contemplation of a future trip.