Category: Mexico

March 26, 2013

Ask Travelin' Joe: Top picks for Houston and New Orleans, plus a $175,000 golf package

Posted at 1:39 PM by Joe Passov


If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

The $175,000 Golf Trip

Before we get to this week's questions, I've got to tell you about this $175,000 golf package. If you've got six-figures to burn on a one-of-a-kind golf experience, then do I have the "deal" for you.

Mayakoba, a 128-room, all-suite luxury hotel on Mexico's Riviera Maya near Cancun, is introducing The Ultimate Golf Package, for the 401(K)-wrecking price of $175,000.

Available from Nov. 12-19, 2013, the package runs in conjunction with the PGA Tour's OHL Classic at Mayakoba, which moved this year from its customary February date.

Designed for you and two guests, the package includes a private lesson with Hall of Fame teacher Jim McLean, a round of golf with Hall of Fame golfer Greg Norman at nearby Playa Mujeres (complete with a chopper ride to and from), plus three spots in the Mayakoba Pro-Am.

But wait ... there's more! You'll stay seven nights in the 6,272-square-foot Presidential Lagoon Suite, sit at the VIP table at the pairings party, enjoy inside-the-ropes honorary observer positions during the tournament and a meet-and-greet with the tournament winner -- and plenty of other perks.

Call me old-fashioned -- or spoiled from my years at Golf Magazine -- but does that price tag sound, well, high? Hey, don't get me wrong. I'd love the chance to tee it up with the Shark. Certainly, the pro-am sounds like fun, though the typical going rate to play a PGA Tour event pro-am is around $10,000.

The Rosewood Mayakoba? Awesome hotel. I can reserve a Lagoon Studio Suite with a King bed the week before the tournament for $575 per night. Over seven nights, that's $4,025, rack rate. It's not the Presidential Suite, but it's pretty nice.

Oh, on the final day, they throw you and your pals a private BBQ and tequila tasting on the beach. But 175K? For that sum, I'd need to go home with a solid gold golf bag and a fistful of diamond ball markers.

Dear Joe,
What's your take on Redstone, this week's PGA Tour stop at the Shell Houston Open? Any other Houston courses you recommend?
Howard Irwin -- Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

I haven't yet played Redstone's Tournament course ($125-$175; 281-459-7800,, the Shell Houston Open venue since 2006, but it's a head-scratcher to me.

David Toms consulted on this Rees Jones design, and while Toms is hardly a bomber, Redstone, at 7,422 yards, is mostly a wide-open, mashers' paradise, albeit one with water all over.

On the one hand, the list of recent champions is impressive: Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim. On the other hand, while Jones's design is eminently fair, it doesn't speak well of the layout itself when the strongest attraction for the pros is that organizers mimic the firm, fast, shaved-down conditions players will face at Augusta National in two weeks.

I won't reserve final judgment until I play it, but from what I see on TV, it's a tough, honest test, but short on memorability.

The precursor to Redstone is Memorial Park Golf Course ($39-$49; 713-559-2000,, a muni that dates to the 1920s. Situated near downtown Houston, the 7,305-yard layout has long claimed status as one of the longest municipal courses in the U.S., and is a healthy stroll at sea level, even as the terrain is mostly flat.

Wide and wooded, it was designed by legendary Texas architect John Bredemus, who also shaped Colonial in Fort Worth. Its tournament history includes 14 Houston Opens between 1947 and '63, when winners included Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Jackie Burke Jr., Cary Middlecoff and Bobby Locke. You'll hardly be wowed by the design itself, but its woody setting, proximity to the city, and affordability are compelling draws.

You also won't find much innovative design at Augusta Pines Golf Club ($62.50-$79.25; 281-290-1910,, but you won't mind a bit. This replica-style course with many Augusta National overtures and back-to-back island greens to close the round is great fun, and it clearly appealed to Bernhard Langer, who ripped the course for rounds of 62-65-64 to win a Champions Tour event by eight in 2007. I guarantee you won't score that well, but you'll enjoy it just as much.

Hi Joe,
My husband and I will be in New Orleans for a wine-tasting event this spring. We'll have a free half-day before the event starts and would like to play golf. Do you have a favorite course for $100 or less?
Jo Ortega -- Highland Heights, Ohio

Since you're not only on a budget, but also appear to be somewhat pressed for time, Audubon Park ($35-$45; 504-212-5290, is the place to play. Condensed in 2001 from a regulation course to a 4,200-yard, par-62 layout by architect Denis Griffiths, this lagoon-filled, oak-dotted, well-bunkered track offers nice variety -- and you can finish in three hours. Edging a popular city park, with holes that abut Tulane and Loyola universities, Audubon Park might be my favorite executive course in the country.

RELATED: The 10 Most Expensive Tee Times

(Photo: Courtesy of Redstone Golf Club)

February 02, 2012

Ask Travelin' Joe: Naples and Riviera Maya, plus TPC Scottsdale's underrated holes

Posted at 2:16 PM by Joe Passov

July11_corkscrew_600x416_1Hi Joe,
We’re heading to Naples, Fla., this winter with four golfers. Can you recommend some good quality courses in the Naples area that won’t break the bank?
Jeff Gilman
Lancaster, N.H.

Between Naples and Cabo, I get asked this question a lot. My response is the same as when someone asks me to help them move furniture: It’s possible, but highly improbable.

Naples and Florida’s southwest coast simply don’t ooze bargains. The inexpensive courses are mostly mediocre, the public-access trophy courses are only for people with expense accounts, and the rest in the region have locked gates.

Still, there’s hope.

Start with Old Corkscrew ($100-$169; 239-949-4700, in Estero, a half-hour north of Naples. This strong Jack Nicklaus creation offers challenge, variety and superb conditioning. Yes, the rack rate is formidable, but if you can wait until 1:40 p.m. to play, it’s $100, and better still there are a variety of discount services that will help lower the cost.

The region’s best deal is River Hall Country Club ($75-$85; 239-313-4653,, in Alva, a 2007 Davis Love III design that rolls out a 7,200-yard layout that emphasizes strategy. Intriguing bunkering and a set of huge, quick greens add to the fun.

A final value is Eastwood Golf Course ($45-$60; 239-321-7487, in Ft. Myers. This 1968 Devlin/von Hagge design is a muni that doesn’t sound like much on paper, tipping out at just 6,772 yards, but a kennel full of doglegs, 87 bunkers and water on 11 holes make this a true test of course management.

Hey Joe,
I’m heading down to Riviera Maya for a week getaway with my wife. Any suggestions on decent and affordable courses in that area? I’ve been to Cancun many times but never to Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Tom Watchko

OK, make that Cabo, Naples—and the Riviera Maya—as terrific golf destinations that are seldom mentioned in the same sentence with “affordability.”

Nearly every course in the region commands $150-$275 price tags for non-twilight times. I still say that the El Camaleon at Mayakoba Resort ($133-$283; 011-52-984-206-3088, is worth the extra pesos, thanks to a truly distinctive Greg Norman design that features two par 3s that melt into the beach edging the Caribbean Sea, plus other holes criss-crossed by limestone canals and a unique par-5 opener that sports a cenote (underwater cave) smack in the middle of the fairway.

Wallet watchers and/or those pressed for time should drive a little further south for Riviera Maya’s nine-hole par-3 course ($65; 011-52-984-875-5048,, a Robert Trent Jones II effort that pairs with a championship 27-holer (18 currently open) on site. Lagoons, jungle-like surrounds and a variety of hole lengths are highlights.

Three underrated holes at the TPC Scottsdale
The wild 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale’s aptly named Stadium course is one of the most famous par 3s—but it’s not even the best par 3 on the back nine. While the island-green par-5 15th, amphitheater par-3 16th and drivable par-4 17th deservedly grab all the glory, here are my picks for three wonderful, but overlooked, back-nine holes that Waste Management Phoenix Open competitors will face this week.

11th hole, 469 yards, par 4
I’ve got to admit that I’m an ever-increasing fan of holes that terrorize with water, though without demanding a forced carry. A huge lake lines the left side of the fairway and the length of the hole mandates driver off the tee.

However, follow through too aggressively on the drive or approach and you’ll hook into the drink. Mid-handicappers will tend to bail right, but that’s where trees and desert scrub await. Billy Mayfair claims that the approach is “probably a 6- to 8-iron into a really thin, very well-guarded green.” It’s usually a 3-wood for me and bogey isn’t a bad score.

12th hole, 195 yards, par 3
The same situation we encountered at 11 is back at 12: Water lurks in frightening fashion, yet you don’t have to carry it. Instead, the lake horseshoes around the back and both sides of the green. Thus, if you could hit a putter hard enough, you could run it right onto the long, narrow green. Push or pull your full shot by a whisker, however—or hit it too boldly—and it will find the proverbial watery grave.

Sure, it’s not as dramatic as a forced carry, but it’s absolutely inspired work by Weiskopf-Morrish, where the hack can make par or bogey via old-fashioned accuracy, but the Tour pro faces a true gut-check if he wants to get it close to a back pin.

18th hole, 438 yards, par 4
Length is no longer the factor it was when the pros first encountered it in 1987, but an extension to the lake on the left and an expansion to the bunkers on the right make this a challenging tee shot on a crucial hole.

Defending champion Mark Wilson says, “No matter where the pin is, however, the green is a smaller target than it appears, because any approach that lands on the left third of the green will fall away from the hole. It’s a great finishing hole where you can make a birdie or a bogey.”

Indeed, with the massive crowds lining the hillside to the right, a lake left, and handsome mountain vistas in sight, this is one of the more underappreciated closers on Tour.

November 12, 2011

Feast your eyes on this Gary Player stunner at Mexico's newest resort

Posted at 1:23 PM by

Baja_600CostaBaja Resort & Spa
La Paz, B.C.S., Mexico
7,187 yards, par 72
Green fees: $100-$160

Not since Zorro rattled his rapier has a man in black carved up an arid southwestern landscape with such precision. Globe-trotting Gary Player had created courses in 35 countries on five continents, but it wasn't until CostaBaja debuted in November 2010 that Latin America was added to his résumé.

Located in La Paz, 100 miles north of Los Cabos on Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, the CostaBaja course is the centerpiece of a massive resort/real estate development that includes a 115-room hotel, 250-slip marina, beach club and spa.

Player's 7,187-yard thrill ride takes center stage. The nine-time Major winner deftly fused the rugged, rolling desert and cactus-covered mountains with a playable layout carpeted in SeaDwarf Paspalum, with rock-accented bunkering that blends the course into the terrain.

Best of all, spectacular Sea of Cortez panoramas beckon at 14 holes, notably at the 612-yard, par-5 14th, which careens downhill and leftward toward the beach amid a phalanx of target bunkers.

"There is so much contrast in what we were able to create there, with the green fairways against the desert conditions and the beautiful blue Sea of Cortez," says Player.

The result? An extraordinary color palette from the man in black.

(Photo: Aidan Bradley)

November 13, 2009

Cozumel Country Club: The Day of the Iguana

Posted at 1:15 PM by Dick Friedman

If you're ever on a cruise ship down Cozumel (Mexico) way, bring your sticks. The Cozumel Country Club — about a 15-minute taxi ride from the cruise port — is a highly playable alternative to a day spent in town haggling for merchandise.

Last week I made my second visit to the club, during a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas. The cruise line had offered an excursion to the club at a rate of $169, green fees and transportation included. There's a pro shop, snack bar and practice range. The staff was courteous and friendly.Cozumel

On my first visit there two years before, I had found the course a little ragged, but this year it was in very good condition. A Jack Nicklaus design, it's also the first course in Mexico to be designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Easy for them to say! Right on the first tee you are confronted with a sign that reads: DANGER!!! CROCODILES!!! CAUTION DO NOT RETRIEVE BALLS FROM WATER FEATURES.

Since my entire game is predicated on hitting balls into "water features,"  I knew this would cost me a few strokes. The crocodile who in 2007 had lurked smack dab in the middle of the sand trap on the par-3 12th was not on view this time, having retreated to the adjacent pond, but we did have to stop our carts often to avoid squashing the iguanas crossing our paths. The distances between some of the greens and the following tees are daunting, making this a tough walk for those so inclined. On some of the rides through the jungle (especially between 17 and 18), I felt like I was in the remake of The Bridge on the River Kwai.

My partners were a couple named Chris and Phil Woods from London, England. We played from the whites (5,624 yards, 66.7 slope/114 rating). The toughest tests come toward the end. No. 16 (in Mayan, Hol Waklahun — but of course you knew that) is a par 5, a dogleg left bisected by a 90-yard deep mangrove that prompts a layup from the shorter hitters. (Like yours truly.) There's another mangrove on the twisty No. 18 (Hol Waxaklahun); this one must be carried off the tee. Frazzled by that time, I slapped my drive right into the grove. Phil had no such trouble; with a solid par, he capped off a round that also included six birdies.

All in all, a welcome break from the all-you-can-eatathon of the cruise.

For more information:

(Photo: Dick Friedman)

February 12, 2009

Snorkeling, sunning and slicing at Fairmont Mayakoba

Posted at 2:21 PM by Joe Passov

After being asked on multiple occasions for golf picks on the Riviera Maya of Mexico it was high time to actually pay a visit. Following in semi-famous footsteps, I chose the Fairmont Mayakoba, home to a PGA Tour event later this month.

After a three-day stay, I’m left with only one thought: What took me so long?Sept_mayakoba_600x464_2

For orientation, Mayakoba is the premier gated development on the Riviera Maya, a beachfront section of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that sits just south of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo. Mayakoba is scheduled to host four resorts, two of which, Fairmont and Rosewood, are already open, with Banyan Tree and Viceroy on the way. For tourists, the region has long been known for its side trips to the spectacular Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen Itza, but for golfers, this tropical retreat overlooking the Caribbean Sea had been a virtual desert. That’s all changed.

As Fairmont’s Director of Golf Douglas Goubault explained, “In 1992, there were 1,950 hotel rooms on the Riviera Maya. Today there are more than 33,000. Where there was no golf—now we’ve got 10 courses, with five more on the drawing board. And even in this economy, there’s not much slowdown here.”    

The highest-ranked layout on the Riviera Maya is Fairmont Mayakoba’s El Camaleon, an absolutely unique Greg Norman design, whose name “the Chameleon,” is an apt depiction of this ever-changing track. Unlike many modern courses, El Camaleon is hardly a bombers paradise. Many of its flattish fairways are bracketed by impenetrable mangroves, others are dotted with bunkers and trees and still others are slashed with lagoons and piercingly clear canals carved through limestone walls. That might explain why the Mayakoba Golf Classic’s first two champions, Fred Funk and Brian Gay, are two of the most accurate drivers in golf.

Continue reading "Snorkeling, sunning and slicing at Fairmont Mayakoba" »

December 18, 2008

Ask Travelin' Joe: Cabo San Lucas, Hilton Head and Fresno

Posted at 10:32 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
My wife and I are going to Cabo San Lucas this winter and I'm looking for a course to sneak out on while she's getting spa treatments. Any courses you can recommend that are worth playing but won't break the bank?

E.J. Costello, via email

Finding value-priced courses in Mexico's high-end Los Cabos area is like trying to find an honest politician -- they do exist, but they're not plentiful. In Cabo there are few bargains, but now at least there's a new quality option: Club Campestre San Jose ($160-$220; 01152-624-1425327, This Nicklaus Design product is located between the airport and the main resort area. Afternoon rates start at $160. Fees drop if you arrange to play multiple rounds. Sea of Cortez views are free.

Dear Joe,
I am going to Hilton Head Island and I am on a tight budget. What courses do you recommend for a 16 to 18 handicap?

Ed Meyer, via email

My value pick is Hilton Head National ($58-$64; 843-842-5900,, an engaging 27-holer that successfully merges mounds and marshland. For a more dramatic Lowcountry romp, try Old South ($55-$70; 843-785-5353,, but expect to surrender a few extra spheres to this salt marsh -- and lagoon -- laced track.

What's New This Month?
Ridge Creek Dinuba Golf Club
Dinuba, CA
Green fees: $51-$75
For tee times call 877-465-3891 or visit

Fresno is the raisin capital of the U.S., so it's no surprise that the newest wrinkle to its golf scene is pretty sweet. Located 30 miles south of downtown in the heart of the Central Valley, Ridge Creek Dinuba Golf Club offers a taste of English heathland. From flat, boring terrain architect John Fought crafted a vast, gently rippling layout with roomy fairways and gigantic, subtly contoured greens. Given the ever-present winds, Fought provided ample space for any class of golfer to blast away with his driver and still find his ball. Admittedly, that ball might be resting in one of the many steep-lipped bunkers scattered across the layout, but at least it's playable.

The strategic bunkering constitutes much of the challenge and variety in the course, but it's pretty clear you're in for a fun day when you compare the daunting yardage from the tips (7,482 yards) with the gentle slope rating (just 126). With a back nine that dishes out two par-4s checking in at 500 yards and a par-5 that runs 648 yards, your driver is sure to get a workout. But there's something to be said for a course that allows the rest of us to bash away with impunity and still walk off No. 18 smiling.

December 11, 2008

Ask Travelin Joe: Palm Beach, San Diego and Mexico

Posted at 2:52 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
I'm headed to Palm Beach for a visit with the in-laws over Christmas. What's the absolute best bargain down there-and I'm looking for a good test of golf, not a par-3 or executive course.

Dave Lyon
Evanston, Ill.

For that part of the Sunshine State, my default mechanism for value is always pegged 45 minutes north of the Palm Beaches, at PGA Golf Club (800-800-GOLF,, in Port St. Lucie. I'm partial to the Wanamaker, by a dimple's width over the Ryder -- both are Tom Fazio designs that max out at $70 on the weekend through December 25th, but the low-profile Pete Dye course there for the same price might be best of the bunch.

If you're sticking closer to the family -- and that's your call -- go with North Palm Beach Country Club (561-691-3433,, a Jack Nicklaus redesign right on U.S. 1 and the Intracoastal that boasts heavily contoured greens, a watery finish and fees under $100 through January 11th.

Hi Joe,
My Oklahoma State Cowboys are bound for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and I'm following along. A few of us want to tee it up. We all know about Torrey Pines -- and the fight for tee times -- but are there any hidden gems out there? It's a Christmas present, so I've got one trophy course in the budget.

Bill Banks
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Locals do special occasion golf at Maderas Golf Club (888-712-1746,, $170-$210) a few miles inland (and out of the fog belt) from La Jolla and downtown San Diego. Johnny Miller was a celebrity design consultant, and it would help to hit irons the way Miller did in his prime to succeed at this hilly, drama-filled layout that's criss-crossed by creeks and canyons. Some point to a few design quirks -- well, I do, anyway -- but no matter how you feel about the layout, at least the tranquil setting, flawless conditioning and superior clubhouse and service make you feel like you got your money's worth from what's unquestionably a pricey round.

Dear Joe,
I want to do a south-of-the-border sunshine run after the New Year. I'd like to tee it up at a big-time track, but my wife is more inclined to the spa and eco activities. Have you got a destination that will work for both of us?

Greg Layton
Denver, Colo.

My first thought was the Fairmont Mayakoba (800-540-6088, and I believe my instincts were right, because they're offering something called the Sweet Deal Package that will have you both meeting up for dinner in good spirits. You get unlimited golf on a PGA Tour course, called El Camaleon, which demands straight hitting (Fred Funk and Brian Gay have won the past two years) on a Greg Norman design that blends jungle holes with seaside tests.

Several holes feature limestone canals cutting through them, while the par-5 opener sports a cavern in the middle of the fairway. She gets spa deals and a boat tour with an ecology expert. Rates start at $459, four-night minimum.

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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