Bienvenidos a Mexico PGA TOUR

By Associated PressFebruary 20, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 Mayakoba Golf ClassicPLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico -- PGA TOUR players are about to discover what colleague Esteban Toledo and thousands of tourists have known for years: Playing 18 holes in Mexico can be as enjoyable as a cold margarita on a hot afternoon.
The PGA TOUR is making its debut south of the border this week with the Mayakoba Golf Classic in an area known as the Riviera Maya. Fittingly enough, the Greg Norman-designed El Camaleon golf course playing host to the event was built for tourists.
For all its natural beauty, the course might not challenge the pros too much, unless there's a stiff enough wind off the Caribbean Sea. Still, no matter how low the scores go, having them posted aqui -- here -- is what matters most to Mexicans.
'The whole country is excited,' said Toledo, a native of Mexicali and among the nation's more successful golfers. 'All the Mexican people see the best players on TV. Now they're seeing them for real, in their own country. This is the biggest thing that can happen for golf in Mexico. I'm really, really surprised we haven't had it before.'
Despite the history being made, this event isn't even getting top billing on this week's PGA TOUR calendar.
The world's top 64 players are at the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. Some others stayed away out of concerns about the course, the country and other unknowns that come with any first-time event.
For the most part, lines at customs have been short and other issues have been minimal. The weather has cooperated, too, going from cool and cloudy on Monday to the kind of crystal blue skies and comfortably warm temperatures shown in commercials on Tuesday.
'All the players I've been talking to, they're excited, they're very happy,' Toledo said. 'It's not Pebble Beach, but it's just wonderful. It's the best golf course that I've ever played in Mexico.'
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem and Norman attended a news conference Tuesday to help kick off the week's events. They were upstaged, though, by Salvador Linares, the director general of construction for developer OHL, a Spain-based company.
Speaking in Spanish, Linares requested 'constructive criticism' from the media, adding with a hearty laugh that no one should '(expletive) with us.' He later said his goal was for 'these gringos to go back home and tell everyone we can do it as well as they can.'
Finchem and Norman heard the barbs through a translator and laughed along, knowing what a character Linares can be. Finchem responded at the end of his opening remarks by saying, 'Salvador, I'm quite certain that we gringos will go back saying, 'Yes, indeed, they can do it just as well as we can.''
Billed as the PGA TOUR's Cancun event, the tournament actually is being held in another part of the Quintana Roo state, south of Cancun and just north of Playa del Carmen, in a resort community called Mayakoba that features jungles, exotic animals and a unique underground water system.
The Norman-designed course and the first of five hotels planned for the area opened in late 2005, a few months after Hurricane Wilma tore through.
The 7,000-plus-yard layout of El Cameleon features two oceanside holes and a cave-like cenote, a natural underground passageway that connects a giant opening on the middle of the first fairway (known as 'Devil's Mouth') to a less-noticeable opening between the second hole and third tee box.
The TOUR is under contract to return here through 2012, so it's possible the less-than-perfect timing of this year's event was intentional, making it somewhat of a dress rehearsal. How things go, on and off the course for the golfers and their families, could determine where the tournament lands on the 2008 calendar.
Toledo expects a primo date.
'I think the word is going to spread,' he said. 'I guarantee you there will be huge names next year. I guarantee it. The whole package here is just fantastic.'
Related Links:
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