El Camaleón Golf Club - Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, México
Forget Water Hazards - Mayakoba Has 'Devil's Mouth'
México's First PGA TOUR Event A Beauty
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, México (AP) -- The first PGA Tour event in México doesn't have Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or the prestige of the Match Play Championship that also is being held this weekend.
Instead, it boasts the "Devil's Mouth."
With white sand in front and mossy grass dripping over various shades of limestone around the sides, the "mouth" actually is the opening to an underground, cave-like passageway that comes out behind the second hole.
Known as a "cenote," it's the first of many natural delights found on El Camaleón, the Greg Norman-designed venue for this slice of PGA TOUR history, the Mayakoba Golf Classic, which opens Thursday.
"It gives character right away," Norman said. "It's an opening statement: 'Here it is!"
Viewed from tee-to-green, the area is shaped like an upside-down egg. It is about 30 yards long and 20 yards wide. It's steep, too, something not truly appreciated until standing on the green side and looking back toward the sandy front.
This week, it's also marked as a hazard with three stakes and a painted circle - all red, of course.
As striking as it is, the intimidation will be mostly for show this week.
The mouth is unlikely to swallow many shots, seeing as it is 320 yards from the tee of this 554-yard, par-5 hole. Pros should easily be able to keep their drives short or wide, then have little trouble clearing it with their second shots.
Still, during practice rounds and perhaps even the real ones, carts parked all around the area and walkers came by, too, to take a peek and wonder about this natural wonder.
"It's a bad place to be when you're playing golf, but it might be a fun place to be with your girlfriend," joked one caddie.
Norman recommended doing more than just looking at it.
"You can walk through all the bats and bat (droppings)," he said with a smile befitting his Shark nickname. "Go right ahead. I've done it."
It doesn't take going all the way through to appreciate the cenote.
From just a few feet in, thousands of stalactites are visible, some still dripping water. There is more water gurgling in pools, with plants growing out of rocks and thick roots of trees that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old.
And, yes, there are a few shiny white golf balls.
"A lot of people don't go down there because it's hard to understand what exactly it is," said Douglas Goubault, the course's director of golf. "Once you get down there and start to see the depth of it, see how cool it is ... it's beautiful."
The story of how it was discovered is pretty cool, too.
Developers knew all along about underground structures because many of them were used to form a Venice-like canal system throughout this resort community along the Riviera Maya. But it wasn't until the course already was laid out and bulldozers were shaping the holes that this cenote presented itself.
The introduction came when a machine rolled over and the ground gave way. Once the rubble was cleared, workers saw the water-filled cave.
There was little thought given to filling it in. Norman believes in disturbing the environment as little as possible; besides, the key to all real estate is location, location, location, and a natural obstacle like this is tough to beat.
"The whole design stayed exactly as it was," Goubault said. "It was just perfect. It's just a wonderful characteristic to have."
Goubault grudgingly calls the cenote the signature piece of the course, noting that there are many more, such as the two holes facing the Caribbean Sea and many more lined by mangroves, areas densely packed with trees and other vegetation. Anyone venturing into the mangroves to find a wayward shot is more likely to discover an iguana or one of the course's namesake chameleons.
Although the world's top 64 players are in Arizona, the field for this event includes more than 40 PGA Tour winners. Those guys have combined for 148 victories, including nine majors, two by Lee Janzen.
There are also entries from 12 countries, with Latin America representatives from México, Paraguay and Argentina.
"This probably already is or is going to be the biggest tournament, the most important tournament, in Latin America," said Carlos Franco of Paraguay.
The event will be televised by the Golf Channel - and, yes, coverage will include shots from inside the "Devil's Mouth."