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Mayakoba Open, Mexico

[photopress:mayakoba_golf3_1_2.jpg,full,alignleft]Just returned from helping Fairmont host the first regular PGA TOUR event ever held in Mexico. The whole week was full of surprises.

The first surprise was the airport and the drive to the resort – very modern efficient airport, 40 minute drive and there was no hurricane damage, lots of thriving businesses and most noticeable, endless new car dealerships. Obviously the Mexicans going to Arizona from this area are going in style! Every few miles another gate to another large golf resort, Hilton Cancun Golf Club, Moon Spa and Golf Club, Mayan Resorts, Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club.

The next surprise was at the Greg Norman designed El Camaleon Golf Club. The first person I see when I enter is Greg Norman (waifer thin – tennis obviously agrees with him). And following him is Tim Finchem PGA Taipan. Both are here to do a press conference, announcing Greg Norman’s company will run this new event for 6 years. The sponsor OHL owns the resort and their president Juan Miguel Villar Mir is quick to point out to Greg and Tim that “his team will show you gringos how to run a tournament”. Greg said no problem, he’s getting paid for it anyway. An hour later Greg and Tim are on their way back to the airport. Greg is replaced in the pairings by Guy Boros.

The next surprise is how well designed the course is. I’m not a fan of Norman’s design work but for this piece of land he has crafted a fun (“for everyone”) layout. Not long for the Tour players but every shot to the green requires some thought processing, the greens and course played fast and firm due to the paspalum grass. I spent most of the week working the back nine, watching the pros play the 209 yard 10th hole I was amazed how long it took to choose a club and where they wanted it to land (usually 10 yards short of the pin and 2 yards left worked the best). The hole looked like you had lots of choices, but not all worked out as planned. The course played for the pros like most courses play for the amateurs, lateral hazards down both sides. And the pros, like the amateurs, have great ways to interpret where the ball last crossed the margin.

Another surprise was a ruling. A well known pro whose father is on the Senior Tour (not Haas) found his ball against a large embedded boulder. He called for a rules official and while waiting he dug dirt away from the rock and tried to move the rock. The PGA Rules Official confirmed “no relief, it’s embedded”. The Pro then asked for relief from the fire ants (they had been living under the rock). “Granted, no penalty”. The hole marshall, from St. Andrews, Scotland, later asked the official why he gave relief. “It’s one of those “grey areas” was the answer. The Scot said “Aye, from the darker side of the grey area”. We explained that the rules official works for the PGA players, job security. “but that’s no golf”. After getting this generous ruling, the next shot went further into the woods.

The next surprise was Fred Funk asking to borrow a small bag so that his wife could caddie the third round for Grant Waite. Apparently they share the same golf-shrink and have been getting very different results (doesn’t talent matter?). She went 18 holes, they had a rough start as “their” first shot went high and right on #10, a double bogey. Their next 17 holes were par. I noticed tour rookie (27 years a professional) Jim Rutledge has a solid game and will get better every week, and he’s also well accepted by the players, looks very comfortable and seemed to be in the right circle of friends (has to watch out for Grant though).

Many more surprises, one was how well Fred Funk played. He also drove it well and putted like a kid. He’s two for two on paspalum grass this year! No surprise that he withdrew during the first round in the Honda, he hurt his back winning last week.

To be cont’d.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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