IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Cozumel Country Club in San Miguel, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
THE LAYOUT: The Mayans founded magnificent communities by slicing through the jungle along the Yucatan Peninsula some 1,500 years ago.
Nicklaus Design Group did much the same in creating a splendid golf course at Cozumel Country Club, clearing away red mangroves and other native flora in the natural wetlands on the island of Cozumel in the Caribbean Sea, just off the Eastern tip of Mexico.
It took five years and more than $12 million to sculpt the acclaimed 6,734-yard, par-72 course in the limestone, coral and saltwater marshes along Cozumel's northwest shore before the layout finally opened late in 2001.
Explorer Hernan Cortez landed on Cozumel in 1519, and the Mayans began to disappear, with the population dwindling from 40,000 when the Spanish arrived to about 300 in 1570.
Pirates Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan used the island as a refuge in the 17th century.
It was another 300 years before Jack Nicklaus arrived.
GENERAL MANAGER: Benny Campos, who came to Mexico after serving as head professional at Red Hawk Golf Course in Sparks, Nev., near Reno, and at Apple Mountain Golf Resort near Placerville in Northern California.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Because of the omnipresent wind and the lay of the land, Nicklaus Design actually created two nine-hole golf courses. The South Texas Golf Association gave the back nine a slope rating of 142 from the tips, while the front nine is rated at only 123.
In addition to the wind, sometimes a breeze and at others a gale, water comes into play on 13 holes at Cozumel Country Club. Be on the lookout for the crocodiles, especially in the ponds in front of the second tee and between the 14th green and 15th tee.
Even more menacing is the finish, despite the fact that the 172-yard, par-3 17th hole is rated as the easiest on the course. That's because the 16th (571 yards, par 5) and 18th (382 yards, par 4) probably are the two most difficult since they generally play into the wind and require long carries over the mangroves.
There is varying terrain at Cozumel Country Club. After playing the first two holes with jungle bordering both sides of the fairway, the golfer reaches a clearing where Nos. 3 and 6 play alongside a large lake.
The 499-yard third hole is a reachable par-5 that tempts the golfer to go for the green in two. The seventh is rated No. 1 on the card, a dogleg left par-4 that measures 407 yards, usually into a wind that blows left to right.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: There are no other courses on Cozumel, but there is plenty of golf on the Mayan Riviera.
Cancun offers the Hilton Beach and Golf Resort, plus Cancun Golf Club at Pok Ta Pok, and Melia Golf Club, an 18-hole par-3 course at Paradisus Cancun Resort. Riviera Maya Golf Club is located 62 miles from the Cancun International Airport.
The Golf Club at Moon Palace near Playa del Carmen is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, and the Playacar Club de Golf near Xaman-ha was designed by noted architect Robert Von Hagge.
Also on the golf map are Club de Golf de Yucatan in Merida and the 9-hole Puerto Aventuras Club de Golf.
WHERE TO STAY: There are plenty of resort hotels near Cozumel Country Club, including the Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort and Spa, the Melia Cozumel, Hotel Sol Cabanas del Caribe, the Reef Club Cozumel, Cozumel Palace, Playa Azul Hotel Golf and Scuba Spa, the Fiesta Americana Cozumel, El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel, the Iberostar Cozumel Hotel -- most offering stay-and-play packages.
Cozumel Country Club was built with cruise ships in mind, as nearly 2 million tourists and 1 million crew members, many of whom play golf, arrive by sea every year.
Princess, Carnival, Norwegian, Celebrity, Disney and Holland America all have Cozumel on their itineraries and are in port often.
ON THE WEB: www.cozumelcountryclub.com.mx
THE LAST RESORT: Palmilla Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico.
THE LAYOUT: The first Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Latin America, opened in 1992, is one befitting the elegant Palmilla -- one of the great hotels of the world that was a hideaway for the likes of President Eisenhower, John Wayne and Bing Crosby in days gone by.
Palmilla Golf Club, managed by Troon Golf, is located in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains and has views of the Sea of Cortez on virtually every spectacular hole.
The Palmilla course is known as the "Grand Dame of Los Cabos golf."
The course plays to roughly 6,900 yards, with a rating 74.3 and slope of 144 from the back tees, no matter which combination of the Ocean, Mountain and Arroyo nines the golfer takes on.
The Arroyo Nine and the Mountain Nine are of traditional Mexican design, and Jack Nicklaus said creating the newer Ocean Nine was like "designing desert mountains by the sea."
There is 600 feet of elevation change on the first six holes of the Ocean Nine, which runs right down to the rocky coast.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Jason Ballog.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: There was no golf in Los Cabos -- a world-class sport-fishing destination -- until the early 1990s, but now there are seven places to play, and 63 of the 144 holes have Golden Bear tracks on them.
Golf at Palmilla is like playing a great desert course -- arid weather, target golf -- only with the Sea of Cortez as a backdrop.
The most unique hole is No. 5 on the Mountain Nine, a 401-yard par-4 on which the drive must carry 150 yards across a canyon to a plateau fairway. The approach shot is downhill across another abyss to a green nestled in a box canyon.
Most spectacular is the third hole of the Ocean Nine, a par-5 that plays 485 yards downhill to within a few steps of the beach. The drive from an elevated tee must carry the old highway and a dry wash, with magnificent homes lining the cliffs.
High point of the facility comes on the Arroyo Nine at the 566-yard par-5, which offers a panoramic view of the Sea of Cortez.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: About 10 miles down the road from Palmilla is another Nicklaus creation, the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol, which the best golfer of all-time has called "The greatest piece of golf property on earth."
Tom Weiskopf, Nicklaus' former golf teammate at Ohio State, added the Desert Course at Cabo del Sol in 2001.
Also located on the 18-mile tourist corridor from Cabo San Lucas to San Jose del Cabo are the Nicklaus-designed El Dorado Golf Club; Querencia Golf Club, which was Tom Fazio's first venture outside the United States; Cabo Real Golf Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones II; Cabo San Lucas Country Club, designed by Pete Dye and featuring the longest hole in Baja, 620 yards; and the 9-hole Campo de Golf Los Cabos, a municipal layout in San Jose del Cabo that was the first course in the area when it opened in 1991.
Los Cabos was the site of the PGA Senior Slam five times. Raymond Floyd won in 1995 on the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol and repeated at Cabo Real in 1996. Hale Irwin won at Palmilla in 1997, and Gil Morgan won on the Ocean Course at Cabo del Sol in 1998 and at Cabo Real in 1999.
WHERE TO STAY: The Palmilla Resort, one of the most elegant beach hideaways in the world since 1956, was given an $80 million renovation a few years ago by One&Only Resorts. Palmilla annually is listed among the World's Best Golf Resorts by Travel & Leisure. It is located minutes from Cabo San Lucas on the southernmost tip of Baja California, Mexico, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez.
Among the many other resorts in Los Cabos are the Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos, the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf and Spa Resort, the Westin Resort and Spa Los Cabos, Las Ventanas al Paraiso, the Hola Grand Faro Los Cabos, the Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos, the Presidente InterContinental Los Cabos Resort, the Barcelo Los Cabos Resort & Spa, the Playa Grande Resort, the Pueblo Bonito Rose Resort and Spa, the Casa del Mar Beach Golf and Spa, and the Villa del Palmar Beach Resort and Spa.
ON THE WEB: www.palmillagc.com/index.html