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Golf: Plowing through Paradise

Mike Nolan

Based on appearances, few locations would seem to offer a more fertile environment for golf than the Riviera Maya, a lush, 81-mile-long stretch of jungle and beach running south from Cancún in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. And yet according to P.B. Dye, designer and builder of the new Playa Paraiso golf course at Iberostar’s Riviera Maya resort, the landscape put him through tribulations of biblical proportions. “The worst water that God created on the earth,” he says, addressing both his ball on the tee at the spectacular par-3 17th hole and, from the look on his face as his shot falls short, the angry Mayan deities that helped shape this land before him. “The material was horrible, so the entire course had to be manufactured.”

Carpeting the fairways with seashore paspalum, a turf grass that thrives when irrigated with saltwater, solved Dye’s hydrological concerns. However, the designer, the younger son of Pete Dye and the brother of Perry, also a course architect, had to replace all of the site’s existing soil. “It would have made a good roadbed,” says P.B. of the rough conglomerate of dirt and rocks set on a limestone platform, a surface that rebuffed agricultural attempts by Mayan farmers long ago. Dye trucked enough topsoil from Mexico’s interior to transform the flat, featureless plain into a landscape abundant with high ridges, hills, and long, graceful swales.

Dye’s hand is evident everywhere on this cleverly designed, 6,800-yard layout—if you know where to look. The uniform tree line around the perimeter of the undulating, par-4 eighth hole is the sole indicator of the terrain’s original ground level. On the enormous, elevated, three-tiered green of the previous hole, a par 5, surfaces are steep enough in some places to make you wish for crampons on your shoes instead of spikes. Not surprisingly, putts, some as long as 70 yards, die far from home—or worse, careen onto the fairway at ever-increasing speeds.
 
Its trickery aside, Playa Paraiso is a fair test for golfers of all levels, with five boxes on each tee and generous landing areas for drives. “Golf is more than Couples and Daly,” says Dye. “You have to make the course playable for everyone.”

Back on 17, Dye has lagged his second shot to within 3 feet of the cup. As he prepares to complete his par on the hole—one of the course’s most challenging—he no longer sounds like a man at war with nature. “The key to an enjoyable course is that the people designing it love golf,” Dye explains. “But the real fun part is building it.”

Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club, +52.984.877.2800, www.iberostar.com

Photo by Jim Fets
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