PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico (AP) — Truth be told, most guys playing in the Mayakoba Golf Classic would rather not be here.
They only came because they didn’t earn a spot in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Yet as far as consolation prizes go, this resort along the Riviera Maya is a darn good one. Just ask David Toms, who has more reason to gripe than anyone.
Toms is No. 65 in the world rankings and a former Match Play winner. He would’ve been in the event for the 10th straight year if any of the 64 guys ahead of him backed out, but for the first time in the tournament’s 11-year history, not a single one did.
So Toms went with Plan B. He got out his passport and flew south for the PGA Tour’s only stop in Mexico, a tournament that’s drawing better fields every year.
“I see why guys are raving about it,” Toms said Wednesday, following his first time around the Greg Norman-designed course. “I’ve heard from guys that have been down here before and they really like it. From a golf course and a tournament standpoint, I thought they were right on. It was well worth the trip.”
Toms is among 16 of the next 64 players from the world rankings. The start list also features recognizable names such as Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman and two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen.
This is the third straight year the PGA Tour has visited south of the border, always opposite the Match Play. Those who’ve come have returned home as goodwill ambassadors, praising the course as challenging enough and the accommodations as being first class. Bob Tway is a perfect example, having returned with his family for a vacation last year; the Tways will do so again next month during spring break, along with Scott Verplank and his family.
“We’re pretty spoiled and go to some beautiful places, but this ranks right up there with any resorts that we go to,” said Billy Andrade, another first-time Mayakoba entrant. “You don’t have to leave here if you don’t want to. That’s what’s so neat about it. They’ve got all the amenities you want. It’s just a fantastic place.”
The resort features a private beach facing the Caribbean Sea, but the course offers other natural wonders, from exotic trees and animals to an underground cavern that starts on the first fairway and comes out behind the second green. It’s called the Devil’s Mouth and few of the millionaire players are willing to do more than look into it.
“I saw some little lizards and some other alligator-looking things,” Toms said. “I’m going to stay out of there.”
The 6,923-yard, par-70 course is tight and can get tricky depending on how the wind blows. It has holes facing the sea and two others that last year ranked among the 50 toughest on the PGA Tour, both of them long par-4s.
“It’s deceiving,” said Paul Goydos, yet another first-timer here. “You’re going to walk away saying, ‘God, why didn’t I shoot three or four shots better?’ You shoot 70 and you felt like you should’ve shot 66.”
While the purse ($3.6 million; $648,000 for the winner) is on the small side, other rewards make this a good fallback to the match play.
The top four spots here are worth as many points in the world ratings as the top four spots in the match play event. And the winner here gets 250 FedEx Cup points, more than the 250 for third-place at the match play; the second- and third-place finishers here get about as many FedEx Cup points and the third- and fourth-place finishers there.
“I’d love to move up and be in the match play, but we love coming here,” defending champion Brian Gay said. “I think either way it’s good for me. Eventually, though, hopefully if a date opens up, this tournament might move to a better date so it’s not opposite.”
That’s certainly the goal.
Tournament director Larson Segerdahl said the PGA Tour used this overshadowed spot on the schedule as a chance for the Mayakoba Classic to prove itself. Now, organizers are hoping for a weekend of their own as soon as next year. Considering the economy, there’s a decent chance something might open up. Segerdahl added that sponsor OHL, of Spain, is “ready to receive that call” and is prepared to upgrade the purse.
“I think now it’s a matter of being patient and waiting for that opportunity to come up,” he said. “If we’re able to step in and fill a spot on the PGA Tour, FedEx Cup schedule, we’d be ready to do that tomorrow.”