Mayakoba, Mexico—Two winters ago, I had the chance to tee it up with Greg Norman for a couple of holes. The Shark had jetted into the Caribbean on his private plane and also had his football-field-sized yacht sailed across from Florida to the Bahamas, so he and his pals would have a place to hang out.

Despite the decadence, Norman was in fighting trim and looked like he could still crush golf balls on his abs. Even though he wasn't playing much tournament golf anymore, he continued to be wrapped in an aura of invincibility.

With a mane of blonde hair and the swashbuckling attitude of a latter-day pirate, I discovered that the Shark does everything at full intensity.

Lately, Norman has turned his attention to the golf course design business with the same zeal he used to reserve for major championships.

And it shows in Norman's latest effort, El Camaleon, which opened in January. The course sits about 40 minutes south of Cancun on Mexico's Mayan Riviera and, although it got whacked twice last year by hurricanes, it's now in terrific condition and ready to go.

Owned by a Madrid-based property company, El Camaleon is part of a billion-dollar project that will eventually encompass a second golf course and six luxury hotels including a Fairmont, a Rosewood Resort and a Banyan Tree.

Fairmont, which also manages the golf course, will be the first hotel to open with guests scheduled to start arriving in mid-April.

The course is unique in Mexico and maybe the entire golfing kingdom. El Camaleon bends through three distinct landscapes — jungle, mangrove swamp and oceanfront — all bisected by massive, limestone canals. (In fact, guests will be picked up from their hotels by mahogany gondolas and ferried to El Camaleon's first tee.)

Norman has even integrated a gaping cenote, a giant, freshwater cave, into the heart of the opening fairway.

The holes that are attracting the loudest raves though are the par 3s. The 10th hole features a figure-eight shaped green that teeters on the edge of the canal. Too much muscle off the tee and the ball will topple into the crystal waters.

The 7th and 15th holes are perched on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Just off the beach is one of the world's largest coral reefs and in the distance you can see the giant cruise ships sliding across the horizon on their way to the island of Cozumel.

Good golfers know that keeping your head down on the swing is essential, but it's tough on these oceanside holes. The beach that wraps around the bottom of the 7th and 15th is frequented by European sunbathers who frequently forget their tops.

Next February, El Camaleon will grab international headlines when it hosts The Mayakoba Classic, the first official PGA event ever to be held in Mexico. Running from Feb. 19-25, 2007, the $3.5 million (U.S.) event will be beamed around the globe on the Golf Channel.

The other good news, especially for the non-golfers in the group, is El Camaleon's location. It's just 20 minutes north of Playa del Carmen, a former fishing village which over the last decade has been transformed into Mexico's funkiest resort town.

Spread out along one of Mexico's greatest stretches of sand, Playa del Carmen attracts everyone from backpackers to multi-millionaires and the stores and stalls along 5th Ave., the town's pedestrian-only main street, range from Lacoste to a guy with a giant iguana on a leash, who will let you take his picture for a dollar.


Ian Cruickshank is a Toronto-based freelance writer. His trip was sponsored by Siren Communications.