Article originally appeared in Forbes.
Emblematic of the PGA Tour’s wanderlust, when Mayakoba’s tour event debuted on the schedule in 2007 it became the first tournament the tour staged outside of the United States and Canada. It began as an alternate event, staged opposite the WGC Match Play but the tournament, which wraps Sunday afternoon, is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary as a full FedEx Cup points event with its leaderboard topper scoring an invite to the Masters.
While its $8.2 million purse is just a smidgeon higher than fellow rank-and-file autumn events like the RSM Classic and the Shriners Children’s Open, coming on the heels of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship this season to complete the tour’s de facto ‘Vacation Swing,’ has given the 2022 World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba added gravitas.
“We get many phone calls from pros during the year telling us Mayakoba’s event is already red circled on their calendar because it’s a place where they want to be in November. It’s the type of event that allows them to breathe a lot,” Borja Escalada, CEO of RLH Properties, the real estate and hotel group that owns Mayakoba, explains.
The Greg Norman designed El Camaleón, the centerpiece of Mayakoba, is a specimen in and of itself. Paspalum fairways and greens intermingle with dense mangrove forests teeming with colorful wildlife. The whole property is crisscrossed by a system of canals and lagoons navigated by electric boats that putter between a foursome of luxury hotels and residences spread across a 620-acre eco-conscious development.
The establishing shots of the tournament on television alone make it easy to understand why so many players tend to tote their families along for this one to make a trip out of it. Asked if the tournament is an advertisement for the resort and the property, Escalada does not mince words.
“Absolutely. This is paradise but you need to discover paradise,” he says. “I’m pretty sure there are many people watching T.V. saying I would want to be there and I will be there someday,” he adds.
In the last three years RLH Properties has been polishing their gem, spending $120 million on renovations and improvements to standout as competition for higher end offerings has intensified. They’re not planning on lifting their foot from the accelerator anytime soon, with a bevy of construction projects underway including scores of new residences coming online, additions to Fairmont Heritage Place and a full renovation of the clubhouse.
Escalada acknowledges that attrition to the Saudi-backed LIV Series, which now includes two of the best Mexican golfers in the world in Carlos Ortiz and Abraham Ancer was sub-optimal. Still, he thinks the competition between the PGA Tour and LIV will ultimately be healthy.
“I’m absolutely convinced that competition is good for everyone. It makes all of us keep on alert and try to improve upon ourselves and be more creative. And you are seeing the changes that the PGA Tour has been implementing, changes that without the appearance of LIV maybe would never have happened,” Escalada says.
One of those changes is the PGA Tour’s decision to create in effect a caste system of tournaments by ‘elevating’ 13 events and ratcheting up their prize pools to at least $20 million with the exemption of Maui’s smaller-field Sentry Tournament of Champions ($15 million).
This certainly has made it more difficult for tournaments not on the list to attract top tour names. But a requirement that players also enter three non-elevated PGA Tour events makes it possible for non-elevated tournaments like the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba to continue to pepper their fields with a bevy of big name stars while making the case for elevation in the future. Aside from Viktor Hovland, attempting to hoist the tournament’s carved iguana trophy for the third straight time, Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, and Billy Horschel highlight a solid field.
“We have the patience, we have the passion and we have the resources and the interest to make anything that we do to be the best. When that evolution will come up, I’m not sure today, but I’m pretty sure Mayakoba is meant to be one of the biggest tournaments in the industry of golf,” Escalada says.