Ten years ago, Quintana Roo hosted the first PGA tournament outside of the U.S. and Canada. Find out why the tournament has been so successful and how it opened doors for other PGA events across the world.
The world’s best golfers will tee off in November for the 10th OHL Classic at Mayakoba. I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Mazzeo, tournament director for the Classic
How long have you been a part of the OHL Classic tournament?
I have been a part of the tournament since day one. I first arrived here in August 2006. We never thought it would be as successful as it has been, and we are very much looking towards the future.
Why do you believe it has been so successful?
It´s because Mayakoba is such a fantastic destination for an event like this. There is so much to offer in the entire Riviera Maya and the Cancun area – from the fabulous golf course we have, the wonderful hotels, the activities here but most importantly the hospitality people experience when they come here.
How do the players get chosen?
Every member of the PGA tour can choose which events they participate in and which they skip. We have some of the best players in the world who choose our event. Graeme McDowell is our defending champion – one of the best players in the world from Northern Ireland. He won the U.S. Open in 2010. Last year our field had Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner. They look at the calendar and decide they want to play this event because they’ve heard so many great things about Mayakoba and the course. We just confirmed Billy Horschel, Bubba Watson and Russell Knox who is from Scotland.
There are a small number of invitations we can extend to players who are not members of the PGA tour. This is how we can guarantee at least three Mexican players in the tournament. We identify who are the best and most promising Mexican players who are working to get to the PGA Tour some day but aren’t there yet.
Why did the PGA look to Mayakoba and the Riviera Maya as their first destination outside their traditional courses?
It really stemmed from OHL, the developer and owner of Mayakoba. They had this new property and were looking for a way to make a splash. That´s how the relationship started between OHL and the PGA. Mexico is wonderful for events and tourism because of the proximity to the U.S. For the players it´s like a home game. You’re only a one hour flight from South Florida and only two hours from Dallas and Houston, where many PGA golfers live. OHL Mayakoba, in running the event, has proven to the PGA that they know how to put on a world-class event.
Now, the PGA Tour has official events in Malaysia, China and starting next year there will be another PGA tour in Mexico City. There is also a PGA tour event in Puerto Rico which didn’t exist before the OHL Classic at Mayakoba began. There are also six events on their second level tour (web.com tour) none of those existed when we started. There is also a third level tour (PGA Tour Latin America)which now exists. None of that was in place when the OHL Classic started. You can absolutely give some credit to OHL and Mayakoba for being the leader and pioneer showing that this is a booming region and that it can be done, and the PGA has been able to grow in the region really thanks to OHL being that pioneer and showing the way.
Describe the course for me. What can people expect?
The golf course is called El Cameleón Golf Club, and that name was chosen for a reason. Just like a chameleon, our golf course can change its colors without you realizing that it’s changing. You start off on the first hole, surrounded by the tropical jungle and forest, and you wind your way through suddenly you’re in a different ecosystem surrounded by mangroves – all very healthy and strong. The course continues to wind through, and you suddenly find yourself along the dunes and the beach. The course has changed its colors without you even realizing it. Mayakoba as an overall complex was developed with the consideration of the environment. It’s sustainable in terms of the resort practices not only in building the place and preserving a significant portion of the property. Our hotels are not built on the beach. We have very small, low-density construction on the beach front which is pretty much the exact opposite of the vast majority of development in the region. Unfortunately. Everybody builds right on the beach, and you affect the dunes, the mangroves, the reefs, and that stops that beautiful cycle that keeps the reefs healthy and the mangroves healthy.
The course is Greg Norman designed.
What are some of the challenges doing an event like this?
Putting on this event requires a lot of vendors and supplies, whether it’s building a tent, renting a generator, bringing in uniforms for 500 volunteers you have a lot of those kinds of needs. Ten years ago none of that existed. Printing the signs, having transportation for all the players, every little task that we had to do was ¨how are we going to source this?¨ Doing that in the first year was quite a challenge but here we are. We go through it, and we found the solutions to the challenges. We support the local economy, which was always our goal. There is a lot of money that goes into the budget we wanted to see as much of that go into the local economy. Now, it´s not only the money that the people bring in who go to the event but the money we spend to support the event.
What is one your favorite memories of the event?
Running a PGA tournament requires the help of so many people. We have 500 volunteers we’ve gotten to know very well over the years because so many of them are repeat volunteers. We consider them part of the family. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people that in one way or another are involved in making this thing happen. The fact that so many people have a lot of pride in the tournament has been very satisfactory to me personally. The other thing that has been amazing is seeing how golf in Mexico and the Mexican golfers have evolved over ten years. Ten years ago there weren’t many players playing on the global stage working to get to the PGA Tour. Esteban Toledo was really the only one and he was a great player. Now, Carlos Ortiz has been a member of the PGA Tour the last two years. Óscar Fraustro and Abraham Ancer made it to the top level. Other players are at those developmental tours and are young and promising and showing that they can get there. Seeing how golf in Mexico has evolved has been really fulfilling to know that this event has played a small part in giving them a little bit more of a showcase to be able to develop their talents and get onto the world stage.
Finally, I would say Graeme McDowell winning the golf tournament. Guys like Charlie Hoffman and Harris English and Fred Funk – these great players that have won our tournament over the years. Keegan Bradley and now Bubba Watson coming back. That’s really special to know that some of these top best athletes in the sport of golf in the world are here playing for $7 million USD of prize money.