In 2012, Jack Nicklaus doubled down on the country of Panama. Not only would the Golden Bear wedge the Santa Maria Golf Course smack dab in the middle of downtown Panama City, he would concurrently design Buenaventura Golf Course amidst the palm trees, oceanfront, and prime real estate that is Panama’s south central coastline.
Drive two hours east of Panama City and you’ll find pristine Buenaventura Golf Course, located in the Rio Hato countryside, just a half mile from the Pacific Ocean. The quaint hamlet of Rio Hato is a beach, tourist, and second home escape with a mere 15,000 residents. Buenaventura’s serene surroundings are a tranquil contrast to Panama City’s urban oasis in terms of setting, ambiance, and pace.
Nicklaus, long an admirer of blending history with cutting-edge design, found a horse stable on the 900 acres destined to become Buenaventura Golf Course. Rather than deny the area’s early beginnings, Nicklaus embraced them. This reference to yesterday is evident atop Buenaventura’s western-style clubhouse as a replica of a Peruvian horse is stationed under the entrance’s A-frame peak.
360-Degree Golf Technology is Your Good Luck
Buenaventura translates to “good luck” in Spanish. For golfers who choose to play and stay at the Buenaventura Golf and Beach Resort, their good luck skyrockets upon learning that the golf course is the only one in Central America to offer a Cobra Performance Center on its property. From a golf instruction and fitting standpoint, the Performance Center’s Cobra Gears expertise sheds a 360-degree light on what your body, grip, shaft, and head are doing. The bonus is that you’re experiencing breakthrough golf technology in a paradise-like setting.
When you do step up to Buenaventura’s first tee, the course’s fresh air atmosphere reminds that you’re playing on the quiet side of Panama. As you prepare to drive your first morning tee shot that silence is temporarily interrupted as a rooster trumpets a welcoming call from the farm located to the north.
As you tackle the front nine, you’ll discover classic Nicklaus touches. The Paspalum fairways are clipped to perfection, the bunkers are plentiful, and the greens feature more undulations than a Panama hat turned sideways.
Branching Out on 100 Years of Stories
Another natural historical touch threading throughout Buenaventura’s 7300-yards are the massive 100-year-old Corotu trees found on the property. With their rounded canopies, the trees come in to play mostly on the back nine. The Corotu located between the clubhouse and driving range practically begs you to ask what this wonderful plot of land was like when the tree was a mere sapling.
Another bonus to playing Buenaventura is rubbing elbows with their cordial staff. The Buenaventura team touts resumes that spread well beyond Central America and the Caribbean. Director of Golf Miguel Marin Casero attended Coastal Carolina University at the same time as Dustin Johnson. PGA Professional/Operations Manager Heath Henrich not only played college golf against Luke Donald, he has a wealth of stories from his days working the top Dominican Republic courses, as well as a Masters jacket tale involving fellow Iowa native Zach Johnson.
The momentum of the back nine culminates on the Par 3, 154-yard 17th hole. This postcard setting is arguably Buenaventura’s signature hole. With water shimmering on the right and palm trees framing the putting green, the image of this beauty belongs in a Nicklaus coffee-table book.
Life’s a Breeze on The Quiet Side of Panama
Upon approaching the 18th green you catch a glimpse of the towering Corotu waving from behind the lake that flanks the Par 5, 473-yard finisher. In the warmth of the day, you breathe in the tradewinds that kick in around 11:00 in the morning, just as they did every day before that.
The breeze, the Corotu, and Nicklaus’ masterful design make you grateful for trekking 75 miles from Panama City’s International Airport to picturesque Buenaventura. After your round, you head over to the Buenaventura Resort to indulge in their luxurious surroundings and say “Muchos Gracias” to Jack for doubling down in Panama.
It was indeed your “good luck” to play championship golf on the “quiet side” of Panama. In fact, Peruvian horses couldn’t keep you from coming back to Buenaventura Golf Course.
Story by Tim Cotroneo