Buenaventura Golf – Jack Meets Panama’s Wild Horses
Jack Nicklaus has long been considered one of the gentlemen in golf’s storied history. Never have you heard the word “two-faced” when describing the Golden Bear. That is until the 16-time major winner designed Buenaventura Golf Course on the heels of Santa Maria, it’s city-bound sister course in 2012.
Santa Maria sits in the heart of Panama City, a metropolis with 1.5 million residents. By comparison, drive two hours west and you’ll find pristine Buenaventura Golf Course, located just a half mile from the Pacific Ocean. Buenaventura calls Rio Hato home, a beach, tourist, and ranch escape with just 15,000 residents. The two courses are polar opposites in terms of locale, ambiance, and pace.
Where the courses mirror each other is in how they magically merge old with new. Nicklaus, long an admirer of blending history with the latest golf technology, found a horse stable on the 900 acres that would become Buenaventura Golf Course. Rather than deny Buenaventura’s early beginnings, Nicklaus embraced it.Today’s Buenaventura first impression includes a western-style A-framed clubhouse entrance with a replica of a Peruvian horse under its peak.
360-Degree Golf Technology is Your Good Luck
In the dichotomy that is Panama, there is another futuristic surprise on that 7,300 yard track whose name translates to “Good Luck” in Spanish. Golfers seeking to get away from it all will discover that the quaint Buenaventura offers the absolute latest in golf instruction technology. Buenaventura is the only course in Central America to include a Cobra Performance Center on its property. From a golf instruction and fitting standpoint, this Cobra Gears expertise can shed 360-degree light on what your body, grip, shaft, and head are doing. The bonus is you’re experiencing breakthrough golf technology in a paradise-like setting.
When you do step up to Buenaventura’s first tee, the tranquil fresh air atmosphere reminds that you’ve found the quiet side of Panama. That is prepare to drive and hear a rooster belting out a welcoming crow from the farm located to the north.
Upon tackling 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 Panamian historical touch threaded throughout the Buenaventura Golf course are the massive 100-year-old Corotu trees found throughout 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 staff and urging them to share the golf acquaintances they’ve met over the years. Director of Golf Miguel Marin Casero played college golf with none other than Dustin Johnson. Assistant Professional Heath Henrichs not only played head to head against Luke Donald, he has a wealth of stories from his days working the top Dominican Republic courses, and a Masters jacket tale involving his 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 hole, the image of this beauty belongs in a Nicklaus coffee table book.
Life’s a Breeze on The Quiet Side of Panama
As you head back to 18, you catch a glimpse of the Cocotu waving you in from behind the lake flanking the Par 5, 473-yard finisher. In the warmth of the day, you tip your hat to the breeze that kicked in around 11:00 in the morning, just like it did every day before that.
The breeze, the Cocotu, and a tip of your Panama hat to Nicklaus’ masterful design are a wonderful homecoming for golfers wise enough to trek two hours from Panama City’s International Airport. After your round, you head over to the Buenaventura Resort to indulge in their luxurious surroundings and say “Saludos” to the face Senor Nicklaus revealed at Buenaventura.
It was indeed your “good luck” to play championship golf on the “quiet side” of Panama. Peruvian horses couldn’t keep you from coming back to Buenaventura.
Tim Cotroneo is a freelance writer specializing in Caribbean travel, business, and golf.