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Saturday, August 30 2014 @ 08:28 AM EDT

A Quick Review of Golfing Opportunities in Panama

Golfers & Golfing

By Bob Askew for Panama-Guide.com - As you might know there's rather limited golf opportunities in Panama ... it's a great place for golf with more courses on the way, so I thought I'd do a quick review. The premier course around Panama City is Club de Golf de Panama (http://www.clubgolf.com.pa) in the Cierro Viento area out towards Tocumen airport. Panama Golf Club has a long, rich history and is the venue of the PGA Nationwide event (Movistar Panama Championship) each year in late January. Due to the association with the PGA, the course has been and is being systematically upgraded. The main scope of work is rebuilding greens and bunkers, but #14 was lengthened by about 80 yards and made into a real par 4. They've rebuilt about half the greens on the course, averaging 2-3 a year. New #6 green will open soon followed by #2. The upgrades have been very good, with designs by the PGA experts. Rather than the old-style big sloping greens, the new ones have specific target areas that reward good approach shots with level, makeable putts. (more)

Club de Golf is a private country club, so if you are not a member you'll need a member to bring you. Best play during the week and green fees are only about $36 ... a bargain.

The main disadvantage of Club de Golf is the high clay content in the soil which causes drainage problems in the rainy season ... generally late April to late December. A new superintendent with a degree from Purdue University in golf agronomy has been hired so the improvements will continue.

Summit Golf and Resort (http://www.summitgolfpanama.com/) is a great facility and a fun to play, and they are continually making improvements as well. It is the only course close to Panama City that is open to the public. It is located out near the new bridge over the canal (Puente Centenario).

The main disadvantage with Summit (in my opinion) are the prices -- the jubilado (retiree) price for green fee and half-cart was recently raised to just under $50. This is only good Monday through Thursday. I don't want to even ask what green fees are for non-retirees or the weekend prices.

The other disadvantage of Summit is that two greens very much need to be rebuilt -- #2 and #11. Both greens only have about 20-25% of the total green area that is suitable for pin placement due to severe slopes. When occasionally they do use the other areas of the green, three and four-putts are the order of the day. Unfair.

Summit recently rebuilt the putting green so they have the wherewithal. They now just need to get it done and rebuild these two greens. Hello Ramesh!?

Now let's look at the courses up the Pacific beach way.

The shining star is the Mantaraya (Manta Ray) course at the Royal Decameron Resort (tel. 986-1915). Since it is located in a much drier area of Panama than the courses around Panama City and the canal area, this course is in much better shape during the rainy season, i.e., much of the year. Also, the local soils have a much higher sand content and drain better.

The course is very well maintained and a real pleasure to play. It also helps that the course is barely used unless there is a special event ... but unlikely. You can get on and play and hardly see anyone else except weekends .They recently opened a modest club house right off the main entry road into the Royal Decameron Resort.

While the normal green fee during the week is just over $50, there's some good deals. Jubilado days are Tuesday and Thursday at $35 for cart and green fee. Every day at 2 p.m. there's the twilight special ($30 M-F and $45 Sat. & Sun., includes green fee and cart). This is a bargain, but the bad news is that the twilight special discontinues 1 November due to the high tourist season.

Since Mantaraya is inside a residential development, there's about half the holes with out-of-bounds. In the dry season with the trade wind and dry ground, it is a severe test.

Mantaraya is an hour and a half drive up the Panamerican highway from Panama City under normal conditions.

I still need to get over and play the new course at VistaMar (http://www.vistamarresort.com/) . While there's only 9 holes open at this Shahani brothers residential development, I hear glowing things about this new track. I can't wait!

Lastly, there's the Tom Fazio designed course at Coronado. While Coronado used to be the shining star of golf courses in Panama, I'd sadly rate it at the bottom now.

The last time I called to inquire about a green fee I was told $125. I seriously consider it overpriced if I pay more than $30. Since I returned to live full-time in Panama 3 years ago, the maintenance and upkeep of the course has been uniformly substandard.

The general consensus is that the owners don't care much about the course, and it shows.

The property owners who live in that development whom I talk to who must pay monthly membership fees are uniformly unhappy at the lack of care and concern.

Late last year I had special guests (well-to-do, world traveling golfers) who asked about playing Coronado. I told them it was not worth $125 green fee to play it, so we decided to visit the hotel restaurant, and at least I could show them the course and facilities. What a mistake.

First, we were almost not allowed to eat there since we were not members or property owners -- apparently a new policy. "Generously" they allowed us to eat "but this would be the last time" (the manager's words).

While waiting for the meal, I took my friends for a walk outside to look at hole #18. What an embarrassment. The cart path was full of leaves and dead fall. Now ... I mean ... what does labor cost in Panama!?

Next, we looked up hole #18 and the whole fairway was burned out. I was later told that the well-trained staff (not!) accidentally sprayed a grass killer instead of fertilizer.

This kind of sums up the sad story of golf at Coronado. Maybe some of the residents up there want to give us the real story about golf at Coronado, but I have no real desire to play there or recommend it until something drastic is done.

Unless you live in a void, you know that more golf courses are on the way.

Tucan Country Club is a golf residential development on the west bank of the canal at the location of the old Horoko course. Progress has been delayed due to heavy rains the past couple of years. See http://www.tucancountryclub.com/.

Cielo Paraiso http://www.cieloparaiso.com/ up near Boquete is part of a residential development as well. I have not heard of its current status or when it's due to open, but I heard it is private and will be for residents and hotel guests only.

p>There are several other golf courses planned: Santa Maria in the Costa del Este area, Isla Viveros out in the Perlas Islands, and Panama Bay out toward Tocumen, but as far as I know none of these have broken ground.

Fore!!

Bob Askew

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