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Tee It Up In Panama

By Wes Bolyard

Panama City, Panama turned 500 years old in 2019. It was the first European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Unlike most countries that have a north-south orientation, Panama lies east-west with the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. A good way to think about this is Panama lies parallel to, and 9 degrees north of, the equator making the daylight shorter and the air humid.  The Panamanian seasons are the reverse of North America’s.  Summer is from December 15th through April 15th.

The decision to build the Panama Canal through Panama, versus one of its close neighboring countries, was based on less seismic activity demonstrated by an arch built in a downtown building that has been standing for over 250 years with no weaknesses. Of course, the reason for a canal was to save the 13,000 miles it takes to go around the southern tip of South America and rounding Cape Horn which is a very dangerous passage. This was not a new idea as it was first mentioned in the 1500’s, worked on in the late 1800s and finally completed in 1914. It really is an engineering marvel!  

Twelve locks are used to lift a ship between 31 feet and 85 feet, the highest elevation, before bringing it back down again. Close to Panama City is the set of Miraflores Locks where visitors can observe ships being raised and lowered as they pass through the canal. Larger ships are being built since the canal was built so a new set of locks was recently completed to accommodate them. An important note that not many people know is that the locks at the Panama Canal are the direct result of an invention by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 1400’s. His miter lock is still in use today at almost any canal or waterway. If you are at the Miraflores Locks, visit the IMAX theater and watch the 42-minute show about the canal.  You can also learn more about the working of the canal by watching this video:

A short ten-minute drive from the Panama airport, Tocumen International Airport (PTY), is The Santa Maria, a five-star Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort and part of the Marriott Family. Upon arrival, the exceptional staff service begins and continues through your stay. The hotel is just over a year old and is delightfully furnished. This beautiful eight story hotel has 182 luxurious guestrooms and suites, featuring authentic Panamanian design elements, including showers with a choice of overhead “rain forest” heads and/or traditional shower heads. 

The main restaurants include: Mestizo Restaurant serves gourmet food; The Grill House features fine meat cuts, fresh seafood and a wonderful selection of fine wines; AQVA offers casual fare poolside. Also, there is a coffee shop and deli offering a fresh cup of Boquete’s rare and winning Geisha coffee blend.  There is a state-of-the-art spa, a fitness center with rejuvenating natural light, an outdoor pool overlooking the golf course, and exceptional meeting and event spaces.

Adjacent to the hotel is the only Championship-Nicklaus design 18-hole, par 72 golf course in Panama City. You are guaranteed a wonderfully conditioned course because it is managed by the world’s largest golf management company, Troon. Many of the fairways have gentle rolling terrain, doglegs in both directions, sand bunkering located in strategic locations, very interesting greens and water on ten of the holes. By moving the tees, the holes require different strategies and the golf course’s defense is definitely the greens; they are large and undulating. 

There is a great variety of long and short holes, with generous landing areas off the tee.  These features provide a challenging but fun day of golf for all skill levels. As you make your way around the course, your attention will be drawn to a very beautiful tree, El Flamboyán, or “Flame Tree” with brilliant red flowers. The golf club also includes a very nicely appointed golf shop, driving range, short game chipping area and putting green. Newly added is the Punch Bowl, a very large putting green to have fun with your friends after golf.

Traveling southwest from the Santa Maria Hotel along the Pan-American Highway about 80 minutes is its sister resort, The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort, an Autograph Collection Hotel. The Buenaventura resort community joins Marriott International’s distinctive portfolio of one-of-a-kind Autograph Collection Hotels which celebrates the independence and individuality of each location by incorporating the personality of the destination. The announcement comes as the resort completes a renovation to enhance its guest rooms, restaurants and meeting spaces, as well as the addition of the Wildlife Center.  

This hotel is part of a 988-acre master plan community offering 118 guestrooms, suites and villas, nine restaurants and bars, seven swimming pools, four plunge pools, two Jacuzzis, a spa and fitness center, horse stables with more than five miles of trails, a Nicklaus Design 18-Hole golf course and on-site chapel.  

A Sports Club complex created for the whole family features a full-size soccer field, outdoor basketball court, tennis courts, paddle court, beach volleyball court, a semi-Olympic pool and multipurpose room for yoga, Pilates and Zumba. The resort offers two miles of white sand beach along the Pacific Ocean to play in the surf; perfect for the family get-away.

A focal point of the guest experience is the Nicklaus par-72 championship golf course managed by Troon.  The course offers generous fairways with strategic bunkering, mildly undulating greens, dog-leg fairways, a multitude of mature Corotu trees and plenty of water.  The golf club also includes a driving range, short game, chipping and putting green. In November 2018, the Buenaventura Golf Club was named “Panama’s best golf course” by World Golf Awards for the second time. If someone you know is planning a wedding or other event, Buenaventura’s expansive property offers multiple venues from the on-site La Ermita Chapel to the Spanish-style plaza under a 100-year-old Corotu Tree, to the chic El Faro Beach Club or the ultra-secluded Buenaventura Golf Club.

Visiting parts of Panama City is like taking a step back in time. Narrow streets, quaint buildings, very old churches and statutes of past important founders of the city.  The other part is like visiting some major big city with a vast number of skyscrapers with high-rise condos and 78 banks as Panama is a major banking country. In case you like traveling without the hassle of taking your golf clubs on the airline, both of Nicklaus’ courses offer very fine Callaway rental clubs. They also have wall to wall Paspalum grass which you will want to play over and over.