Panama has been rapidly emerging as one of the top destinations for expats. Whether it’s retirees looking for a peaceful place to spend their golden years or those simply looking for a beach lifestyle, Panama has been welcoming expats from around the world for a long time.One of the reasons Panama is so popular with retirees is that it provides an excellent pension program. It also offers a high standard of living, while living costs are low. Panama’s other main attraction is its beautiful coastline. This small country is also in close proximity to the United States with a number of short, direct flights going to the US every day. This makes it easy for expats from the US to stay connected with family and friends back home. Panama is a safe country and the locals are friendly and welcoming. They also speak fluent English, making integration easy for English-speaking expats.
Panama offers a multitude of outdoor activities, and one of these is golf. The country offers world-class golf, another reason why it serves as a top-notch destination for expats. The country offers some of the best weather for golfing, and through the years has played host to a number of golf tournaments such as the PGA European Tour and the Tour of the Americas. Not all of the golf courses in Panama are open to the public. But there are a few that do not require you to be a member or to have a private invitation to play.
Here’s our guide to Panama’s best golf courses.
Tucán Country Club & Resort
Located 15 minutes away from Panama City, Tucán has a sizeable expat community. The golf club began as a recreational course for the US military, but has evolved considerably over the years.
Tucán is an 18-hole championship golf course surrounded by tropical forests. Nine holes provide spectacular views of the city skyline and the Panama Canal, while the Panama Forest Reserve borders the rest. The course is characterized by some elevations, but the main challenges are the especially vast undulating greens. The Tucán golf course is often referred to as a ‘diamond in the rough’.
Golfers particularly enjoy the course’s routing; that is, the pacing, flow and usage of the topography. Play begins downhill, travels uphill and then takes a sharp downhill dive again, facing you off with three challenging par-fours. Some of the most panoramic views of the layout can be found here. A short 3-shotter is located in a jungle layout that is relatively flat and has as its centerpiece a large pond.
The people at the Tucán golf course are friendly and the place offers a number of stay-and-play packages. There are also villas and condos available. Since it sits adjacent to a rainforest and a police compound, it is a peaceful, protected space. It also serves as a convenient base from which to explore Panama City.
Santa Maria Golf & Country Club
This is the first golf course in Panama to be designed by Nicklaus Design, established by golf legend Jack Nicklaus. It is an 18-hole course that sits on a 700-acre site, located conveniently between Panama City and Tocumen International Airport. Expats will find it a treat to tee off with the city skyline as the backdrop.
The course has a mostly even topography with wide fairways. But there is enough water and large bunkers to pose a challenge. The golf course opened in 2014. The existing natural terrain enabled the developers and designers to route the course upon natural land forms. In order to make optimal use of the existing vegetation and surrounding terrain, the team created a ‘parkland’ course, that also serves as a complement to the housing component. The landscaping utilized plant material indigenous to the country. Modern construction methods were used to create the golf course and an extensive drainage system was developed to quickly get rid of water from the course, a necessary measure considering the heavy rainfall that occurs during the wet season.
This championship golf course spans 7,196 yards and provides four tee spots that accommodate experienced as well as beginner golfers.
Summit Golf Club
The Summit Golf Club is part of the Radisson Summit Hotel and is located close to the famous Centenary Bridge. It is a short drive away from the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks, which form part of the Panama Canal.
The course was created in the 1930s and has since undergone complete renovation. It now sports multiple tee boxes, expansive landing areas and putting surfaces with moderate contouring. The course is perched on the rolling hills that offer views of the Gaillard Cut, an artificial channel that cuts through the Panama Canal. The course is housed within a tropical rainforest in the Camino de Cruces National Park. Golfers may be in for surprise visits from monkeys from the adjoining forest.
The Summit Golf Club features a layout that is far more diverse than Santa Maria or Tucán. The course also includes a practice facility equipped with full services and a special course for children, which is a six-hole par three course. Reputed American designer Jeffrey Myers designed this 6,626-yard championship course. The exotic flora and fauna that surround the Summit Golf Course make it an ideal blend of elegance and comfort.
BlueBay Coronado Golf and Beach Resort
This is an all-inclusive resort in Panama, located about an hour away from Panama City, on Coronado Beach. It is a popular holiday destination on Panama’s west coast, and the stunning black and white sand beach and coastal town is popular among expats.
The golf course is among the oldest in the country. American professional golfer George Fazio designed this course, with assistance from his apprentice and nephew, Tom Fazio.
The course features a challenging mature layout. From January to April, which is the summer season, golfers are faced with strong breezes that increase the difficulty level of the course. Coronado is known to be a basic, solid course without any elaborate bunkers or mounding, but one that certainly tests golfers.
Adjacent to this course is an executive nine-hole par three course where players can practise their short game. For the non-golfers in the family, there are other facilities available such as tennis courts, an equestrian center and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The BlueBay Coronado Golf and Beach Resort is located on the Pacific Ocean. Coronado is a popular getaway for those looking for a beach break. The expat community here continues to flourish.
Vista Mar Golf & Beach Resort
The Vista Mar Golf and Beach Resort is located a short distance away from Coronado, close to San Carlos. The entire development spans 740 acres and is still under construction. The property does not yet have a hotel, although there are rental condos available.
The layout of the course offers some of the best views of the surrounding countryside, and golfers can catch glimpses of the sea and mountains. The course has a few challenging approach shots due to their location on the fairways. Golfers can have access to a great variety of holes and the course provides all amenities. The golfing experience at Vista Mar is known to be among the best in the country, as well as the Central American region.
Sitting comfortably along the Pacific Ocean coast, this course is becoming increasingly popular among locals and expats alike. The par 72-championship course offers stunning ocean and mountain views at every hole. Vista Mar is known to be a tough course, but also forgiving. Dramatic elevation changes exist at each hole due to excellent bunkering. The layout winds towards the ocean, providing some spectacular opportunities for risks and rewards.
Buenaventura Golf Club
With a layout by Nicklaus Design, this golf course features strategically placed bunkers and great water features, thereby embracing the natural landscape, even though it has a relatively flat topography. The winds play an important role here as the tree lining is scant.
This resort located in Rio Hato was taken over by JW Marriott a few years ago and has witnessed considerable development. The golf course is being managed by Troon Golf and the course remains in pristine condition. A special type of grass called Paspalum Platinum grass, which is resistant to heat and salt water, is used in the construction of the course, and this ensures that the course stays green.
Golfers will need to be strategic about their approach shots due to plenty of deep faced bunkers across the course that are well-placed around the greens. Since the course is private and open only to members, it is usually not busy. But other players can have the opportunity of playing this course as eight rounds are allowed every day. The characteristic Nicklaus-design of bunkers can be seen throughout the course and these are woven around the stunning tropical corotú trees and water features.
Club de Golf de Panamá
This golf course hosts the Panama Claro Championship, a tournament on the Web.com tour that takes place in the last week of January. The tournament has been played here every year for 13 years.
The course is characterized by fairways that are lined by tall trees and dramatic undulations that make the game challenging, while at the same time adding to the visual appeal of the layout. Club de Golf de Panamá has water on 12 holes.
This is a private course, however non-members can access the course for a green fee. American workers involved in the building of the Panama Canal were also engaged in the construction of this course in 1922. It began as a 9-hole course, which transformed into an 18-hole layout after a decade. A number of Panama Open championships took place at this course over the years. The course involves a layout that is known to be statistically among the most difficult courses on the Panama Claro tour schedule. The strong winds and high temperatures add to the challenges faced by golfers on this course. Renovations are currently under way to prepare for the third annual Latin America Amateur Championship.
Mantarraya Golf Club
The Mantarraya Golf Club is part of the Royal Decameron resort and is located near Farallon, which is about an hour’s drive away from Panama City. The course is close to the Scarlett Martinez International Airport. The white sandy Playa Blanca beach lies to the south of the course.
The Mantarraya Golf Club’s layout features relatively wide fairways with subtle undulations, but still manages to pose a challenge to players. Water features occur at 14 holes. Even though the greens have slight rolls, they are quite fast, forcing players to be strategic about their pace of putting. It is known to be the least expensive golf destination in the whole of the Caribbean region.
Golf course architect Randall Thompsen designed this course, which includes a practice putting green and two driving ranges. It also has a flood lit par three holes for after-dark play.
Lucero Golf & Country Club
This is a friendly – albeit challenging – par 72, 18-hole championship course of international standard. Designed by the renowned J. Michael Poellot, each hole on the course is a golfing experience in itself. It is Panama’s highest golf course, offering fantastic views.
The Lucero Golf & Country Club is the only regulation golf course in the country. The tee decks consist of bent-grass, a type of luxury grass that has a fine texture, thick density and rich green color. Players will feel like they are playing on top of the world while on this course, as it is perched nearly 3,500 feet above sea level. The tee-off blocks on the fifth hole provides a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and Volcán Barú. The course is not in pristine condition, but considerable enhancements have occurred, especially on the bunkers. An improved drainage system was also introduced into the course recently.
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