Located an hour’s drive from the teaming metropolis of Sao Paulo, Fazenda Boa Vista is a former 3,500-acre sugar and coffee plantation that’s been converted into a resort and real estate development boasting a 5-star hotel, polo fields, tennis courts and two golf courses, the first of which was laid out by Randy Thompson in 2009.
Six years later, Arnold Palmer was commissioned to fashion a new championship-standard course, which has upstaged the original layout in no uncertain terms (each course has its own clubhouse designed by the architect Isay Weinfeld). The Palmer layout is billed as “the first Championship Golf Course in Latin America”, which is bizarre marketing and debatable to say the least.
According to Thad Layton, senior architect at Palmer design, the course at Fazenda Boa Vista was designed with three primary objectives in mind: strategy, sustainability, and fun. Wide fairways, a minimalist number of bunkers and an array of recovery options ensure no two players take the same route to the hole.
Through the use of time tested classic design principles, the golf course sits lightly on the land, blending seamlessly into the native tropical vegetation. Golfers of all abilities are sure to enjoy both the beauty and the strategic challenges that the course presents.
One of the most memorable holes is the 7th, a driveable par four with a myriad of options and levels of risk off the tee. Big hitters will go for the green but the lake down the left comes into play for mishit tee shots. Tactical players will lay-up next to the fairway bunker, leaving a short iron into a small green that’s divided into high and low sections.
Thad Layton, senior architect at Palmer Design, kindly provided us with the following exclusive quote:
Our client, JHSF, asked us to create the finest 18-hole course possible on two distinctly different parcels ofland. The front nine was routed in a flood plain area adjacent to the Sorocaba River whilst the back nine worked its way around a huge lake and up into some very steep terrain before finishing back at the lake.
Our biggest challenge was sculpting the relatively flat topography on the front nine into large, believable land forms that could hold their own against that of the back nine. Through previous agricultural practices, the property had largely been denuded of any character save the odd tree creeping out of the stream buffer.
We set out to transform the landscape into a rolling tapestry of turf weaving in and out of native grasses and created wetlands, saving what we could along the way to blend the course into its surroundings.
Environmental preservation as it relates to golf development in Brazil can be summed up in two words: zero tolerance. Farming and other more intensive land uses tend to get a pass while golf is singled out. Needless to say, we had some challenges along the way but the end product is a tremendous complement to the environment compared to the previous land use.
From an earth management perspective, we needed to generate fill to make the golf course drain and build features. To achieve this, we created ribbon lakes and wetlands between the river buffer zone and the golf course.
The created wetlands are teaming with wildlife in areas where one would be hard pressed to find anything that moved before construction began. All water from the golf course is captured in these wetlands where nutrients are captured before either being released into the river or reused in the golf course irrigation system.
While the course’s playing surfaces are all Bermuda grass, a native Brazilian cover crop called Brachiaria is planted in the outer roughs. It has a thicker leaf blade and provides a nice color and textural change against the finer textures of the fairways and greens.The best thing about this grass is that it doesn’t require any water. It is resilient to pests, traffic, and just about anything you can throw at it. It can also grow tall, offering cover and a great habitat for smaller wildlife.
The 18-hole Palmer layout at Fazenda Boa Vista was the last of four courses I played when I was in São Paulo last year and it was an ideal way to round off my visit before flying home later in the day. I anticipated a course from the Arnold Palmer Design Company to be built to a high standard and that’s exactly what I found. In relation to the older Randall Thompson-designed 18-hole layout at the same venue, it’s the longer, tougher and better of the two tracks.
It’s certainly a game of two halves on the Palmer course as the front nine holes are laid out on relatively flat terrain, configured as three par threes, three par fours and three par fives. What the outward half lacks in movement is more than made up for on the back nine, with fairways rising and falling across a rolling landscape as holes twist and turn in every direction, taking you on a journey that’s totally unexpected after playing the first nine holes.
A nice little touch that I noticed early on was the simplicity of the teeing areas (very much like the Olympic course in Rio), where the markers are set close to the previous green in an almost casual way at grade level, enabling the holes to merge into their surroundings and accentuate the flow from one to the next. I was also impressed with how the new wetland areas integrate so well into the design, softening the transition from the fairway corridors into the rough and beyond.
I liked the very long par five 5th – with its centre line bunkers and another big bunker to the right of the fairway, separating it from the 8th hole – and the short par four 7th, highlighted by a right to left sloping green that’s protected by water to the left of the putting surface. But the front nine serves only as a warm up for the main event on the inward half. If you’re playing a medal round, then you’d better have made a birdie or two before you reach the turn as you’ll probably make a few bogeys thereafter.
The sequence from the 11th to the 15th is easily the best on the course, featuring a funky back-to-front sloping green on the first of these holes and intimidating tee shots on three of the others. This easternmost part of the property is quite hilly and an awful lot of effort must have been put into constructing these holes. The 13th and 15th are par fives but I honestly can’t see too many “4”s being marked on scorecards here.
There’s a bit of respite to be had at the long par three 16th before another stellar hole looms at the 17th, veering right across a wetland area to the penultimate green. This brings players back onto the level of the front nine, with the final hole sliding right, around another lake, to the home green. For a course that starts out in a rather pedestrian manner, the Palmer really gets the pulse racing on the second nine, turning it into one you’ll look back on and remember for all the right reasons.
Quality land, in my mind, makes up no less than 60% of the equation when assessing the merits of a given layout. When such land is available the architect clearly has an opportunity to place holes that really work in concert with the terrain and, at the same time, excite the golfer for the various situations encountered.
Conversely, when the land is featureless an architect must decide just how much involvement is needed. Too little and the course is dull. Too much involvement means artificial inclusions superimposed and clearly out of step.
The Palmer Course is a story of two tales. The outward half is on unimaginative flat ground. The architect attempted to do as much as possible but there's little of real consequence design wise. A bit more imagination with bunker placement and styles could have helped -- ditto on the nature of the greens.
The inward half is like someone flipped the switch. The terrain is much more engaging with various movements and holes routed well using what only Mother Nature can provide. The 10th is a quality mid-length par-4 with a massive pond serving as the major deterrent on this cape-like hole. The uphill par-4 11th is a superb follow-up hole and much of it is centered around the approach. Players will need to take heed in selecting their approach club because the elevation is quite keen and spinning a ball -- even putting a ball -- off the front is a very real concern. The green is arguably the best of the layout -- plenty of movement from back-to-front with sweeping internal contours.
At the 12th you encounter an enchanting vista that provides for a blind tee shot. If a player shapes a ball flight in a right-to-left manner the rewards will be significant as your ball will hit the far downslope and propel for even greater distance. The 13th a par-5 and 14th a par-3 respectively, both move uphill and are well done. Far too often when hillier ground is encountered you can get abrasive holes -- especially when traversing uphill. Not the case here. Each also has quality putting surfaces. At the 13th the green is rather small befitting a hole in which strong players may entertain getting to the green in two blows. At the 14th the slope of the green from back-to-front and will require a good approach to get near the hole.
The final quartet of holes is a mixed bag. The 716-yard par-5 15th plays all downhill and a bit more on the inventive side for bunker placement would have made the hole even better. Bunkers are placed on the left side for the drive zone but having them nearer to the center line would have made the tee shot challenge even more so. The same holds true as you descend the final hill into the green. A center-placed bunker where 2nd shots are potentially jeopardized would have worked very well. After such a long journey the green is also pedestrian in contours.
The 16th is an excellent par-3 when played sensibly from the 232-yard marker. There is an inane tee box at 267 yards and it's simply overkill for yardage purposes. The putting surface is in the same vein for quality as the aforementioned 11th. The contours provide for a half-Biarritz green on the left side and there's plenty of other internal movements. A lengthy par-3 is always appreciated but having one from the tips at 267 yards is stretching to make a point when a more prudent tee choice is more than sufficient.
The 17th is a wonderful hole. Choices galore at the tee. The hole moves right with a solitary bunker protecting that side. An aggressive line can either fly the bunker or play just left of it. Those able to do so on this 452-yard hole will gain a big time advantage with the approach. However, the slightest push means whistling the Bobby Darin tune of "Splish Splash." Tee shots played too cautiously will be left with a far lengthier approach. The green is also good -- with a back left pin area that's narrow and requires pinpoint accuracy.
The closing hole is a long strong par-4 of 470 yards. A massive pond protects the entire right side. And a solitary bunker is placed on the left side of the fairway. The issue with the bunker is that having something smaller and placed right in the middle of the fairway would have added significantly to the intrigue. Simply hitting away from the bunker is doable given the nature of today's clubs and balls. A smaller center-placed bunker effectively cuts the fairway in half and now the player must decide to either play away to the left -- adding considerable yardage for the approach; or attempt to go the right in which case the pond lurks dangerously; or attempt to fly over it.
The green is placed in close proximity to the pond which is fine. However, the green is not served well by two rear bunkers that merely provide a backstop. A clever bunker is placed 40 or ro so yards short and is well done because it provides a challenge for those players who cannot reach the green via the aerial route alone.
The Palmer Course is massive for the scale of the property. As I said at the outset the terrain is a mixed bag. There are moments clearly exciting to the senses as you prepare to hit a given shot. Yet, on the other hand, there are numerous instances - mainly on the front nine -- where it will take a good deal to keep from napping. Fortunately, the nines are sequenced in the correct manner because if one played the back first and then the front the overall disappointment would have been even greater. Being a private club access will be an issue for many unless one stays at the adjoining Hotel Fasano Boa Vista which provides top tier lodging and related amenities.
M. James Ward
This is the new course at Fazenda Boa Vista and what a nice surprise. Let’s see what the architect Thad Layton has to say about his project:
“The Palmer Course at Fazenda Boa Vista was designed with three primary objectives in mind: strategy, sustainability, and fun. Wide fairways, a minimalist bunker scheme, and an array of green contours and recovery options insure no two players will take the same route to the hole. Through the use of time tested classic design principles, the golf course sits lightly on the site, blending seamlessly into the native tropical vegetation of Brasil. Golfers of all abilities are sure to enjoy the raw beauty and strategic challenges the course presents.”
In my opinion, people tend to use the word strategy too often, but here this is definitively not the case. There are at least five holes where decisions need to be made at the tee, including two “drivable” par fours. There are three par fives that you must decide what to do with your second shot and one very demanding par three. The challenges and possibilities are what makes a course interesting and the reason that I loved Fazenda Boa Vista.
In terms of difficulty, you could divide the course in three progressive segments. The first hole is a reachable par five and the last hole is a monstrous par four measuring 500 yards contouring a lake, easily the hardest finishing hole in the country. I would take a par here any day.
Use the first holes to warm up because the hard choices start at number seven, a lovely drivable par four with water on your left and a sloped green that will hold your driver. The green starts right after the water so either you make it or take a penalty and try again. One can always play to the right and depending on the pin placement that would be the right choice. Number eight is an interesting par five that will make you work the ball from right to left and nine is a beautiful par three with a false front that will require a very delicate approach shot if you are unable to find the dance floor from the tee.
Number ten is a heroic hole where you are forced to carry a big lake, you can choose how much you want to risk but since the green faces the tee and is severely tilted from the fairway the defensive tee shots will face a VERY difficult second shot. Number eleven is one of my favorite holes especially the small green that sits on a very steep hillside and cascades down the hill into a series of terraces connected with slopes of varying degrees.
Fifteen is a 650-yard hilly par five with a green on a severe down slope that will be seen only after two very good shots. Try to use the right side of the fairway and the slopes to have a chance to make par. The signature hole is number seventeen a downslope par four divided by a small river and with the lake in the back of the green. In the afternoon please take your cameras with you.
There are a lot of different classic features blended in this Palmer course so it is clear that the architect not only studied the classics but also took the time and effort to incorporate them in a modern lay out making this course a very nice golfing experience.