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.
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.