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
Date: March 30, 2019