The beach resort of Palmas del Mar lies on the east coast of Puerto Rico and it’s one of the largest in the Caribbean, offering a wide range of sporting activities, including fishing, tennis, equestrianism and, of course, golf. Charles Fraser was the developer here, the man who set up Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island.
Palmas Athletic Club has two championship courses on site: the newer Flamboyán is a 7,117-yard layout by acclaimed architect Rees Jones that opened in 1998 and its sister course Palm is a smaller, par 71 track that was originally designed by Gary Player in 1974 and later reworked by Jones.
Fairways of the Flamboyan course at Palmas del Mar fan out alongside a 20-acre freshwater lake, some intersecting the Candelero River while others border the Caribbean Sea so water certainly plays its part in proceedings here.
The signature hole is the 12th, a solid par three which requires a sturdy blow from the tee box into the prevailing wind to a raised green that sits behind a canal with the island of Vieques as a beautiful backdrop.
Palmas Del Mar has two courses. Play the Flamboyan. The first two holes, almost equi-length par fours are welcoming. The first has long fairway bunkers left and right that squeeze the fairway and two greenside right. The second leans a wee bit left and has four fairway bunkers left at about 200 yards out from the tee. Favor the right side of the fairway. However, there a gaggle of bunkers running down the left side and there is water right and long. The first par five is a classic risk reward water all the way on the right par five that bends right. It is reachable, for those of you going for it, aim at the left side of the fairway bunker thru the fairway. Good luck. The first par three is long with bunkers left and right. The fifth is a pretty much straightaway par four with a long, 80 yards or so, fairway bunker right. Thus, favor left of center. The green has a large bunker left and three pot bunkers right. The sixth also has a long fairway bunker right. There is a water hazard left and a greenside bunker right. The 7th is a long par five that tilts right. It is also the number one handicap hole. I do not see this as three mediocre shots will have you putting for birdie. Couple of fairway bunkers right and greenside front left. The 8th is a 190 yard Florida par three. Not sure why it is the number nine handicap hole. The ninth is the longest par four on the front. Fairway bunker right, bombs away.
The back starts with the shortest and easiest par five. Left of the right fairway bunker should give you a green light. Just be aware that the green is protected with five bunkers right and two left. The 11th has a water carry and while it feels like it is going right it is pretty straight. Off the tee aim at the center of the left bunker convention. The 12th is a scenic mid-length par three with the ocean acting as the backdrop. Stay focused. The 13th is the shortest par four and is rated the easiest hole. This surprises me as the hole will require two accurate shots to create a birdie oppty. A slight water carry that bends left with the hole. There are four fairway bunkers thru the fairway. Choose your yardage carefully and consider laying up off the tee. If successful you will be left with an attack wedge over a water hazard to a green sandwiched between two bunkers. Fun hole. The 14th is the antithesis of the 13th. Long and straight, yawn. The 15th is the longest par three with a large backwards E shaped bunker right. The longest par five at 609 is probably not reachable by 99% of the golfing community. Play it as a three shotter, it is also one of the narrower fairways. The 17th is another long par four with a long 80 yard fairway bunker right. The green is tucked behind three right bunkers. The finishing hole is a demanding long par four. The green is protected with a bunker right and water left.
Puerto Rico is not a great golf destination but this is one of the courses I would recommend.
The course is set on or around wetlands and that means there are a significant number of holes where large lakes or thick reed beds are in play. Unlike a number of courses I've played, this course has the hazards very much in the line of play and requires tee shots or approach shots to carry the hazard. The course really asks how brave you're feeling and how much you trust your swing.
The most interesting holes for me were: the 3rd a par 5 that works its way right around a lake. The tee shot allows you to choose how confident you are and how much water carry you want to try and make the hole shorter with. The water continues all the way down the right hand side to and around the green. The 6th has water in play on the left in the approach area and around the green and significant undulating hillocks on the bail out area to the right. The 12th is the signature hole, a par 3 that only requires a mid iron and probably has a nod to the Redan in it's style. Behind the green is a line of palms and the Caribbean Sea - a great view to tee off toward. My favourite hole was the 13th, a short par 4 with water down the left in the driving area and a creek across in front of the green for anyone trying to hit driver and getting a bit too much of it. There are also a line of bunkers down the right side of the fairway for those who bail out away from the water and they make it more difficult for the short second shot into the green. Oh, and the hole curved left from tee to green bringing the water and bunkers more into play. It was a hole that looked great to the eye and required thought and then precise execution and I three putted it to bogey from about 10 feet! A great hole and yet another reason why the game can drive you crazy when you think its going so well.
In summary, Palmas is a little out of the normal tourist areas in Puerto Rico and at USD107 for the round it's not that cheap either - but if was ever going back to Puerto Rico I'd head away from San Juan and the north coast to play the Flamboyan course (and the course at Coamo Springs - a bargain round) again.