Founded in the mid-19th century, the small town of Frutillar is situated in the Los Lagos region of Chile, very close to Lake Llanquihue, which is the second largest body of water in the country. German settlers, many of whom arrived from Europe at nearby Puerto Montt, originally populated the town.
A modern day German Museum – comprising a warehouse, water mill, town house and garden – allows tourists to see what life was like back in the formative years of the town. There’s also a theatre located on the shores of the lake and this contemporary building hosts concerts and other cultural events throughout the year.
Just a mile along the lake shore, businessman Jaime Said has masterminded the Patagonia Virgin residential development and it’s one that will feature townhouse apartments, two 5-star hotels, shops, restaurants and a marina. The project is anchored by an 18-hole layout from Nicklaus Design, the first course that Jack’s company has built in Chile.The fairways sit 450 feet above the lake, with views across its sparkling waters to the surrounding rain forest. Half the holes are links-like in nature, characterised by wide playing corridors and gentle slopes whilst the remainder of the course is routed around native woodland to the west of the property, much of which is heavily contoured.
Patagonia Virgin represents a new face of Chilean golf in many ways. For starters, it is the most southern course in the country. Unlike most of the central region, golf will be played here with a pullover or waterproof jacket for most of the year. The second is this Jack Nicklaus vanguard design with giant, funky shaped bunkers and impeccable turf make this a stand out golf course in the country. Most of the country’s golf courses are tight parkland venues situated around the Chilean capital Santiago, with a couple of notable exceptions on the coast.
For sure, only 9 holes are ready for play, and the clubhouse is still on the architect’s drawing board. But there is a smaller facility that provides changing rooms and has a small welcoming 19th hole for anyone who ever makes it out to this new golfing outpost. For a golf course that has been recently turfed, the conditions of several of the holes were impeccable. A couple of holes that have been turned in more recent months have a little more ways to go, according to course superintendent George Elder, but it’s clear that the ground staff are a capable team.
The sight from the first tee gives a good taste of what lies ahead. A short par 4 rising uphill with massive gaping bunkers everywhere, immaculate green turf and on this particular day a stunning view of the Osorno volcano, which is famous for having a perfect conical shape.
Hole 5 is a brilliant risk reward driveable par 4. Hit a mid iron over a lake to a tight fairway with a stony creek on the left and big foothills on the right. The green is tightly bunkered and the creek runs right alongside the green. Hole 7 is a shorter par 3 with elevated tees that requires a precise shot of a huge bunker to a green that offers views of Lake Llanquihue and the magnificent theater perched on the lake in the nearby town of Frutillar.
The eighth is a tough and long par 4 that will play in a hefty headwind in the summer months of January and February. The ninth is another risk reward scenario, this time a par 5, with a huge tree and bunker splitting the middle of a wide fairway and a creek running alongside the front of the green.
I had the fortune to be shown the routing for the next 9 holes, which will also offer some superb holes and impressive volcano vistas. The current nine will be intermingled with the future holes to ensure both loops finish near the clubhouse. Standout holes included the future 11th, an uphill long par 3 where Nicklaus design chief Chris Cochran deliberately had Osorno volcano directly in the line of ball flight to the green. I can't wait to hit that shot. The future eighth and ninth holes will be among the very best in Chile. The eighth is a long double dogleg par 5 playing to a raised green with impressive views of lakes and volcanoes. The ninth will end in a giant ravine below the future clubhouse, offering members an amazing of the action taking place below.
Angel Cabrera inaugurated the course in December and apparently said that when the 18 holes are ready, Patagonia Virgin will be for sure one of the best golf courses in Latin America.