Developed by Grupo Shahani, one of Panama’s biggest construction and real estate development companies, Vista Mar Golf & Beach Resort lies within an impressive 700-acre property on the Pacific coast, less than a two-hour drive from the capital, where KemperSports manages the golf facility.
Featuring Paspalum fairways, strategically placed bunkers and intricately contoured greens, the course is routed around a number of residential apartments, with golfers afforded mountain views to the north and ocean vistas to the south. Members and guests also have the use of a private beach club, tennis courts and an oceanfront restaurant.It's a resort-style course that measures anything from 5,400 yards up to 7,200 yards from the back tees. The layout opened in 2012, designed by American architect J. Michael Poellot, who was a busy man around that time in Panama as he was also working on a project 400 kilometres to the west of Vista Mar at the highly-rated Lucero course in Boquete.
“I first visited the property back in 2003. I had just completed a promotional tour of Costa Rica which we understood to be the "new frontier for golf" in Central America. While I found Costa Rica to be a most beautiful country with abundant natural resources, I was concerned about the lack of quality infrastructure.
The roads to most destinations were both dangerous and challenging to navigate and the crime rate in the capital city of San Jose was becoming a major concern for tourists. The last stop on my trip was to Los Suenos, a resort destination on the northwest coast. After checking into my hotel and being advised not to swim at the polluted beach, my enthusiasm for a new project in Costa Rica was quickly waning.
As luck would have it, on the last day of my trip, I stopped in to see an old friend who was a real estate agent in the area and he informed me that he had just been visited by a group of investors that were considering building a world class resort project on the Pacific coast of Panama.
Panama? Of course, I had known of Panama, but certainly not as a major resort destination. My friend referred the investors to our company and within a week we were contacted and invited to visit the site and discuss their project objectives in more detail.
I was immediately impressed by Panama and it was not the dusty, third-world country that I had naively imagined - it had a beautiful 21st-century high rise skyline, excellent infrastructure (a legacy of American involvement many years ago), great restaurants and superb medical and health facilities. I was hooked!
Within an hour, we were whisked away from Panama City in their company helicopter and we were soon looking down on a phenomenal piece of property on Panama's resort coast - a large estate of well over 600 acres, gently rolling and basically formed as a large amphitheater overlooking the Pacific. There was virtually no area of the site that did not have panoramic ocean views.
We came to an agreement immediately to devise a "master plan" for the entire site which, of course, included an 18-hole championship-calibre golf course. However, a month later, when we presented the plan to the owners (who knew nothing about golf), they were overwhelmed and shocked by the amount of valuable real estate that needed to be "sacrificed" for a full-length golf course.
After months of discussion about possibly building a par-3 course or a 9-hole course, we finally prevailed and convinced them of the huge marketing advantages of being able to offer a world class golf experience and how that would dramatically enhance future property values.
As gravel and earthmoving contractors, the client was absolutely certain they could build the course themselves despite our urging them to bring in a world renowned golf course contractor. Needless to say, the entire process was much longer and far more complicated than necessary. Fortunately, we were able to bring in our own shaping team, which was critical in getting the course completed to meet the client's expectations.
Today, the course is regarded as one of the finest golf courses in Panama and all of Central America and is, to this day, in the process of further developing its vast array of resort amenities including a new marina which has recently been completed.
It was during this long Vista Mar project involvement that I made a side trip to the mountain resort town of Boquete where I met a Canadian developer who had just acquired a magnificent mountain property with forever views at Lucero - but that's another story for another time…”
Vista Mar is about a 2 hour drive southwest of Panama City near the town of San Carlos. This course is part of a new 740 acre development situated directly on the ocean with its’ own beachfront area and marina. There is no hotel on the property yet, but there are plenty of rental condos for your stay. This layout may be one of best in Panama with spectacular views of the sea and mountains. You’ll find some positioning on the fairways make for some very tough approach shots. The tee blocks and greens were in fine shape, but I could not get over the fact that the fairways were completely burnt out. I understand that the piping and irrigation pump system will soon be replaced so conditioning should improve in 2017. Current green fees are USD$110 to $120 but they have a Thursday twilight rate starting at $40.
PS. Make sure you stop in to eat at their clubhouse since they make the best paella anywhere.
Dave Finn is our Canadian Correspondent. To read more about his golf travel adventures visit www.golftravelandleisure.com