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|The Flamboyan course's front nine plays warm-up to the more emphatic back nine, which enters an untamed, more serene landscape. (Courtesy Palmas del Mar)|
HUMACAO, PUERTO RICO — Palmas del Mar Country Club doesn't promote itself as a "country club for a day," like so many semi-private golf courses in the United States do.
It wants to be your golf country club for a lifetime.
The 36-hole club, and massive surrounding neighborhood, feels so different from many other Puerto Rico golf clubs. From the moment you enter the gate of the 3,000-acre property, it feels more like a private club than the island's other resort courses.
There is a resort component to Palmas del Mar with a Sheraton hotel inside the gates, but more than anything, it caters to the strong local and snowbird membership that numbers roughly 1,200 people.
But don't worry. Palmas del Mar, located roughly an hour southwest of capital city San Juan, doesn't come off as a stuffy club. You're more than welcome to visit.
When General Manager Jeff Willenberg came to work at Palmas del Mar, he admits "I didn't know what to expect going through the gate."
He's been more than pleasantly surprised.
Palmas features the largest tennis center in the entire Caribbean with 20 courts, an equestrian center, a 40,000-square-foot clubhouse with a fine dining restaurant and daytime grille and separate locker rooms for members and guests, a beach club for members and arguably the island's best practice area with a two-sided range and short-game area with a bunker.
And, most important, it can be more affordable than most championship courses on the island. The normal rack rate for outside play is $150, but a number of the island's hotels work through the club's concierge program to cut the price to $95, including club rentals.
A $2.5 million renovation of the golf courses and practice facility was completed in 2003, showing a continued commitment to those amenities.
"We are the most unique facility on the island," Willenberg said. "We have so many amenities."
The Palm and Flamboyan courses lead the charge. Both are blessed with better terrain, more undulating, than most layouts in Puerto Rico. And generally, they are in better condition than the island's other courses, with faster, pure greens.
Gary Player built the Palm course in 1974. A redesign of five holes earlier in the decade by Rees Jones chopped one stroke off of par, creating back-to-back par-3s on the front nine, but the par-71, 6,675-yard layout is still considered among the top 10 on the island.
It is more docile than its surly sister track. The greens are less severe. The bunkers are less penal. The fairways are wider, and there are but a few forced carries.
The third and fourth holes kiss the beach of the Caribbean Sea, and yet, it's the back nine you'll remember. Willenberg said it might be the toughest nine on the island.
The par-4 439-yard 15th hole tees off from the highest point on the property before sweeping right and climbing again to an elevated green 420 yards away. The intimidating tee shot at the 455-yard 17th hole requires tunnel vision: hitting through a tight shoot over the Candelero River.
Jones sculpted the 7,117-yard Flamboyan in 1998, building a bear of a challenge from the tips and blue tees with intimidating forced carries. Yet, it's balanced and member-friendly from the 6,300-yard white tees.
Like the Palm, the Flamboyan front nine plays warm-up to the more emphatic back nine, which leaves the houses behind and enters an untamed, more serene landscape. The finishing stretch, beginning at the 12th hole, is the reason Golf Digest ranked the course third on the island in its Planet Golf ratings in 2005.
The par-3, 174-yard 12th hole is framed in back by palm trees and the sea. The tricky 343-yard 13th requires a conservative tee shot between a lake left and bunkers right, leaving a short iron into a topsy-turvy green tucked behind a water hazard.
The 609-yard 16th, the best of the solid quartet of par-5s, tumbles recklessly downhill to a green guarded by gaping bunkers.
"The back nine of both courses are more challenging," golf professional David Matthews said.
The truth is, if the club combined the two back nines together, it might have the best 18-hole combination on the island.
The courses complement each other well and are more value-oriented. As the community continues to build out (it is just 45 percent developed, according to Willenberg), Palmas del Mar's reputation will gain. There is talk of another hotel, so stay tuned.
The Four Points by Sheraton Palmas del Mar Resort emerged from a year-long renovation in 2005 almost a brand new hotel. All the 107 guest rooms and 26 junior suites were gutted and redone, providing free in-room high-speed Internet access.
There's an outdoor heated pool and hot tub and access to the beach. A small casino heats up the nightlife. There are several dining options, including Sebastian's Restaurant and for lighter fare, David's Cookies. The Cepage Wine and Cigar Bar opens at 3 p.m. daily.
For guests looking for a little more room to enjoy, try renting a villa at Palmas del Mar. The impressive beach club is for golf course members and their guests only, but arraignments can be made for villa guests, too. The beach club offers a beachside bar and grill, a large adult pool and a children's wading pool with two large water slides (200 feet tall), sand volleyball, children's playground and beach access.
If tennis is your game, there are two artificial grass Omni courts, five Har-Tru clay courts and 13 hard courts. Seven are lighted for nighttime play, when the sun isn't beating down on players. The tennis center also doubles as the community fitness center.
Palmas del Mar offers a marina available and another larger one under construction.
Palmas del Mar features the largest tennis center, with 20 courts, in the entire Caribbean.
May 9, 2007
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Click here to read his golf blog.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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