Under Armour’s summer apparel guide

Under Armour’s vision to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can’t imagine living without. It began with an idea that created more than a shirt and a brand-it changed the performance apparel game.

Under Armour’s vision to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can’t imagine living without. It began with an idea that created more than a shirt and a brand—it changed the performance apparel game.

Under Armour’s summer apparel guide

Under Armour’s vision to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can’t imagine living without. It began with an idea that created more than a shirt and a brand-it changed the performance apparel game.

Under Armour’s vision to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can’t imagine living without. It began with an idea that created more than a shirt and a brand—it changed the performance apparel game.

Seaside attraction: Casa de Campo, Teeth of the Dog sparkle on Dominican Republic coast

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Sitting on my perch at the Minitas Beach Club at the expansive Casa de Campo resort, I was certain I had found the best oceanfront attraction on this island. Wavelets lapped the shore in the moonlight as the …

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LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – Sitting on my perch at the Minitas Beach Club at the expansive Casa de Campo resort, I was certain I had found the best oceanfront attraction on this island. 

Wavelets lapped the shore in the moonlight as the bartenders – mixologists, for those of you who might prefer something upscale – offered up a compelling menu of cocktails. The adjacent adults-only pool had quieted down, and the scene seemed like something out of an idyllic Caribbean dream: sunset over the pool deck, steady breeze, sand, palm fronds, warm salt water, cold drinks. 

If those sound too much like the ingredients of an overbaked pop-up travel ad, well, I apologize, but this beach bar is that good. 

It was the second night of my five at the resort on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, and I was halfway convinced I didn’t even need to meet my hosts for dinners the rest of the week. Or sample any other bars. Or ever leave that barstool. Golf at the resort’s courses beckoned over the next few days, but I just wanted to stay where I was. In a lifetime of trying out beach bars, I had found one of the best. 

The Minitas Beach family pool at Casa de Campo (Courtesy of Casa de Campo)

Good thing I got up and caught a shuttle back to my room, though, because the next morning I was introduced to another oceanside experience that, at least for a golfer, might have been even better.

Camera at the ready

A golfer doesn’t need to play Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, built by Pete Dye in 1971, to appreciate it. Instead of golf clubs, a camera might suffice. 

After a handful of inland holes with teasing ocean views, the course leaps onto the rocky beachhead at the fifth, 168 yards off the back tee over salt spray to a tiny green alighted atop an outcropping more sublime than any golf architect could ever ask for. 

I’m a sucker for a good golf photo, and I broke out my smartphone for the obligatory Instagram shots. I certainly wasn’t the first to post a photo that can’t quite live up to this hole, this view, this shoreline, and I won’t be the last who should have spent more time on club selection than with camera in hand. 

The best part: This is no one-hit wonder. The sixth hole, a long par 4 along that same craggy coastline, is equally photogenic. As is the par-3 seventh. And the par-4 eighth. Same for Nos. 15 through 17 on the back nine. Those seven holes are a kaleidoscope of ocean colors and golf, the greens giving way to black rocks and coral, then blue water capped with white breakers. On a maiden voyage around, a player doesn’t know whether to focus on land or sea. 

Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo (Courtesy of Casa de Campo)

When first-timers wrap up on No. 18, “Their mouths are wide open and they’re going, ‘What just happened? What is this?’” said Robert Birtel, Casa de Campo’s director of golf. “The first time you see Teeth of the Dog, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s just insane.’ ”

Sure, it’s Birtel’s job to say so, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. For anybody who loves golf alongside an ocean, these holes are staggering. 

Because we’re golfers, we eventually must set aside the cameras and hit the shots. For those familiar with Dye’s frequent visual tricks and eye-raising hazards, there is good news in that the oceanfront holes on Teeth of the Dog present very few of Dye’s typical challenges. Instead, the frequent wind and adjacent ocean do the trick, and Dye simply let the conditions dictate difficulty. If the wind is up, so too will be the scores. 

The 11 holes not directly on the shoreline are fine, with the rightward-arching, par-5 14th perhaps most reminiscent of Dye’s standard work: sand paralleling water, a probable forced carry, a green running off in every direction. Inland a few hundred yards and sheltered by trees and homes, the hole is plenty exciting and worthy of a few photos of its own. Anywhere else in the world, this could be a signature hole featured in a course’s marketing materials. 

But it’s the ocean holes that land Teeth of the Dog at No. 3 on this year’s list of Golfweek’s Best Top 50 courses in the Caribbean and Mexico and prompt people to climb onto airplanes for a relatively short ride down from the East Coast of the U.S. The resort isn’t exactly a secret – everyone from presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Jay-Z and Beyoncé have made it a repeat destination, whether they be golfers or not. 

And Teeth of the Dog – so named for the sharp rocks alongside the ocean – isn’t the only reason for golfers to visit. 

Miles of coastline

One of the main things that sets Casa de Campo – Spanish for Country House – apart from many destinations is its scale. Simply put, the place is huge. 

Sprawling across 7,000 acres with more than four miles of coastline, the resort includes world-class tennis facilities, a shooting center, a polo and equestrian club, dozens of restaurants and bars (many owned by the resort, others independently operated), and a 370-slip marina that can handle superyachts. There’s even a 5,000-seat Grecian-style amphitheater that was inaugurated by Frank Sinatra in 1982. 

Altos de Chavón at Casa de Campo (Courtesy of Casa de Campo)

Accommodations range from 247 hotel rooms – many recently updated as part of ongoing capital improvements by the Fanjul family of sugar barons who own the resort – to myriad luxury villas overlooking golf holes and the ocean. 

The villas are particularly popular for organized groups of golfers, who Birtel said often play 18 in the morning, then jump into their private pool and hang out the rest of the day together. And Birtel said many guests opt for the resort’s all-inclusive packages, which cover everything from tee times to meals to cocktails, much like a cruise ship.

“It’s actually eye-opening when you come over here, because there’s just so much to do,” said Birtel, a native of Louisiana whose previous stints in golf included roles at English Turn in New Orleans and Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico. “I mean, the golf is spectacular, but to put that to the side, Casa de Campo itself has so many restaurant options, so many things to do outside of golf. 

“The golf is incredible, but we hope that isn’t all people do when they come here. If you just play golf at Casa de Campo, you’re missing so many experiences.”

The whole place might best be broken down into four areas. There’s the golf hub and main clubhouse for Teeth of the Dog and the resort’s new golf teaching center, with its shops, restaurants, a central bar near the main lobby, a pool and hotel rooms nearby. Next up is the immense marina with more shops, boats, a handful of indoor-outdoor restaurants and a grocery store. The aforementioned Minitas Beach is a third key area, also with restaurants and bars, family and adults-only pools and, of course, a sand beach.

The view from La Casita at the marina at Casa de Campo (Courtesy of Casa de Campo)

The fourth main area – the Altos de Chavón – might be the most unexpected. Perched on cliffs 200 feet above the Chavón River, the picturesque cobblestone streets and buildings are modeled in the form of a 16th-century Mediterranean village. There are boutiques, an art gallery, restaurants and bars, a church, even the Altos de Chavón School of Design, which is affiliated with the Parsons School of Design in New York.

“You go up to Altos de Chavón and you’re walking around, and you’re like, ‘What is going on around here?’ ” said Birtel, who has lived at the resort with his wife and young daughter for four years. “You walk into the marina, it’s like another world. The beach, same thing. You have world-class golf, but after golf you have all these different things to do. It just doesn’t stop.”

And just as there are many areas to see about the resort, there is more than one golf course. 

Don’t miss the Links, Dye Fore

“This golf course, put it anywhere else and it would be the best course around,” said Manuel Relancio, one of Casa de Campo’s teaching professionals, as we crested a hill on the rolling 27-hole Dye Fore course that offered views straight down the cliffs and the Chavón River, across the marina and out to sea. 

Relancio, a former touring pro from Argentina, might spend more time on the courses at Casa de Campo than anyone, working all angles of the game from giving playing lessons to A-listers (he’s discreet and wouldn’t share his client list) to teaching juniors. 

“This is as good a hole as you will find in some whole countries,” he said of the clifftop, par-4 fourth hole of the Marina nine, which tumbles downhill past cliffs to an exposed green above the river. “And because it’s Casa de Campo, it’s not even the best hole here.”

The Dye Fore course at Casa de Campo (Courtesy of Casa de Campo)

Therein lies a hiccup for the Dye Fore and Links courses at Casa de Campo, both of them also Dye layouts. And it’s the same at the Dye-designed, private La Romana Country Club at the resort. These are thoroughly enjoyable courses – Dye Fore is No. 22 in the Caribbean and Mexico on Golfweek’s Best list, and La Romana is No. 40 – but most of the attention is placed on those oceanfront holes at Teeth of the Dog. 

“Well, yeah, any golfer should see Teeth,” Relancio said as we made our way across the Chavón nine of Dye Fore, which is perched atop the cliffs near the village of Altos de Chavón. “But they should see this, too.” 

That’s also true for the Links, an entirely inland course surrounded by homes and villas. Despite its comparable lack of views and drama, the Links might feature some of the best Dye-sculpted greens and crafty chipping areas on the property. With its Florida vibe, it certainly is worthy of four hours on a golf trip. 

The Link at Casa de Campo (Courtesy of Casa de Campo)

“The only problem with Links is Teeth of the Dog and Dye Fore,” Birtel said. “But the scores aren’t any lower on Links. It’s not like it’s easy. It’s shorter, which makes it maybe a little fun from the back tees for the really good players. But if you miss it around the green, you’re going to challenge yourself.”

No matter all the resort’s appealing distractions, make time for multiple rounds on Teeth of the Dog. Those ocean holes change dramatically based on wind, with their appearances shifting throughout the day as the light changes. The best sunset view at the resort – even counting the Minitas Beach Club – is probably from the 17 green at Teeth of the Dog, leaving just enough time to hustle up the 18th before nightfall. 

“I’ve traveled with golfers in Europe and all kinds of other places, and every place is unique and has its own experiences,” Birtel said. “But nobody would ever be disappointed by coming here. You’ve just got to see it to believe it.”

Southeast shore of Dominican Republic packed with top tracks

Casa de Campo is hardly the only great golf to be played in the Dominican Republic. 

Counting the three ranked courses at Casa de Campo, six of the top 50 courses in Golfweek’s Best rankings of courses in the Caribbean and Mexico – including No. 1 – are clustered within an hour’s drive of Punta Cana. The geographic proximity, as well as their proximity to the top of the rankings, give players a chance to perhaps choose one resort destination for accommodations while sampling one of the most dramatic collections of oceanside holes available anywhere. 

“The reality of it is, this whole region is a phenomenal golf experience,” Birtel said. “The more golfers that come down to the region, the better the experience for everyone, especially for the players. It’s just an exceptional destination, there’s never any traffic, it’s easy to get to and from one course to another and the golf is spectacular all along the southeast coast.”

Punta Espada (Courtesy of Punta Espada/Evan Schiller)

Punta Espada, a Jack Nicklaus layout that opened in 2006 in the Cap Cana development in Punta Cana, tops the list of Caribbean and Mexican courses with a 7.70 rating, which would place it in Golfweek’s Best top 25 modern courses in the United States if it was in the U.S. The course was host for the PGA Tour Champions’ Cap Cana Championship from 2008 through 2010.

Punta Espada features eight holes on the shoreline, with greens and fairways perched atop rocky outcroppings. The 7,396-yard, par-72 layout’s inland holes are no letdown, but as with all its neighbors, it’s the ocean holes that shine. The course reaches its peak on a closing stretch that culminates at the 457-yard, par-4 18th with a green set tight to the rocks and salt spray. 

Puntacana’s Corales Course (Courtesy of Puntacana Resort and Club)

Just a few miles up the coast from Punta Espada is Puntacana Resort and Club, which features 45 holes, 14 of them offering ocean views. Tops among these is the Corales course, ranked No. 8 on Golfweek’s list of the Caribbean and Mexico. Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 2010, it is the host for the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in March, won by Graeme McDowell in 2019. 

The 7,650-yard Corales features six holes on the shoreline, set upon higher crags than found at its neighbors. Both the 399-yard, par-4 eighth and 204-yard, par-3 ninth require approach shots over small coves where waves blast skyward. The course culminates at the stunning 18th, a 501-yard par-4 that curves hard to the right after crossing an exposed cove, forcing players to choose how much forced carry they might want to attempt before tacking back toward the ocean and the green perched above a beach. Into the wind, this might be one of the toughest pars on the planet, but the scenery might help sooth after any wayward scores. 

Puntacana’s La Cana course (Courtesy of Puntacana Resort and Club)

Puntacana is also home to the 27-hole La Cana course, designed by P.B. Dye and opened in 2001. The Hacienda and Arrecife nines combine to form Golfweek’s 43rd-ranked layout in the Caribbean and Mexico.

Safety in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic as a whole was given a black eye in some news reports and social media that focused on as many as 11 U.S. tourist’s deaths in 2019. Without any proof of foul play, several of the deaths were attributed to tainted liquor, criminal activity and various unnatural causes, depressing U.S.-based travel to the island.

Local authorities ruled several of these deaths as natural or gave descriptions of incidents that could have happened at any destination, such as a heart attack, but the negative reports lingered until the FBI was called in to assist. After studying each case, American authorities agreed with their Dominican counterparts, ruling many of the deaths to be of natural causes, according to a story in USA TODAY.

The U.S. State Department announced in June that it had not seen an uptick in fatal incidents among the more than 2.7 million U.S. citizens who visit the Dominican Republic each year and that the “overwhelming majority travel without incident,” according to stories by ABC News. 

None of these incidents occurred at Casa de Campo, which features multiple security checkpoints and 24-hour guards throughout the resort. 

“Coming to Casa de Campo is as safe as walking out your front door,” said Birtel, the resort’s director of golf. “For our guests, we take care of everything from the time you arrive at the airport, and we bring you to Casa de Campo. I think anytime you travel, you need to research what’s going on, whether you’re going to Europe, whether you’re going to the Caribbean, whether you’re going somewhere in the States. … There is no perfectly safe spot anywhere in the world – it doesn’t exist. But there is no reason to be worried about your safety at Casa de Campo.”

Make it count: Streamsong part of growing trend with destination tournaments

BOWLING GREEN, Fla. – First-tee jitters are real. Doesn’t matter if it’s the U.S. Open, a city championship, a high school match or even a two-day team event that’s meant to be a vacation. When most players step up to that opening drive with a …

BOWLING GREEN, Fla. – First-tee jitters are real. Doesn’t matter if it’s the U.S. Open, a city championship, a high school match or even a two-day team event that’s meant to be a vacation. When most players step up to that opening drive with a little something on the line, the internal butterflies take flight. 

That’s kind of the whole point of competition, of having to add up all those numbers and post the result on a scoreboard for all to see. It brings a whole new level of interest, even for 30-handicappers who spend four hours doing a lot of math to figure out where they are getting strokes. 

“Competition gives people the chance to do something they can’t do every day,” said Scott Wilson, director of golf at Streamsong in Central Florida. “Normal golf is every day, stroke play or match play depending on what you do within your foursome, and it’s fine, great. But with competition, now all the sudden you have something to play for. It suddenly matters even more.”

Streamsong, which boasts three courses among the top 20 on Golfweek’s Best 2020 list of top resort courses (see page 40), gives recreational players five great chances a year to stick their peg in the ground and experience real competition. With the resort’s Spring Classic, Summer Classic, Fall Classic, Holiday Cup and Family Cup, anybody can get their competitive juices flowing while enjoying a vacation at a top destination. 

Streamsong Blue (Courtesy of Streamsong Resort/Laurence Lambrecht)

Streamsong’s events are part of a larger trend, with ever-increasing teams of players traveling long distances to premium resorts to do more than sample the links – they want to play with something on the line. It’s not a new concept, but there are more opportunities than ever. Even resorts such as Bandon Dunes in Oregon and Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, both of which offer four highly ranked courses, offer multiple opportunities throughout their golf seasons to ratchet up a buddies trip or family retreat to another level. 

Basically, these events are like a classic member-guest tournament, but because they are at resorts instead of private clubs, nobody has to be a member. Check just about any top resort’s website to find such events, but try to book early, as they often fill up quickly. Wilson said most of Streamsong’s events feature 80 to 100 players. 

“We started with four events and we’ve grown to five, and we probably could have several more,” Wilson said. “Most of the folks are local, and by that I’ll say Southeast U.S., but there’ve been times people have come from California or Oregon and up in the Northeast to play with their families and friends. It’s been great.”

Top-ranked golf courses surely are part of the draw – Streamsong’s events are played on a mix of the resort’s Red, Black and Blue courses, which were built by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, and Tom Doak, respectively. The remote courses – about 90 miles southwest of Orlando and 50 miles west of Tampa – rank as Nos. 2, 3 and 4 on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access tracks in Florida.

Overall winners of Streamsong’s events receive packages to return and defend their title, and of course there are social events, trophies, prizes and bragging rights for various flights. Wilson’s staff uses a mix of formats – scramble, shamble and four-ball, for example – for its two-day events, some of which include two rounds and others three rounds.

“Any day of the week, any of the three courses could be a person’s favorite,” Wilson said. “And that’s the beauty of doing it over two or three courses, depending on the tournament – you get to see a lot of great golf. …” 

“And it’s not just stroke play. These are all just a little different, not your ordinary tournament. It just creates interest outside of normal golf. These have just been a lot of fun.”  

Streamsong Black (Courtesy of Streamsong Resort/Laurence Lambrecht)


Streamsong’s 2020 events

Spring Classic: March 22-25; 54 holes of four-ball stroke play on the Blue, Black and Red; $439 single occupancy per night, $339 per person double occupancy per night

Family Cup: June

Summer Classic: August

Fall Classic: October

Holiday Cup: December

Check streamsongresort.com for exact dates and formats as they are announced.

Pricing: To be determined based on event. (The price for the recent Holiday Cup was $685 per player for two night’s double occupancy in the resort’s hotel, two rounds of golf, plus a welcoming party, luncheon, putting contest and more. It was $908 for single occupancy.) Some events use carts, and others are walking only.

Trending younger in real estate: Reynolds Lake Oconee sees influx of fresh buyers

GREENSBORO, Ga. – In those bygone eras before technology found its way into everybody’s pocket or backpack in the form of smartphones and laptops, promising executives could count on spending 30 or 40 years working their way up the ranks at a …

GREENSBORO, Ga. – In those bygone eras before technology found its way into everybody’s pocket or backpack in the form of smartphones and laptops, promising executives could count on spending 30 or 40 years working their way up the ranks at a corporate headquarters in or near a major metropolis. 

Then came a golden watch and the golden years, with nothing but open tee times for all of retirement. For the particularly successful, there might be a second home on a golf course, maybe at a choice destination. 

The only problem was those decades spent in cube farms and offices without a view. Sure, there were weekends and maybe a few golf vacations or afternoons spent at the boss’s exclusive country club. But clear expectations required that aspiring executives spend most of their waking lives attached to their office desks, surrounded by other likeminded professionals trying to climb a ladder that eventually might top out with a fairway view. 

Enter technology, and things have changed. Many working stiffs have realized that instead of churning in an office all those years to eventually live where they want and enjoy some of the finer things in life, why wait?

No. 14 on the Great Waters Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee (Courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee/Evan Schiller)

With the advent of videoconferencing and VPNs, and the relaxing of expectations by many companies that staffers spend all their time in a corporate office, lucky 40- and 50-somethings can live just about anywhere. This trend has taken off in the past five years or so, said Dave Short, senior vice president of marketing, sales and strategic planning at the expansive Reynolds Lake Oconee community about an hour southeast of Atlanta. 

“There’s a lot of people now that are buying a second home first, if you will,” Short said. “That’s a significant shift over the last few years. … They’re on whatever technology, and they work out of a home office, and they can walk nine holes in the afternoon or walk down the hill and dive into the lake at the end of the day. It’s just a different lifestyle.” 

The trend has changed the market at Reynolds Lake Oconee, a sprawling lakeshore development of upper-level and top-tier homes that includes an on-property Ritz-Carlton hotel and covers about 14,000 acres – “We’re about 1,000 acres smaller than Manhattan Island,” Short said with a laugh. 

Lake Oconee, built in 1979 to generate power, offers about 400 miles of shoreline, and about a quarter of those are part of Reynolds. The resort community features six golf courses, four of them ranked in Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Georgia. It is one of just three properties in the country, along with Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon and Destination Kohler in Wisconsin, to have four courses on that list. 

“Ten years ago it would have been, let me pension off from General Motors and let me play golf six days a week for the rest of my life,” Short said. “And that’s just not who the only customer is today. It’s still a really important part of our existing membership, and certainly we have people who come here for that sole reason, but it’s really broadened out in the last several years. There are three families on my street (at Reynolds) in their early 50s that still work, but they work out of here.”

Short said Reynolds Lake Oconee has built out to about 3,000 rooftops and has another 26 miles of shoreline to offer as premium homesites. Atlanta provides the majority of prospective clients, and Short has seen a significant uptick in buyers from Florida and coastal Georgia in recent years as people tire of hurricanes and increasing congestion. 

The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds (Courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee)

The relative affordability to build at Reynolds is a major draw, with what Short called an “ornate” home available for about $230 a square foot. Much more expensive and expansive multi-structure properties are available – call them what they are: lakefront mansions with additional buildings – but research shows that all in all the cost of a new luxury home is better priced at Reynolds than at many destinations offering comparable living experiences and golf. 

But it’s the new class of mid-career homebuyers who have changed the community most, bringing in children instead of occasional visits from grandchildren.

“In the last 10 years, it’s sort of migrated away from being just a golf retirement community to one that now where there’s a lot of vibrancy, a lot of music, a lot of culinary rhythms that didn’t exist here 10 years ago,” Short said. “Part of what has fed into that is there is a whole class of people that are professionally liberated enough from having to live inside the beltway, whether you define that as Atlanta or D.C. or some of the larger cities. They have enough gravitas with their companies to say I want to live where I want to live.”

On top of its golf game

With the membership growing younger, one thing that never gets old at Reynolds Lake Oconee is the golf. MetLife, which purchased the property in 2012, sees to that with a continuous flow of capital improvements to the six courses as well as the hotel, the 10 restaurants and the four full-service marinas. 

No. 11 on the Great Waters Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee (Courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee/Evan Schiller)

For golfers, the largest of the recent undertakings was a renovation of the community’s featured course, Great Waters, which ranks No. 2 in the state on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list. The Jack Nicklaus design originally opened in 1992, and after 18 months of work that ended in October, it’s a familiar experience down the same wide playing corridors, but with a few new twists. 

“The golf course wasn’t broken to start with,” Nicklaus said during a reopening ceremony on the 18th tee next to the lake. “It was just the plumbing was broken, and we had to fix the plumbing. When you fix the plumbing, you get a chance to put a little lipstick on the outside of it.”

All the greens were rebuilt with TifEagle Bermuda grass, the entire course was re-grassed and a new irrigation system was installed. The fairways are now Zeon zoysia, and the rough is TifTuf Bermuda. All the bunkers were reworked.

The back tees were stretched to 7,436 yards, but perhaps more importantly, Nicklaus said, a new set of forward tees were built at about 4,500 yards to encourage older members and new players to take their shot.

With the setting, especially on the back nine’s eight water holes, there wasn’t any need to improve what was out there in view, just to open those views with fewer trees. Several greens and hills were reconfigured to take even better advantage of the views and water.

It’s rare for golf course architects to be given so much prime real estate on waterfront parcels, but Reynolds had a lot of lakeshore with which to work.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to do a pretty spectacular golf course on a pretty spectacular piece of property,” Nicklaus said of the original design. “The Reynolds people saw the vision and had the vision to understand that with 90 miles of waterfront, a little bit of that waterfront could go to golf to really create a golf course and situation that would be well worth the investment.”

Short said it’s all part of a theme of having room to enjoy the amenities, with housing set fairly far back from the playing corridors on ridges that offer long views. 

“A golf course lot has a great golf course view, but they’re not encroaching,” Short said. “It doesn’t feel claustrophobic, with every single lot pushed up as close to the golf course as it can be. We do, by design, push the houses back.”

It goes hand-in-hand with those executives trying to escape the hustle and bustle of city living. Even with so many luxury lifestyle amenities on hand, this is still rural Georgia, and there’s plenty of room to grow. It’s small-town to the point that several locals and employees mentioned that a new Chick-fil-A had just opened nearby. But along with traffic and congestion, there’s one thing missing that Short enjoys pointing out. 

“We’re 40 minutes from a Walmart and only five minutes away from a Ritz-Carlton,” he said with a laugh, not taking credit for a line he has heard from several residents. “That’s a pretty good selling point.”

The Oconee course at Reynolds Lake Oconee (Courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee/Brian G. Oar)


Golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee

Great Waters: The Jack Nicklaus design was built in 1992 and renovated in 2019. The course is No. 2 in Georgia on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list. It is 7,436 yards from the back with nine holes on the lakefront, including the final eight holes. 

The Oconee: This 7,158-yard Rees Jones design opened in 2002 and features rambling elevation changes and a handful of holes on the lake. It ranks No. 4 in the state among Best Courses You Can Play. 

The National Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee (Courtesy of Reynolds Lake Oconee/Brian G. Oar)

The National: Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1997, these 27 holes (Ridge, Bluff and Cove nines) feature significant elevation changes, with several holes on the lake. It ranks No. 8 in the state among Best Courses You Can Play.

The Landing: This original course at Reynolds was built by Bob Cupp and opened in 1986 among wooded areas and rolling hills. Stretching to 6,991 yards, it ranks No. 10 in the state among Best Courses You Can Play.

The Preserve: Built in 1988 by Cupp with Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green as consultants, this 6,674-yard course features a six-hole loop named the Quick Six. Each of the six is less than 130 yards and can be played in about an hour. 

Creek Club: This members-only track was designed by
Jim Engh and opened in 2007. With a mandate to build something “outside the box,” Engh built distinctive mounding and bunkers as well as three greens on the 18th hole of the 7,079-yard course. 

Central American secret: Panama emerges as dynamic vacation destination

PANAMA CITY – “This place is nonstop,” Oliver Riding said, pointing to the seat of our golf cart where his phone beeped and chirped constantly during our round at Santa Maria Hotel and Golf Resort. “Listen to this thing. I know what each (beep) …

PANAMA CITY – “This place is nonstop,” Oliver Riding said, pointing to the seat of our golf cart where his phone beeped and chirped constantly during our round at Santa Maria Hotel and Golf Resort. “Listen to this thing. I know what each (beep) means, so I know the important ones.” 

There were a lot of important ones that morning, including an email from a group interested in bringing a major international tournament to this resort on the bustling east side of Panama City. Riding, the resort’s golf general manager, multitasked effortlessly, firing off texts and emails, returning calls and entertaining visiting writers while still managing to play a tidy round on the Santa Maria layout, a product of Jack Nicklaus’ design shop. 

Santa Maria is a microcosm of Panama, which is buzzing with activity and optimism. 

Panama’s economy has been one of the world’s strongest in recent years, and that is reflected in our surroundings. A decade ago the neighboring Costa del Este suburb was little more than scattered warehouses, mangrove and jungle. Troy Vincent, who oversaw design and construction of Santa Maria and its sister course, Buenaventura, said when he first arrived onsite at Santa Maria, the landscape reminded him of TPC Sawgrass before Pete Dye recreated it with bulldozers and an unlimited budget. 

“It was entirely in wetlands area,” Vincent said. “That entire site was built up many, many meters.” 

The course at Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort (courtesy of Santa Maria)

Now, soaring condo towers, retail destinations and office buildings line broad boulevards in a master-planned community along the Pacific. As Riding gave me a tour of this pop-up city – passing the regional headquarters for leading consumer brands such as Nestle, Samsung and Adidas – he compared it to a mini-Dubai. It creates a stunning backdrop around the urban oasis that is Santa Maria.

“When my daughters came here, they said, ‘Dad, this is like playing golf in Central Park,’” Riding recalled as we studied the sleek condominium towers and corporate offices that frame the approach to the par-5 10th. 

More than a canal

Ask anyone who has never visited Panama to tell you what they know about the country, and most likely the first thing they’ll mention is the Panama Canal, the 50-mile waterway that connects the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The canal might be the only thing that person knows about Panama, other than some hazy memory of the spirited 1970s debate that preceded the decision to transfer control of the waterway from the U.S. to Panama, or the 1989 U.S. invasion that led to the removal of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. 

The Panama Canal (courtesy of VisitPanama.com)

The canal was a technological marvel when it opened in 1914, and it remains so. It is mesmerizing to watch massive container ships gradually levitated, like some sort of magic trick, as they pass through the locks, allowing them to navigate Gatun Lake, 85 feet above sea level, on their way from the Gulf of Panama to the Caribbean Sea. 

Panama has become an isthmus of stability in a turbulent region. Thanks in large part to the canal, including a recent expansion to accommodate the passage of even larger container ships, Panama has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The World Bank reported that Panama’s average annual growth rate over the past five years is 5.6 percent. 

For adventurous Americans, Panama ticks off a lot of boxes. Panama’s currency is the dollar, which lends stability to the growing economy and heightens the country’s appeal to U.S. tourists. Panama is easy to reach, with direct flights from many major U.S. airports to Panama City. Visitors arriving from the southeastern United States, or even the northeast, could pick up their bags at Tocumen International Airport, be on the first tee at Santa Maria in less than an hour, play 18 holes and, if they’re feeling ambitious, still have time to catch a $12 Uber into Panama City for dinner. 

El Faro Beach Club pool at Buenaventura (courtesy of Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort)

Panama also presents visitors with options. While Panama City’s nearly 2 million residents live in and among sleek high-rises that line the Gulf, one of the most popular nighttime destinations is Panama City’s “old town,” Casco Viejo, whose streets are lined with bustling restaurants, bars and boutique hotels.

The Santa Maria and Buenaventura resorts are managed by Marriott, and Troon Golf oversees the golf operations, so guests unfamiliar with Panama will arrive safe in the knowledge they’ll be well-cared-for during their stays. It’s just a question of what they desire from their Panamanian experience. Are you interested in golf, creature comforts and cultural immersion in a dynamic city that this year celebrated its 500th anniversary? Or would you prefer a remote, laid-back, beachside escape? Given the proximity of Santa Maria and Buenaventura, there’s no reason you can’t have both. 

Two styles at play

Vincent initially began working on Santa Maria and Buenaventura a decade ago while serving as a senior design associate for Nicklaus Design. By the time construction began, Vincent had hung out his own shingle, but the Nicklaus team asked him to shepherd the courses to completion.

The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort course (courtesy of Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort)

While Santa Maria, much like Sawgrass, was entirely manufactured, Buenaventura “is a much more natural setting,” Vincent said. Much of the infrastructure already was in place when Vincent began working on Buenaventura in 2009. The residential component and water features already were built, and the existing horse stables were neatly transformed into a stylish clubhouse that wraps around a small plaza in an indoor-outdoor architectural motif popular throughout Latin America. 

With everything in place, Vincent didn’t try to overthink the Buenaventura design. His goal was to create a fun resort course that would lay lightly on the land, as if it had been built decades earlier. That goal was reinforced by the ancient and massive corotú trees that help define the resort’s landscape, most notably two that frame the approach on the 16th hole.

“My goal was to make Buenaventura feel like an older golf course than Santa Maria,” Vincent said. “The landforms are very simple, the greens are simpler, and with the waste areas by the tees, we were trying to eliminate forced carries because it’s a resort course. It seems to fit naturally on the site. That’s what I was going for.”

That’s evident from the start. Alfonso Castiñeira, the director of golf, took a moment on the third tee to urge our group to savor the graceful manner in which the dogleg-left third and par-5 fourth flow along the northeastern edge of the routing. Only about 100 yards from the fourth green, work is nearing completion on a new marina providing access to the Pacific Ocean.

The front nine closes with a clever risk-reward par 5 that makes good use of the pond that frames the right side of the hole and front of the green. 

Santa Maria Golf Course (courtesy of Santa Maria Golf Course)

At Santa Maria, Vincent created a course that is very different from Buenaventura, yet probably more in keeping with the Nicklaus brand. 

“Santa Maria is a more challenging golf course because we have a lot more contours in the greens,” Vincent said. “It’s more of a second-shot golf course. I wanted to bring the short game back. I think that’s something we’ve lost in the game of golf. A lot of the contours are built, and you might be faced with chipping off of a fairway cut versus rough. So it’s a more challenging golf course.”

Riding had told me as much beforehand, and it didn’t take long to see what he meant.

“There’s a lot happening on that green,” I said to him as we walked off No. 1. 

The vibrancy of Panama City was underscored as we took the tunnel under the busy Pan American Highway to the par-5 second, which runs parallel to the highway. 

On the short par-3 fifth, Riding took a moment to orient our group to the surrounding skyline. “Look at Google Earth. There was nothing here in 2010,” he said.

The short, dogleg-right sixth is the classic local-knowledge hole – not that golfers are known for being fast learners. 

During a recent tournament, Riding said, “I put the tee here (on the white tee box) the final day and it had the highest scoring average of all four days because guys kept doing dumb stuff.” 

The par-4 ninth is the quintessential Nicklaus hole, with water lining the right side and a green that is far more welcoming to left-to-right approaches. There’s talk of flipping Santa Maria’s nines, which would create a more theatrical finish in front of the hotel. 

A deluxe room at Santa Maria (courtesy of The Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort)

The back nine brings players closer to the high-end real estate, along with some crafty design work. Riding, for example, calls the 14th – with a semi-Biarritz green, bunkers front left and a swale right – “one of the hardest par 3s I’ve ever played.” 

That reflects the quality of golf found at Santa Maria and Buenaventura, though Panama probably never will have the density of destination-quality golf found elsewhere in Latin America, such as the Dominican Republic or Mexico’s Los Cabos region. It offers a different, and in some ways richer, experience to travelers exploring the Caribbean region. 

I left Panama with the sense that the country is a fascinating Central American secret just waiting to be unraveled by adventurous tourists looking for something more fulfilling than 36 daily holes of trophy golf. In the post-Noriega era, Panama has in many ways emerged as a model for this beleaguered region – a largely peaceful, prosperous, dynamic country. Whether visitors want to lose themselves in Panama City, take a boat tour of the canal or simply hide away on a remote beach, they’ll find a country that has a rich history and a promising future.