The golf scene in Central America – specifically Costa Rica and Panama – gets better and better every year, and now offers a solid core of championship courses set in tropical foliage with spectacular mountain or ocean vistas, and a bit of wildlife to boot.
costa rica The property: The sprawling, all-inclusive Paradisus Playa Conchal Resort, located in the country’s North Pacific region and a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, has 406 suites, including 122 Royal Service Suites and two Royal Service Presidential Suites. Suites range in size from 538 sq. ft. to 1,162 sq. ft., and each offers a separate living area with sofa bed, air conditioning and ceiling fans, luxury bathrooms, cable TV, mini-bar, and private terrace or balcony.
The greens: Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the resort’s Garra de Leon Course runs 7,030 yards, par 72 and is laid out in the classic tradition of the game with two distinct, 9-hole segments of pure golf, each beginning from the central club house and meandering through rolling terrain. Some holes offer grand ocean views, while at others, howler monkeys swing through. Another plus: teaching pros are available on site.
The amenities: Guests enjoy a spectacular lagoon-style pool with jacuzzi and a Royal Suite pool, the Ahvia Spa with sauna and massage, a fitness center and four lighted tennis courts. For wining and dining, there is a full menu of restaurant choices: six a la carte restaurants, one snack bar and two buffet restaurants. For Royal Suite guests, there are special concierge and butler benefits, and for the youngest guests, a host of special amenities.
The scene: Paradisus is really a full destination resort where guests can just lay back or step out and enjoy being in Costa Rica. Those not out golfing or lazing by the pool or on the beach seem to take advantage of the ease of going water-biking and kayaking, snorkeling and laser skeet shooting. Life-enriching pursuits are many, including classes in sushi making, wine tasting, flower arranging, birdwatching, painting, massage and tango. And for those stepping out for a wider view of Costa Rica, there are canopy tours, hikes in the national parks and romantic sunset cruises.
The rates: Suites from $450.
The property: Located south of Tamarindo, the 4,500-acre Hacienda Pinilla accommodates guests in its La Posada Hotel. The spacious and lovely superior and deluxe suites are fitted with one or two bedrooms with king- or queen-size beds, private bath with shower, air conditioning, cable TV, Internet, and kitchenettes; some have living rooms and terraces. Additionally, there are beach houses and 2- to 4-bedroom villas, with a villa pool.
The greens: This 7,274-yard, par 72, Mike Young-designed course just might be the most challenging links-style course in the country. The facilities, though limited, are top-notch and include a full pro shop and teaching pro housed in El Corral Turn House, which has its own restaurant. The course conforms perfectly to the slopes and contours of the natural landscape, and it’s a beauty. Currently, the course is open (with advance reservations) to golfers staying at hotels around the area, including the new JW Marriott Resort & Spa that sits seaside in another corner of this vast hacienda.
The amenities: La Posada restaurant serves fusion foods prepared with the freshest of ingredients, while the El Corral in the clubhouse is more casual: cocktails, snacks and steaks. The hacienda has its own stables and tennis courts—lit for night play—and both pool and surf swimming.
The scene: Golf is the big draw at Pinilla for both hotel guests and those who have bought villas on the estate. It’s a very upscale crowd that enjoys the surrounding peace and quiet, likes to saddle up for a ride or go out to sun and surf off the white beaches. The management of the hacienda gathers up interested guests for local rodeo events and cattle cart parades.
The rates: Rooms from $150, suites from $325.
panama The property: Located on more than a mile of Playa Blanca sands in Farallon (a 1.5-hour drive from Panama City), the Royal Decameron Beach Resort has 820 rooms furnished tropical-style and fitted with either a king- or two queen-size beds, matching tropical print drapes and bedspreads, private balconies or terraces overlooking the sea and lushly landscaped grounds. The air conditioning is individually controlled and TVs have satellite programming.