Wyndham Palmas Beach & Golf Resort
In May of 2022 I attended the North American Travel Journalist’s conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was my first time on the island and after staying an extra day in old San Juan (which I’ll write about in a later post) I wanted to play some golf. After making some enquiries with Discover Puerto Rico I was put in touch with Dan Shepherd of Dan Shepherd Public Relations who, among other things, is a golf pr specialist. Through Dan’s auspices I was able to play four courses in Puerto Rico starting with the Flamboyan course at the Wyndham Palmas Beach & Golf Resort in the Palmas del Mar complex on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico. This post will focus on the resort and the Flamboyan course. The next post will describe the Palm course at Wyndham Palmas Beach and some other things you can do in the area.
Getting to Wyndham Palmas Beach
Puerto Rico is a United States territory and as such has an infrastructure more in line with the continental U.S. than other Caribbean islands. The major road systems are particularly good if not very well signed; make sure you have your smart phone to use as a GPS. I had reserved a rental car from the Enterprise office in the Hilton at Condado Plaza, not far from old San Juan. Contrary to other stories I have been hearing about rental car prices being stratospheric since Covid, the cost was a little higher than it might have been pre-Covid, but not by much. I got a nice Hyundai Sonata and was soon on my way.
The distance from San Juan to Palmas del Mar is not that far and it is all on four lane highways. Traffic out of San Juan was not bad and I had no trouble now or at any time driving in Puerto Rico.
Palmas del Mar is a huge development covering 2,750 acres originally created by the Sea Pines Company which also developed the famous Sea Pines Plantation at Hilton Head, South Carolina. The Wyndham Palmas Beach is the only resort within what is essentially a private gated community with over 2,000 permanent residents. Golf carts are the preferred method of getting around with cart paths flanking all the roads.
Arriving at the main gate I was waved through after being identified as a guest of the Wyndham Palmas Beach. As it was only ten in the morning I was skeptical about the chances of an early check in, but not to fear, my room was ready.
My first tee time was not until the afternoon which gave me a chance to check out the facilities at the Wyndham Palmas Beach. This was my room which fronted on one of the pools and had a nice shaded patio where I could work on editing my photos from old San Juan.
One thing I learned during my visit to four seaside resorts in Puerto Rico is that the water activities are centred more around the pools than the beach. The reason for this is that the ocean waters, at least at the time of my visit, are quite rough and rip tides are a concern. There was also a lot of seaweed on the beaches, but still they are beautiful to look at and pleasant to stroll on. This is the beach adjacent to the Wyndham Palmas Beach. It looks enticing, but I saw very few people actually in the water.
There are two pools at Wyndham Palmas Beach, one shallow one with a lazy river which was used mainly by families.
And the one right in front of my room which was frequented more by adults. You might notice that it looks quite cloudy in this photo and that’s a bit of of a misconception. The entire eastern end of Puerto Rico is dominated by the El Yunque National Forest which is the only tropical rainforest in the entire U.S. National Forest system. This forest with Mount El Yunque at its peak affects the weather in a manner than can create clouds in a perfectly blue sky in a matter of minutes and then dissipate just as quickly. It was not uncommon for this to happen multiple times during the day, but on average the skies were clear and the temperatures in the mid-80’s. I found it very pleasant, especially after a long Canadian winter.
The two golf courses at Wyndham Palmas Beach are located a short distance from the hotel requiring either a car or a golf cart to get there. You can rent golf carts right at the hotel entrance, but already with a car I didn’t need one.
The clubhouse at Wyndham Palmas Beach has a restaurant, bar and locker rooms in one large building. The pro shop is in an adjacent smaller one. This is the entrance to the clubhouse.
I noticed some very simple but, appealing art work on the walls.
I was here well before my tee time in order to get some lunch at the Chez Daniel restaurant, one of two at Palmas del Mar overseen by well known Puerto Rican chef Daniel Vasse.
I opted to sit at the bar where I had a nice conversation with the bar tender who was a former New Jerseyite who elected to return to his Puerto Rican roots. Hmm – New Jersey or Palmas del Mar? Not a hard choice.
Lunch was this serving of plump and spicy chicken wings washed down with an ice cold beer.
After lunch I ambled over to the well stocked pro shop where thanks to Dan Shepherd, they were expecting me. I had elected not to bring my clubs with me, which turned out to be a smart decision as my luggage was delayed both on the way to and back from Puerto Rico. Instead I received a very good set of Titleist rentals.
After hitting a few balls and a few putts I was ready to tackle the first of the two courses at Wyndham Palmas Beach.
Flamboyan Golf Course
The Flamboyan course at Wyndham Palmas Beach was designed by Rees Jones and opened in 1998. He is of course one of the two well known golf architects that learned their craft under the tutelage of their father, the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. Over the years Rees Jones has become recognized as one of the top golf architects in the world. He has designed many great courses from scratch including Royal Oaks in Moncton, New Brunswick which I have played many times and always enjoy. However, it has been his modernization of classic courses such as Bethpage Black, Baltusrol, Hazeltine, Oakland Hills and many others that has earned him the moniker “The Open Doctor”. While these courses are known for their ability to challenge the best golfers in the world, Rees Jones is quite aware that the vast majority of people who play the game are not scratch golfers. His philosophy for most of the courses he designs is very simple and summed up with this quote. “Why take this form of recreation and turn it into torture? The battle should be fun and fair.”
Writing this post after playing the Flamboyan course I can definitely say that Rees Jones has applied his philosophy to this layout.
From the tips the course plays 6,770 yards, but at my age I am more than content to settle for the 5,999 yard white tees. All of the photos are from those tee boxes.
A word about the golf carts. They are electric and equipped with state of the art GPS systems which makes proper club selection much easier, especially on a course you have never played before. OK, let’s tee off.
#1 – 328 Yard Par Four – Handicap 11
The Flamboyan course is built on the grounds of an old sugar plantation and there is not a lot of elevation change throughout, but water comes into play on quite a few holes as we shall see. I am playing the course in early May which is at the end of the dry season which is when the great majority of play on Puerto Rican courses takes place. Thus I am not expecting the verdant conditions that you might see during the height of the tourist season. Likewise the greens on most courses are at the point they need a rest and won’t be as fast as they might otherwise be.
The first hole at the Flamboyan course has a very generous fairway with traps that are easily avoided. It plays straight at the Catholic church you see in the background. Hopefully I won’t need to go to confession after the round to atone for the language used on the course.
This is the first green on the Flamboyan course and it’s very typical of most of the greens on this course. They are small with relatively few undulations. They are ‘What you see is what you get greens.’ which means you won’t be tearing your hair out over breaks you couldn’t see or speeds you couldn’t predict.
#2 – 311 Yard Par Four – Handicap 17
The second hole is a short dogleg left with an immense landing area that should mean an easy pitch shot into the small green. In the background you can see the hills of Palmas del Mar where many of the different communities are located.
There is water behind the second green where I spotted this male ruddy duck with his distinctive blue bill.
With any luck the average golfer should be quite happy with the score after the first two holes. I certainly was.
#3 485 Yard Par 5 – Handicap 5
Things start to get serious on #3 at the Flamboyan course at the Wyndham Palmas Beach Resort. It is a decent length par five that winds its way in a clockwise direction around the largest body of water on the course. The challenge is how much water do you dare to cross before reaching dry land? For my right to left ball flight that wasn’t much of an issue, but for those whose flight is left to right this hole would present a serious driving challenge.
I love these type of par fives that always remind me of those at the Bay Hill course in Orlando where Arnold Palmer made them a signature feature of his home course.
Even with two goods shots you are still going to have this type of approach to the green. Going for this pin would require accuracy I don’t have so playing well to the left side of the green was the sensible play. That would leave a very long birdie putt with a three putt more likely than not. Still a bogey on this hole is not to be sneered at.
#4 – 165 Yard Par Three – Handicap 15
Other than #2 and #13 the four par threes at the Flamboyan Course at Wyndham Palmas Beach are ranked the easiest holes on the course. I’m always skeptical of handicap rankings that consistently rate par threes as the easiest holes, because usually they are not, but at least in the case of #4 the 15 handicap ranking is appropriate. This is a straight shot to a slightly elevated green that slopes front to back with the only trouble being the two traps that flank each side of the green. If you choose the right club par should not be difficult.
#5 – 384 Yard Par Four – Handicap 7
This is one of the few blind tee shots on the Flamboyan Course at the Wyndham Palmas Beach Resort, but once again the fairway is extremely generous. If you avoid the large bunker on the right you should have a decent if somewhat long approach to a very small green. Although I failed to take a photo, I did notice that the fifth green has a number of pterocarpus trees nearby. These are a very unusual and quite rare tree that is found in the Palmas del Mar region of Puerto Rico. Right behind the Catholic church on the first hole there is a path that leads through a pterocarpus forest which I will visit in the next post.
#6 – 335 Yard Par Four – Handicap 9
The drive on this relatively short par four should not be an issue as long as you stay right. The problem is the approach shot which is as tricky as that on #3 with water left and a bunker on the right that is exactly where most people fearing the water will land. Don’t ask me how I know this. This is actually a very good par four that does not require length, but precision.
#7 – 472 Yard Par Five – Handicap 3
# 7 is the second dogleg right par five on the front nine, but without the challenge of water down the right side. This is one of the few holes on the course where you actually notice the residences on the one side, yet they are well back from the playing area. I really appreciate a resort course that does not have condos or townhouses lining the fairways and the Flamboyan course certainly fit that description. No worries about hitting a ball into someone’s pool or back yard.
I’m not really sure why this hole is ranked tougher than #3 which I thought was much more challenging.
#8 – 146 Yard Par Three – Handicap 13
If you play this hole from the championship tees it is all carry over the water, but from the whites the water should not be an obstacle, but the traps are a different matter. They are large and relatively deep compared to most others on the Flamboyan course. Notice how the dwellings we saw on just the hole before are now completely out of the picture.
#9 – 360 Yard Par Four – Handicap 1
The final hole on the front nine at the Flamboyan course at the Wyndham Palmas Beach Resort is ranked the toughest of the eighteen, but once again, I’m not sure why. Other than the traps I found it to be a fairly straightforward par four.
At this point I caught up to a foursome who immediately let me go by on #10. One thing I found on all the courses I played in Puerto Rico is that when I caught up to a group they invariably waved me through. I wish I could say the same about players on many Canadian courses.
#10 – 445 Yard Par Five – Handicap 10
This is the third consecutive par five on the Flamboyan course that is a dogleg right. There is trouble down the entire right side and the fairway is quite a bit narrower than the first two par fives. The saving grace is that it is quite short. You will need to be within wedge distance on your third shot to avoid one of the seven (yes seven!) traps that protect the small green. Alternatively you can go for it in two, but you better be accurate. This is a great starting hole on the back nine.
#11 – 367 Yard Par Four – Handicap 4
Things really start to get interesting on the 11th hole at the Flamboyan course at the Wyndham Palmas Beach Resort. I forgot to mention that the name of the course comes from the many flamboyan trees that line the course. Flamboyan is the Puerto Rican name for the royal poinciana tree (aka flame tree) which is quite beautiful when in full bloom. There were only a few blooming when I was there, but on this hole you can see them down the left side just getting ready to burst out in flame. That combined with the palm trees on the right with the Caribbean in the background make this a great golf hole.
Like the last hole there is nothing but trouble down the right side, but the mounds on the left side allow for some leeway in staying well away from the hazard.
I was fortunate enough to hit a real decent drive on this hole which left this approach allowing me to avoid traps on the right and left of the green. Another really good golf hole on the Flamboyan course.
#12 – 124 Yard Par Three – Handicap 18
It’s not too often that the easiest hole on the course is also the signature hole, but that is definitely the case on the Flamboyan course at the Wyndham Palmas Beach Resort. That is the island of Vieques that you see in the background. I’ll be headed there later on during my visit to Puerto Rico.
Yes this is a very short hole that is not difficult, but who cares? The view tells you that you couldn’t be anywhere else in the world but Puerto Rico.
#13 – 302 Yard Par Four – Handicap 16
This is one of the very few holes on the Flamboyan course that has water on the left side which means trouble for my ball flight. Luckily the hole is so short that there is no need for a driver and five wood will leave this shot to a kidney shaped green.
Holes 12 and 13 are truly a pleasure to play.
#14 – 357 Yard Par Four – Handicap 2
Things return to normal on #14 as the trouble on the right side reappears especially if you are playing from the longer tees. From the whites it’s a much easier drive with the fairway sloping upwards on the left side making sure an errant drive gets kicked back into play.
#15 – 189 Yard Par Three – Handicap 14
#15 is a very pretty looking par three that is made difficult due to its length which is considerably longer than the other ones on the Flamboyan course. However, the saving grace is the very large green and flat landing area in front that allows you to hit a hybrid and roll onto the green rather than try to stick it with a more lofted club. Common sense says don’t even think of going anywhere near the right side and I’m sure glad the pin is not there today.
#16 – 543 Yard Par Five – Handicap 6
This is the only monster par five on the Flamboyan course for people playing from the white tees. This is only the second blind tee shot and you will get a good roll once over the blind spot. Still it is a three shot double dogleg hole. A large trap on the right hand side is in a perfect position to grab the second shot. There are are lots of ways to screw up on this hole and I found it to be the toughest on the back nine.
#17 – 359 Yard Par Four – Handicap 8
#17 is a rather strange looking hole with a huge bunker down the right side and a few smaller ones on the left. This is one of the tougher driving holes on the Flamboyan course and the one where it looks like Rees Jones moved the most earth.
Assuming you have avoided trouble off the tee you still need to avoid this plethora of bunkers to the right. Once again safety is on the left side. As someone who benefits from far less trouble on the left than the right I have really enjoyed playing this course, but I have to wonder about your average right hander whose natural inclination is to go right. By now some might be ready to go to the confessional.
#18 – 327 Yard Par Four – Handicap 12
Just as the course began with a very forgiving par four so it ends with one. A huge fairway awaits almost any kind of drive so you can really let go off the tee which should lead to a short iron into the green and a potential birdie finish. Thank you Rees.
Well that concludes my first post from the Wyndham Palmas Beach Resort. I’ll return in the next post to play Gary Player’s Palm course which I am told is much tougher than Flamboyan. I’ll also spend some time exploring other things to do in the Palmas del Mar area.