Strolling along the picturesque Caribbean beach, delving into comfortable wide avenues of tropical jungle, rolling your ball on impeccably groomed playing surfaces, and experiencing the most modern accoutrements in a South American setting just a short ride from one of the America’s most storied cities and you have the TPC Cartagena at Karibana – South America’s only TPC. Surely anyone can design a difficult golf course and building an easy one is not much of a challenge either, but creating one that possesses the flexibility to be playable for everyone takes some creativity. This Nicklaus Design hits all the above marks.
Cartagena only has one golf course, but this Tournament Players Club along with the engaging historical and cultural aspects of Cartagena almost demands a golf pilgrimage for any discriminating golfer. The Karibana Course opened in 2012 as one of the key parts of the development by the same name owned by the Mildenberg family of Bogotá, Colombia. Since then it has hosted both the Web.com Tour as well as the Colombian Open so its championship pedigree is already established.
Yes, undoubtedly the stunning Caribbean Sea views are the highlight, but I was still very much impressed with the course’s conditioning and flexibility. Situated on a flat forest plain and coastal wetlands, the routing features two diametrically different nines. The outgoing nine unfolds on the inland side of the property. I was surprised to realize that there are six man-made lakes on it because they really don’t come into play that dramatically. On the back nine, however, there is water galore in addition to the Caribbean, which is imposing. Nicklaus drained swampland in a cut-and-fill manner to create the mounding that is imposingly dramatic and noticeable. This back nine is extremely memorable and photogenic.
Though the beginning nine is mostly unseen from the clubhouse or drive into the Club, it winds through the jungle and features wide-open corridors with most of the fairway bunkering to the side(s) of fairways. Several holes feature raised plateau putting surfaces, but many are merely an extension of the mostly flat fairways. It is about as benign as any Nicklaus course I’ve played – with neither extended carries nor imposing bunkering or mounding. If you play the proper tee consistent with your ability, this will be your better chance to score well. Power hitters will be reaching for their drivers on most all the par-fours and fives here, with only the most severe mis-hits penalized. Yes, without the often-present Caribbean breeze, the outdoing nine is fairly docile and as plainly dressed as you will encounter a Nicklaus design – a good way to begin your round. From the 3,667-yard tips, it is still a challenging enough test, but eminently playable start for all abilities.
If you are staying in the adjacent Conrad Cartagena or one of the adjoining condos, your golf course views will provide no surprise regarding the exhilarating second nine. You have likely been gazing at it as it is all laid out between your lodging and the Caribbean. Here Nicklaus utilized the fill from the former swamp to build the abundant mounding/bunkers with man-made ponds and the expansive Caribbean either adjacent or not far in the background. Thankfully for most golfers, there are always an abundance of fairway landing areas for safe plays even if the wind picks up so it’s not quite so difficult as you might imagine. As for those that take chances with aggressively careless play, this nine can quickly step up and bite you badly.
In contrast to the other nine, the back nine is a bit shorter, but Nicklaus has positioned all sorts of fairway bunkers in potential landing areas to make you think twice before selecting you line of play. Like the front nine, however, Nicklaus Design has provided generous fairway corridors in deference to golf’s invisible defense – the wind. The green sites are much more protected with bunkering though again no onerous forced carries exist. The putting surfaces on each nine are quite spacious with gentle sweeping slopes. Keeping the resort players in mind, there are thankfully not “busy contours” to the greens nor shallow landing zones. This incoming nine includes a 284-yard drivable par-four 15th, a beastly 525-yard par-four 16th entirely on the Caribbean, three attractive one-shooters, and one of the longest stretches of seaside golf.
Aside from a few courses in the Dominican Republic, I can’t remember such an extended stretch of golf in either Florida or the Caribbean that is so close to either the Atlantic or Caribbean as the 16th, 17th, and 18th tee box. It is exhilarating especially as it concludes your round in a three-hole stretch. And with all the pleasant visual distractions, conservatively smart play will likely have you somewhere near your average score.
The course’s conditioning is very good as you might expect from a TPC Course. A spacious modern clubhouse and pool look out on the 9th green along with the first-rate practice facilities and first tee in the distance. The carts are modern with GPS and you can rent top quality clubs. In short, this is the type of facility you’d expect from the PGA TOUR.
As a TPC Course, it is private, but guests at the Conrad Cartagena (not condos or Airbnb renters) also have exclusive access due to “stay and play packages.” The club will also entertain group outings, and guests referred by PGA of America members. Prices with carts for nonmembers currently range in the $145-$165 range per round – a good value. Nevertheless, it is always good to check for current rates. About the only negative has nothing to do with the facility, but Cartagena currently has no other golf courses within at least a 90-minute drive so this is your only choice. That said, visiting the TPC Cartagena at Karibana is a no-brainer and a lot of fun.
Cartagena with its year round warm weather and particularly its “Walled City” being less than thirty minutes away are reason enough to visit. Fantastic lodging is adjacent. All make this Nicklaus Design TPC Cartagena at Karibana a worthy addition to your list of excellent modern courses to play!