"100 years were worth the effort."

The Story of the Panama Golf Club



Seeds of an idea

In the year 1918, amidst the echoes of camaraderie, the history of The Panama Golf Club began to unfold. R.T. Martin's writings from January 1, 1932, captured the genesis of this journey. A group of friends, including Admiral Marbury Johnston, Colonel Landers, Colonel Morrell, and Panamanian citizens Francisco Arias Paredes and Raúl Espinosa, found themselves on horseback near Las Sabanas. A Family owned piece of property titled "Finca Paitilla."                    Amidst anecdotes and conversations, the idea took root: this would be an ideal place for a golf course.

The Birth of a Legacy

On Christmas Eve of 1918, the "16 apostles" gathered at the famed Tivoli Hotel, nestled at the foot of Ancón Hill. This assembly marked the birth of an enduring institution. Among the apostles were Admiral Marbury Johnston, the inaugural president. A pact was established on rotating  presidents from Panama and United States every other year. 

Las Sabanas

The dream of a golf course materialized swiftly. By February 1940, The New York Times recognized the efforts of one of the "16 apostles," CA McIlvaine, who served as the Canal's executive secretary for 36 years. At a club dinner, McIlvaine confessed his deep love for the Canal. The spirit of the founders driven by Admiral Johnston drove the creation of bylaws and most important a fast execution of its first 9 holes. Even the records of the Panama Canal (The Panama Canal Record) from May 14, 1919, describe the Panama Golf Club as a point of interest for tourists and other visitors, with its 9 holes, "in Las Sabanas, east of the city of Panama. Near the coast of Panama Bay. With relative ease and a distance from the Tram and accessibility by car through the stone road."

Growth and Evolution

Growth was rapid. By March 9, 1919, the Daily Star & Herald reported that the Panama Golf Club had 75 members. Plans for a clubhouse were unveiled, featuring a dance floor, rooms for men and women, a kitchen, and more. The Clubhouse's elegance was matched by the meticulous planning that went into designing the course itself. With the inclusion of extra 9 holes and the addition of new members, the Club began to flourish.                                                  The English newspapers Daily Star & Herald and The Panama American also agree on citing J. Douglas, Maintenance Engineer of the Panama Canal, and Colonel Jay J. Morrow, Governor of the Panama Canal, as initiators of the game of golf. Colonel Morrow dedicated efforts to bring the first golf club in the Republic of Panama to life.

Bermudez - Aleman Lease

 The Panama Golf Club,  secured a significant land lease from the Bermudez Aleman family, enabling its operations and growth. The club's leadership negotiated a pivotal 10-year lease agreement that spanned from 1922 to 1932. This agreement granted the club the right to use the land on which it was situated with of total of USD 200.00 per month, allowing them to establish and develop the game. This lease marked a crucial phase in the club's history, providing stability and the foundation for its continued existence and expansion over the coming years. 



Hacienda La Carrasquilla

In 1922, the Panama Golf Club found itself at a crossroads, The lease for their original location on the Bermudez property was already negotiated, and the club's leadership recognized the need for a new, more permanent home. The search for a suitable piece of land began, and after careful consideration, they set their sights on a vast expanse titled La Hacienda Carrasquilla.  La Hacienda Carrasquilla, a picturesque piece of land composed of two blocks totaling 65 and 45 hectares,  located just a mile away from the familiar grounds of Las Sabanas. The land was not only spacious but also presented an opportunity to design a new golf course that would elevate the game to new heights. The lush green landscape, with its rolling hills and natural drainage, captured the imaginations of the club's members. Genarina Guardia, a prominent landowner, became the club's key contact in negotiations with current president Samuel Lewis Garcia de Paredes. The process was not without challenges, as negotiations, paperwork, and legalities took time. But the determination of Panama Golf Club's members was unwavering. With persistence and a shared vision, they finally secured the land rights to Hacienda Carrasquilla for a total of USD 19,885.90.                                                                                                                       

Challenges in 1929

However, some members were not convinced about moving from their first location to the new piece of land. CA McIlvaine, elected president in 1929 , initiated a campaign to persuade the members. He even sketched out what would become the 18-hole course, inviting the members to a memorable Sunday where their patience wore thin due to the conditions of the terrain. Nevertheless, the decision had already been made, and the efforts of men like John Westman, Charles Peterson, BC Poole, CF MacMurray, Mcllvaine, and especially the determination of Dr. Joaquín José Vallarino, made it possible for the construction of the new club to progress.       

New Home - 1932

The inauguration of the new Clubhouse  of the Panama Golf Club, situated on Via Porras, now known as Parque Omar, had two memorable moments. On January 1, 1932, the members celebrated the traditional eggnog party, and the following day, January 2, 1932, the formal inauguration took place with the presence of Dr. Ricardo Joaquín Alfaro, the president of the Republic at the time, and members of his cabinet. A golf tournament was also held, inviting all amateur golfers. Newspapers of the era highlighted the social event with photographs of the modern structure and a review of the most important moments linked to the history of the Club. In addition to recalling the efforts of the founders in 1918, they expressed particular admiration for Dr. J.J. Vallarino, at that time the outgoing president of the Club. He was recognized for his dedication to service, high intellectual merit, and for being the "inspiring spirit of the new clubhouse project." Despite his duties as a specialist in X-rays and his service in President Alfaro's cabinet, he took on this noble task. Following Vallarino's presidency, elected on December 13, 1931, Bernell Clyde Poole, a 12-year member of the club, succeeded him as president. Ernesto de la Guardia accompanied Poole as vice president. The newspapers also highlighted the roles of John Westman, the club's treasurer, and Harry Boone, who financed the club's construction with the sale of $46,000 in bonds. For Charles Peterson, affectionately called Pete, the club's general manager, there were gestures of gratitude for his diligence in maintaining the greens since 1929 and attending to the members. The English-style clubhouse, with an open roof and beautiful exteriors, was constructed by Grebien and Martinz and designed by Wright and Schay. To reach the location, those in the know advised to "drive a mile past the Las Sabanas street" (the former location), and on the way, a police officer would guide members and visitors on the best way to park in a designated area. In December 1931, the nine holes of the new course were inaugurated and used in conjunction with the other nine holes of the old course. Throughout 1932, the players adapted to the overall conditions.

Club House

"On a hill, the members built the English-style clubhouse, which featured a spacious open hall. On one side, there was a bar and kitchen, and on the western part, there were offices and a men's locker room. Below, there were garages and a bag room where caddies would gather. On the tee side leading to the course, there was a kiosk to cater to the golfers. There was no driving range. Golfers used a platform adjacent to the kiosk to hit their balls towards the fairway of the 9th hole. Caddies would collect the balls. The first new 9 holes of the course were played along with the other nine holes of the old course to complete the 18 holes of golf. Subsequently, the second 9 holes of golf were built to have a full 18-hole, par 72 course. At the same time, the construction company Martinz built the new east wing of the clubhouse to house the women's locker room, and on a second level, the pro shop and an apartment for the golf pro. Further down, the bag room was placed in front of the putting green. Obtaining water on the new grounds was challenging because there were no streams, and wells had to be drilled to pump water into a pond located on the hill adjacent to the 1st hole. There was only enough water to irrigate the greens and tees. In the summers, the fairway grass would completely dry out, and the ball would roll an additional 50 yards. The trees that the pioneers planted on the course came from Summit Gardens in the Zone, which at that time only had native mahoganies, teak, astromelias, and a few oaks. The course was designed around the native trees already present on the land, such as corotú and Panama trees. The few guayacan trees planted around the course were donated by the members."



Chapter 1: Inauguration and Early Years (1927-1952)

  The story of the Panama Open is a journey through time that reflects the growth and evolution of golf in the vibrant country of Panama. It all began in the ocean view setting of Las Sabanas in 1927, when the first Panama Open was inaugurated. With the intention of bringing together the best players from the Isthmus, the tournament quickly gained popularity among both golf enthusiasts and players alike. The Panama Open's inaugural tournament at Las Sabanas showcased the natural beauty of the course and the competitive spirit of the participants. The course challenged the players with its 6,400 par 72 layout, and it was here that the first winner, amateur, Dr. Jesse Byrd, claimed victory with a total of 155 strokes in the 36-hole event. Dr. Byrd was a member of Gatún Golf Course, which was also built by the Americans next to the Panama Canal.                                                                                In the 1940´s,  John MacMurray, affectionately known as "Mr. Golf," was a prominent amateur figure in the world of golf and a beloved member of the Panama Golf Club.  Hailing from a family with a deep passion for golf, MacMurray inherited the love for the game from his father, Charles H. MacMurray, who was not only a golf enthusiast but also the manager of the Panama Power and Light Company. It was in this familiar environment that John's journey as a golfer began to unfold.                                                                                                                                                                                              One of the most remarkable aspects of MacMurray's journey was his ability to achieve success as an amateur against seasoned pros. His talent, determination, and unwavering commitment to the sport set him apart from the rest. This dedication paid off handsomely, as he managed to secure an impressive four open trophies from 1940-1952.                                                                                                      As "Mr. Golf," John MacMurray left an enduring legacy that continues to inspire golf enthusiasts to this day. His story reminds us that talent, perseverance, and a genuine love for the game can lead to remarkable achievements on the course and contribute to the rich tapestry of golfing history.

Chapter 2: A Transformative Partnership 1952 

  The Panama Open experienced a transformative period in the 1950s, when the Panama Golf Club joined forces with the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA). This partnership brought a newfound level of professionalism and international recognition to the tournament. The PGA's involvement ensured that the event would evolve into a more organized and prestigious affair. With the guidance of the Panama Golf Club's Board of Governors, Richard "Dick" Deghillnger took on the role of tournament director. Under his leadership, the Panama Open underwent significant improvements in organization, logistics, and player experience. The partnership with the PGA elevated the tournament's status, attracting notable players and enhancing its reputation on a global scale.  

Chapter 3: Legends on the Course

The 1950s marked a period of exceptional talent and unforgettable moments in the Panama Open's history. Legendary golfers like Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead graced the tournament with their presence. Their participation drew crowds and showcased the caliber of players that the event attracted. Their skills, charisma, and competitive spirit left an indelible mark on the tournament and inspired aspiring golfers across Panama. As the Panama Open evolved, the competition intensified. The course witnessed remarkable shots, gripping rivalries, and dramatic finishes that captured the hearts of fans. The tournament became a stage for golfing excellence and a celebration of the sport's rich tradition.   

Chapter 4: Roberto De Vicenzo's Dominance (1971-1980)

 Argentinian golfer Roberto De Vicenzo emerged as a defining figure in the Panama Open's history during the 1970s. His remarkable talent and consistent performances elevated him to a level of dominance that few could match. De Vicenzo secured a remarkable five victories in the tournament, etching his name into its annals as one of the most accomplished champions. De Vicenzo's success not only showcased his mastery of the game but also deepened the Panama Open's connection with players and fans. His charismatic presence and sportsmanship left a lasting impact, further solidifying the tournament's legacy.

Chapter 5: Commisoner´s Dey Jr Letter

 Jan 8, 1974 Dear Dick: Your many Friends in the PGA Tournament division want you to know of the high regard in which they hold you and of their appreciation of what you have done for the best interest in the game of golf. As one of the leading spirits of the Caribbean Tour, you have made significant contributions not only to the success of that tour but also to the greater cause of international relations. If there had been no Caribbean Tour and if you had not participated therein, I am sure that our Latin American friendship would be much the poorer. But because of the positive contributions you and your associates have made, the ties between countries are stronger. You ought to be greatly gratified by this Dick, and we salute you as well as thank you for it. With warm regards, Joseph C. Dey Jr Commisioner PGA