Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa - Mountain Course

Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa - Mountain Course
Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA


7203 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 75.1/152
COURSE ARCHITECT: Steve Nicklaus and Jack Nicklaus (2005)
ACCESSIBILITY: Resort
COURSE WEBSITE: http://bearmountain.ca/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: August 10, 2009.
LOW SCORE: 78 (+6)

ACCOLADES -
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern 2015: #23
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #43
- ScoreGolf Top 59 Public Courses in Canada 2015: #23
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #59


"These 36 holes, combined with its incredible land and seascapes, is irresistible, and I expect Bear Mountain to become one of the most sought-after golf destinations on the continent."
- Len Barrie, President and CEO of Bear Mountain

The business that took me to Victoria had the added perk that we'd be heading out to Bear Mountain to play the Mountain Course as part of the itinerary with the convention.

There used to be a lot of golfers within the Balpex group of distributors but its dwindled down considerably over the years to the point where we had only seven players going to Bear Mountain.

One of those Mercedes limos picked us all up at the Hotel Grand Pacific where we were staying and made the twenty minute or so drive to the golf course. Bear Mountain is a 36 hole facility, with both The Mountain Course and the brand new Valley Course being designed by Nicklaus Design. Jack and his son Steve share the billing for the Mountain Course but if I was a betting man, which I am, I'd wager that Steve did most of the work out here.

The complex is part of the Westin group of resorts and this place just reeks of money. As indicated in my Royal Colwood post, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Len Barrie built Bear Mountain with the help of other NHL'ers like Ray Whitney, Mike Vernon, Joe Nieuwendyk, Rob Niedermayer and Ryan Smyth. Those guys all liked the idea of owning a golf course but I doubt they envisioned the thing would blow up into a full-fledged resort complex - I hear many of the guys want out, as the place is just a money pit by the looks of it.

In fact, the resort recently took on a new investor from Dubai, who poured a reported $350 MILLION dollars into the resort. WOW!

After doing some reading at the Nicklaus Design website, I found that this course cost approximately $17 million dollars to build while the newly finished Valley Course cost about $20 million!

I can honestly say you actually see the money they put into this place. It's truly beautiful, with marble everywhere and the course and real estate are all on the mountainside, where they must have used a hundred trucks full of dynamite to blow up all the rock out there.

The golf course was a pleasant surprise as well. I knew it was ranked in the top 100 but I'm not usually a fan of courses where an extraordinary amount of earth had to be moved in order to build. The Mountain Course is the antithesis of minimalism, that's for sure, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment they made with the place, as the golf course is much better than average and visually is quite stunning almost the whole way through.

I didn't bring my camera to Bear Mountain, as it was raining almost non-stop the entire round. I took a few pictures with my blackberry but the quality was garbage, so the pictures included in this post were taken from the Bear Mountain website.

The first hole is a winding, downhill par five with a slightly elevated green site that is perched on the other side of a creek. I nailed a great drive here and had about 230 yards into the green but a downhill lie forced me to layup short of the creek, pitch on and two putt for the opening par.

The next interesting hole was the fourth, a gorgeous uphill par three measuring 194 yards. There is nothing behind the green but the Vancouver Island horizon so intimidation is a factor on the tee, as it looks like anything long is dead. A heavily contoured putting surface contributed to my three-putt bogey.

The 432 yard par four sixth features a pinched fairway and a long forced carry for your approach shot to a huge, undulating green. Really tough hole and another bogey for yours truly.

The toughies continue on the uphill par three seventh, shown below, measuring 173 yards. There's a cavernous bunker in front of the very long green surface. I'd hit a good tee shot that hit the green but spun back into that bunker, where I'd fail to get up and down, making bogey.

There's a bit of quirky routing to come, as you are forced to come back about 200 yards from the eighth green down the cart path back to the ninth tee. The fog rolled in really quickly on the par five ninth but I killed a drive and had about 215 yards in for my second. At four over through eight, I wasn't in the mood to layup and hit a perfect 4-iron that drifted into the fog in the distance. I drove up to the green and saw I had about a 30 footer for eagle but I'd THREE PUTT that too, making the very disappointing par for a 40 on the outgoing nine.

I'd bogey the deceivingly tough uphill par four tenth, a hole with an interesting greensite and then proceed to three-putt the par three eleventh, with its island green (yawn) shown below. Three 3-whacks at this point

A couple of interesting par fours follow - the 12th has a blind tee shot over the crest of a hill then tumbles downhill toward a huge pond that fronts a large green. The 13th is a 488 yard doozy - a dogleg right off the tee with an extremely narrow fairway and water running down the left hand side for about the last half of the hole. It's a terrorizing looking tee shot for a player who draws the ball off the tee, let me tell you. I'd bogey that hole as well to fall to +7 after 13.

My game would noticeably improve the rest of the way, as I'd figure out some things on the greens. The 14th is a STUNNING uphill par five with a fairway split into two tiers. The approach shot (see below) is played to a green that sits alone up on top of the mountain, with a single tree offering background perspective. It's just a wicked looking hole and when you get to the green, you have a view of downtown Victoria from the top of the mountain. Made a two-putt par here to start a strong finish.

Right off the 14th sits the '19th hole', a lovely, short par three shown below with the gorgeous view of Victoria as the backdrop. This hole is meant to settle bets and also likely serves as Len Barrie's practice hole, as I believe he has a large house that sits just to the left of the green. Didn't play this one, as it was 'out of service' at the time, although the pin was just taken out of the hole and was laying beside it on the putting surface.


The par four 15th (shown below) plays back parallel to the 14th and obviously tumbles well downhill. It's a blind tee shot and the second requires a long carry to a severely undulating green surface.

The 16th (shown below in a heavily photoshopped picture) is a dropshot par three with a housing complex running down the right hand side, marring the visual somewhat.

The 17th is a 343 yard downhill par four but plays back uphill to the green, something that is repeated often out here. I'd make my second birdie of the day here to get back to +6 on the day, really recovering after my poor start.

The last hole is a long 603 yard par five with a hazard running down the entire left hand side of the hole until the creek winds back through the fairway about 350 yards up the hole. I actually drove my ball into the hazard here, dropped, hit 6-iron/wedge to the green and sunk about a 30 footer for the great par as the rain just poured down on us to end the round.

I ended the day with a very satisfying 78 (+6), going one under on my last five to do it. So, how does Bear Mountain compare with Royal Colwood?

You have to hit a variety of shots out here and there's a pretty good mix of risk/reward as well. A very good test of your game. It's a bit on the tough side for higher handicappers but there aren't too many forced carries and the up and down nature of the golf course, with all the elevated tees, helps the novice player get the ball rolling on the ground.

The slope rating seems a bit high, as the fairways are reasonably wide, for the most part and the greens are larger than average. Still, not an easy course by any means and a capable test for all levels. There is some good variety in hole lengths, with a couple of reasonably short par threes, some shortish par fours and a couple of very long par fives. There isn't an overabundance of left to right holes either, something Nicklaus design has always been accused of due to Jack's preference for the shot. I'm not a fan of the island green but it's early enough in the round so I'll let it go. Most of the memorability here comes from the gorgeous vistas but many of the holes are standouts regardless of the setting.

One could argue that aesthetics would be the course's strong point, as the backdrops and vistas are almost overwhelming at times. I must have said "this course is beautiful" about three or four times to my playing partners.

Conditioning was excellent, from the smooth greens to the very firm fairways. I was told that all the rock underneath the grass would cause crazy bounces but I didn't see anything unusual.

The weather wasn't great but the advantage with all the rain was that the course was practically empty when we played. I'd be willing to bet that on a normal day, this is a five and a half hour round but we played very quickly and it was a pleasure.

Unfortunately, there is no chance for walking out here, not with all of the crazy green to tee drives up the mountain. I suppose you could walk if you had a caddy but it would be a true test. They are playing the Telus Skins Game in 2010 out here so I'll be interested to see how they cope.

I stand by my assessment that this is a stonger course overall than Colwood and I definitely had more fun playing Bear Mountain as well. Nothing against Colwood - I just think Bear Mountain is very strong and perhaps even good enough to be a Top 50 in the Country as opposed to #62, where it sits at the time of this profile.

If you go to Victoria, you should definitely get out and play Bear Mountain...it won't disappoint!


1 comment:

  1. Just played Bear Mountain and Colwood back to back...I agree with you, Matt. Also played the Valley course at BM...it may be better than Mountain. Both courses are as good as cartball golf can get.

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