Bear Mountain Golf Resort is located in Victoria, BC and there are now 36 holes at this developing golf resort. The original course is now simply called Mountain and the younger sibling the Valley.
The Bear Mountain course itself is a dramatic Jack and Steve Nicklaus design, set in the foothills of Mount Finlayson. The father and son design team have used the elevation changes to near perfection. The course cuts its way through a heaving landscape that presents a variety of uneven lies. Accuracy off the tee is a must as there are few bail out areas. Approach shots are no bargain either as the greens are quick, undulating and well guarded by bunkers, collection areas and tangly rough.
Every hole seems quite different from another and every hole provides a unique challenge. Bear Mountain will reward you with possibilities of making birdies but big numbers are only one mistake away. The highlight is the island green of the 152-yard par three 11th which will test club selection and commitment to the shot. The other highlight is the bonus, “money hole” 19th, a 141-yard par three with a spectacular view of Victoria and the surrounding ocean. These are two one-shot holes you will clearly remember when recalling your visit to Bear Mountain.Bear Mountain is very tough for the average player so choose your tee boxes accordingly. The “Grizzly” tee boxes measure 7,202 gruelling yards while the “Cinnamon” play only 5,014 yards long. The area construction is the only visual and audible drawback. There are a handful of holes that peel away the beauty and replace it with condominiums and hotels, some of which are in play.
You have to credit the Nicklaus wherewithal to get a course built on such a challenging piece of terrain. The course is literally engulfed with severe elevation changes and then there is the close proximity to housing that comes extremely perilous to lines of play. The facility, as a whole, is nicely done. The adjoining Westin is very comfortable and the resort does have a quality practice facility to loosen up prior to teeing off.
The opening par-5 is a quality starter. It moves downhill and there is a clear option for the aggressive play. Those successful in getting a ball around the turning point of the dog-leg left will have a far easier time to reach the green which resides on the other side of a menacing creek.
The holes are shoe-horned in tight corridors. The 2nd and 3rd -- both short par-4's -- are done well but cramped for any auxiliary area of land. The key when playing can often mean driving up one's power cart to see what lies ahead before you take any risk in aligning oneself incorrectly.
Be forewarned -- if you happen to be someone who can often spray wildly -- it pays to keep the cover on one's driver. The landing areas are often pinched in by the terrain so even if one is straight you can run out of landing area. A good example comes with the uphill then straight downhill par-4 7th. The tee shot is intimidating because you literally hit over a blind rise. Those wanting to get maximum distance have to receive a bit of Divine intervention as the fairway tapers down considerably the longer one goes off the tee. The green is well done -- so a lofting approach is crucial. Getting near the pin is a must because the putting surface is especially contoured.
The inner half of holes is akin to an Indiana Jones movie -- plenty of thrills and even more disappointments for those who fail to pay smartly. The par-3 10th is the Nicklaus version of Dye's 17at at TPC Sawgrass. The 11th and 12th are the two best par-4 holes in succession. The former is protected by trees hugging the left side approach into the green so playing up the right side is a must. At the 12th -- you encounter water on the left side to avoid. The green is well-positioned over a bunker with water catching any serious pull shots.
The remaining six holes are a true roller-coaster. The uphill par-5 13th is a silly hole given the abruptness uphill. The par-3 14th is scenic wonder. The green is set below the tee and the wherewithal to hit a controlled short iron is a must. The green is set on a promontory so anything short means a sure reload and anything pulled or pushed will likely mean securing a par is a fantasy. When you get to the green the views are breathtaking as you can see America across the Strait of Juan de Fuca with views of Washington State.
The 15th is a very long par-4 demanding hole -- heading abruptly downhill with a specific landing area to achieve. The par-3 16th is another dropshot par-3 hole with little in terms of design quality. The short par-4 17th also goes downhill and is a filler holes of little note. The concluding par-5 18th also heads downhill but this time the fairway bottlenecks with housing flanking on both sides. The aggressive drive has to be most fortunate to stay in the narrowing fairway and avoid a solitary bunker on the right. The green is fronted by a menacing pond and players have to decide where to hit their second shots -- either directly in front of the pond or if they wish -- and feel bold enough -- to hit up the left side and therefore leave a more direct short pitch. It's a quality ending hole but the constant movement of up one hole and down another can induce a spell of vertigo.
The Mountain Course is a test of patience. Be too aggressive without the accompanying archer straightness and you will be looking for more ammo in a very short time. Clearly, one can only play the course with a power cart given the terrain. Credit the Nicklaus design team for accomplishing the task they had to overcome. The golf can be entertaining at times but the desire to endure such a frenetic design will certainly be a positive for some and for others a one round and done outcome.
by M. James Ward