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 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.
The business that took me to Victoria, British Columbia 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.
Bear Mountain is a 36 hole facility, with both the Mountain Course and the newer Valley Course built 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. After doing some reading at the Nicklaus Design website, I found that this course cost approximately $17 million dollars to build while the Valley Course cost about $20 million!
I can honestly say you 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 many had ranked it within the top 100 in Canada 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.
Highlights include the first hole, which is a winding, downhill par five with a slightly elevated green site that is perched on the other side of a creek.
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.
The 432 yard par four sixth features a pinched fairway and a long forced carry for your approach shot to a huge, undulating green. It’s a tough one, as is the uphill par three 7th, which measures 173 yards. There's a cavernous bunker in front of the very long green surface.
The par three 10th features an island green (yawn) but thankfully, a couple of interesting holes follow - the 11th has a blind tee shot over the crest of a hill then tumbles downhill toward a huge pond that fronts a large green.
The 12th is a 512 yard, 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.
The 13th is an absolutely stunning, uphill par five with a fairway split into two tiers. The approach shot 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.
The 14th is a lovely, short par three with the gorgeous view of Victoria as the backdrop. This hole was 'out of service' at the time I played and actually not a permanent part of the routing at the time, instead being used as an extra or “bye” hole to settle bets. It’s now part of the main routing at Bear Mountain from my understanding.
The par four 15th plays back parallel to the 13th 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 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. Meanwhile, the finisher is a long 603 yard par five with a hazard running down the entire left hand side until the creek winds back through the fairway about 350 yards up the hole.
You must hit a variety of shots on the Mountain Course 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 fairways are reasonably wide, for the most part, and the greens are larger than average. Still, this is 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 and a somewhat disjointed routing. I suppose you could walk if you had a caddy but it would be a true test.
I stand by my assessment that this is a stronger course overall than neighbouring Royal Colwood (at least in its current state) and I definitely had more fun playing Bear Mountain as well. Nothing against Colwood - I just think Bear Mountain is very strong cartball and perhaps good enough to be listed among the top 50 courses in Canada.
If you go to Victoria, you should definitely get out and play Bear Mountain...it won't disappoint!
My full Bear Mountain (Mountain) course profile and pictorial can be found here: http://nowonthetee.blogspot.com/2009/08/bear-mount...
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