Situated within the Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, the course at Black Bear Golf Club is a Bechtol-Russell co-design which debuted in 2006. Owned and operated by Louisiana State Parks, it’s a daily fee facility that also offers visiting golfers on-site accommodation in comfortable lodges and cabins.
A 3,000-acre man-made lake is the sporting focal point of the State Park, providing a variety of water related recreational activities, but the course sits to the north of this enormous water hazard, with open and tree-lined fairways winding their way across the Macon Ridge.
Measuring 7,200 yards from the back tees, the Black
Bear course attracts a strong slope rating of 141 so it’s more than capable of
testing up-and-coming professional players when they tee it up here at Adams
Pro Tour events.
The Black Bear Golf Club is located at Poverty Point State Park near Delhi in the most northeastern portion of the Louisiana. This Bechtol Russell design has consistently ranked as one of the best golf courses in the state. I must admit it was probably my most favourite layout because of the well tree-lined fairways and huge elevation changes but over the last couple of years the conditioning has definitely deteriorated. Due to state budget cuts, the minimal greens staff had been forced to abandon the fairway bunkers which are now considered ground under repair. Recently, however they were able to receive an additional $500,000 in funding to replace all the green-side bunkers. At least now you can visualize how great this golf course could be with additional resources.
One of my favourite holes was the par-3 6th but if the pin is on the right side it is almost impossible to get it close as there is very little green to work with plus there is a bunker upfront and a big swale behind.
The par-4 7th hole features a visually stunning uphill blind tee shot to a green that is tucked into a valley.
Hole-10 is a par-4 button hook to the right with a green perched just over a river. Good luck if the pin is upfront.
I found myself thinking of Charles Dickens as I played Black Bear. The “worst of times” here is the poor condition of the course. The fairways were full of weeds and the fairway bunkers were largely devoid of sand and had weeds growing in them, some as much as a foot high. (While this does motivate the player to avoid these hazards, it’s probably not what architect Randy Russell had in mind.)
This is particularly unfortunate as the “best of times” at Black Bear is the delightful design. One test of golf course design is whether the architect challenges the player on the second shot on par 5s. Black Bear passes this test with flying colors. Number 3, for example, features a diagonal water hazard that requires the player to decide how far along its edge to play. The other 5s use strategically placed bunkers to keep the player thinking on the second shot. There are many strong non par 5s as well, with the best being the par 4 5th. With its split fairway, it asks you to decide whether to drive to the narrower right side, which provides a far better angle to the green. At least I thought it was a split fairway until I got closer and realized it was another victim of poor conditioning as it hadn’t been mowed. It was still playable as rough, but a less appealing route to the green.
Russell keeps the player thinking throughout the round, including providing options for a running approach to most greens. Black Bear’s greens are also well done, with plenty of contours to challenge even the best putters. The weeds that infect the fairways are also present on the putting surfaces, but unlike on the fairways, I did not have to take any preferred lies.
Black Bear also has cool tee markers—shaped like a bear paw. Alas, the lack of funding is also apparent on the tees. Many of the tee markers were missing. This phenomenon reached a crescendo on the 12th tee where there was only one blue marker and one white one for 4 separate tee pads.
If the state of Louisiana (which owns the course) would spend the money to improve conditions, Black Bear would be a 6 ball course.