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.
Date: April 29, 2016