Situated next to the DeSoto National Forest, the 18-hole layout at Grand Bear is a Jack Nicklaus design that until 2017 was operated by Harrah’s Gulf Coast & Casino in Biloxi. Grand Bear is now owned by VICI Properties Inc. The course opened for play in 1999 and it’s regarded as a tough track.
The fairways were literally carved from a dense pine forest, routed in two large loops through a 1,700-acre property, with no two holes running parallel to one another. It’s an idyllic site, without roads or homes or anything else to distract golfers from their game of golf.
Cypress wetland areas come into play from time to time throughout the round and the Big Biloxi River makes an appearance near the end of the round at holes 15 to 17. The 448-yard 18th is devoid of water but it’s still a strong finishing hole, rated stroke index 2 on the card.
Grand Bear is fine. It’s a perfectly enjoyable golf course in a lovely wooded setting a bit inland from the Gulf, allowing for there to be a bit more terrain movement than most other places in the region, along with being quite affordable and in good condition. However, aside from a handful of holes and the long, winding entrance road, where you feel as if you’re descending into Narnia or something, it’s just not a memorable golf course. I’ll fully concede that my opinion is colored by the fact that I’m not as big a fan of Nicklaus’s design work than most, and that Grand Bear is still better than most of his courses that I’ve played; however, there’s a certain mundaneness about it that doesn’t compare well to other courses of its caliber on the coast.
The outward nine is a bit heavier on the forgettability factor than the inward side, sadly, which doesn’t give off as much of an impression as its neighboring courses. The best holes on the front nine include: the fourth, a short par four that features a slightly elevated and heavily contoured green; the sixth, a long par four that features a massive swale to the left and in front of the green, funneling misses a good 10-15 yards down the slope; and the seventh, a par three to a small and narrow green overlooking the river. The back nine features a bit more excitement; I loved the short par four thirteenth, with its extremely funky little green with an invisible slope that feeds balls off the back right edge, reminiscent of something very non-Nicklaus. That hole begins a delightful stretch that abuts the Biloxi River: the bunkerless long par three fourteenth plays over a small arm of the river to a huge green, followed by the reachable par five fifteenth whose green extends out onto a peninsula overlooking the river, then the par three sixteenth which again follows the contour. The best hole in that stretch, however, is the seventeenth, a Cape-like long par four which forces aggressive players into a long carry over the river with the reward of a shorter approach. The closing hole is another long par four, as Nicklaus is wont to do, which plays uphill to a massive green overlooked by the sprawling clubhouse.
I struggled a bit in rating Grand Bear. I did not consider it among the best courses I played in Mississippi, in fact ranking it as low as fifth-best behind Fallen Oak, Hattiesburg, The Preserve, and even Shell Landing (and ahead of only The Oaks and Great Southern); however, that by no means makes it a bad golf course. The closing six-hole stretch is excellent and easily the best portion of the course, but it’s hard to consider more than maybe two or three holes before that to be as great. I was torn between a 3½ ball and 4 ball rating; however, as my trip south left me feeling flush with admiration of the region as a whole, I’ll go with the latter option.
Played February 7, 2021
Jeff Kissel visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast for an extended period in early 2021, and wrote about it as a guest on the blog Lying Four.
Grand Bear was designed by – you guessed it – Jack Nicklaus. I think he’s designed the majority of courses that have “Bear” in the name! Grand Bear is built on more than 650 acres of rolling land within the DeSoto National Forest with pine trees that come into play on several holes and lots of pine straw to hit out of. You’ll also be challenged as you wind your way through natural cypress wetlands towards championship TifEagle greens protected by deep bunkers. Grand Bear is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular courses in the South. It also has the longest driveway of any course I’ve ever encountered – 6 miles into the forest. No two holes parallel another and you won’t find any homes, roads, or other common distractions; it’s just you, Grand Bear, and that little white ball!
Quality effort by the Golden Bear but not exactly breaking any new ground with architecture that truly strikes a high note of distinction. The property is blessed with holes neatly segregated from one another and there's no housing intrusions to interfere with the golf.
It's great to have 1,700 acres of land because the golf experience can truly be enjoyed.
Those venturing to the property will find all the key amenities.
The best part of the round comes on the inward side -- where several holes intersect with the Big Biloxi River -- most notably the quality par-4 17th.
If one has played an array of other Nicklaus courses your time at Grand Bear will be enjoyable but not especially memorable. Turf quality is very good and the overall presentation of the course works quite well in the setting provided. For those who value conditioning and amenities the experience will be special. For those who are architectural mavens -- far less so.
M. James Ward
Grand Bear is a situated on a very secluded piece of Cypress wetland property near Saucier in the coastal region of Mississippi. This Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course is a tree-lined parkland design with wide fairways and narrow rough that has been delicately carved into a forest of tall pines, live oaks, gum trees and colourful magnolias.
It comes with a fine pedigree and currently ranks in the top 5 courses you can play in the state by many leading golf publications including the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World.
There are five sets of tees on this par-72 starting from the 4,802-yard ‘Teddy Bear’ to the 7,204-yards ‘Grizzly Bear’ blocks with a course rating of 75.5 and a slope of 143. This distance will take a bite out of any great golfer however at 6,221-yards, the ‘Brown Bear’ was enough of a challenge for me to ‘bear’.
The first wow factor hole is the long par-3 3rd over a wooded ravine. Anything right and you’re bound to be in the green-side bunker or funnel into the Little Biloxi River.
The 5th is probably the most difficult hole on the course. This intimidating par-5 forces you to cross over two separate environmentally-friendly zones to a small green that is protected on the entire right side by a large bunker.
#8 is a long right sweeping par-4 where your drive needs to cover the two bunkers on the right and four more protecting the front and right side of the green.
Hole #10 is a sharp dogleg right where everything funnels right towards the hazard. You will need to hit a well-positioned tee shot to be able to see the green for your approach.
#11 is another dogleg right with a large bunker protecting anyone trying to cut the corner. A well-stuck drive will leave you with a reachable second shot on this par-5, however the small green has large bunkers left and right to protect the long hitters.
The par-3 14th is a visually impressive with the river crossing in front on a diagonal. There are no bunkers to contend with but if you are short left everything funnels back into the river. Long and right is a prudent play to avoid a big number.
However, my most memorable hole was #17 when three deer came bounding a cross the fairway followed by a single doe trying to catch up. Sounds like my game! This big sweeping dogleg left forces you to hit a solid drive to avoid the river that borders the entire left side of this par-4. You must decide how much to bite off to best take on this raised green with a monster bunker front left and another one right.
The back nine is more picturesque of the two loops with higher elevation changes and the fact that the Big Biloxi River coming into play on holes 13 through 17. Overall, I found the greens to be small and irregular in shape and the sugar white soft sand to be extremely consistent. The overall design is fantastic but there were no tee block yardage markers, nor GPS on the carts and the overall maintenance seemed to be lacking, makes me question the current rankings.
To read more about Dave Finn's golf adventures visit www.golftravelandleisure.com