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 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