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.
Date: May 08, 2021