The Bear’s Club was inaugurated in 1999 by Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and is the result of Jack’s dream to create a world-class golf course in his own South Florida backyard.
Naturally, the Bear’s Club is a private facility for members and their guests to enjoy, so you’ll need to befriend a member, or perhaps get an invite from the Golden Bear himself to play here. The Bear’s club is home for the Nicklaus family and was voted one of the world’s elite private club experiences by a leading glossy magazine.
The course at the Bear’s Club opened in 2000 and is routed across a natural pine-clad sand ridge but Jack added a few other ridges to create a more interesting landform for his design. Incorporated into the design are special high-banked bunkers with special sand (imported from Ohio) that won’t wash out during Florida’s heavy thunderstorms.
“Living well is the best revenge” is a quote used by Sotheby’s International Realty, promoters of the Bear’s Club (the quote was originally by English poet George Herbert). Naturally Sotheby’s want to sell the exclusive estate properties so we decided to quote their Bear’s Club golf course description to appropriately whet the appetite: “Amid the splendor of an extraordinary natural environment, a championship golf course has been carved, incorporating a sweeping interlace of fairways, preserve areas, wetlands, cypress heads, tall pine and lakes. Jack Nicklaus has masterfully created a design that takes into consideration the character of the land and the sensitivity of its ecosystem.”
Today I had the blessing of experiencing this fantastic facility and the first thing I can say is the Club House Experience is one of the best you can live. Not every day you get inside the GOAT's home club and every single corner of the place gives a memory about him, his career, his golfing success and the history of his life.
I arrived 12:45, lunch at the Locker Room watching the PGA Championship, then played the 18 holes in 1h53mins with the chance to think and hit every shot, take some nice pictures and even re putt some of the ones I left there of a round that was pretty good after jumping directly to the First Tee after driving 4hs from TPC Sawgrass.
The course has some of Jack's best features, a lot of wel placed water hazards, some forced carries over marsh or water and excellent firm fast bermuda greens. Tee boxes are paspalum grass which usually gives you better lies to place your ball without the need of a tee.
Many holes are amazing, but the stretch of the first 3 starting holes is brutal and it was where I better played near making an ace on 2nd for one of my 2 birdies.
Third is one of those examples where length is not necessary to make a great hole, a carry over marsh and bunkers, water on the left hand side and a green that demands extreme precision give you a great hole.
Maintenance? Close to perfection, went to 2 bunkers and it was the best sand I played in a lot of time.
A great caddie made it very enjoyable, his name Blake and many good moments of shared stories and golf from many of the famous members the Club has.
There are many good courses where the finishing hole is not great, this one is just excellent, a par 5 where you can go for it in 2 if your tee shot is in good position (I was not) but the alternative way is a lay up to a fantastic 3rd shot facing the Club House over the water.
It reminded me about McArthur (Nick Price Design) and really enjoyed every single minute, one of those places where if you get the invite just say yes! And the golden moment of a big hug with Mr Player and a nice picture to be printed and frame at home!
Both times I played from the ‘Championship’ tees, which offers a Par 72, 7164-yard layout, with a rating of 74.5 and a slope of 146. The uniqueness of the course starts from the first hole, where the tee location from the tips is integrated into one of their pristine putting greens, which brought the same uncomforting thought to me each time I played it- “please do not chunk this drive!” The course itself is a serious test of golfing ability, presenting almost no room for error. The rich native vegetation, old oaks, pines, cypress trees and wetlands areas offer a very intimate surrounding, with hardly any holes giving views of any previous or upcoming holes and has a truly private feel. The collections of medium to large undulating greens are designed to punish even the slightest of miss placed approach shots and demand precision. They are rounded off at the edges and feed into hollows and chipping areas, which puts an awful amount of stress on your short game to keep away those card destroying bogies.
Overall The Bear’s Club is one of THE toughest and well maintained golf courses I have ever played, with a memorable collection of par 5’s, especially that of the mind blowing 18th, which lends such a perfect finish to an amazing golf course. The long pear-shaped green is tucked into the elbow of a lake, which takes out the option of going for the green in two and has a generous bailout/layup area to the right. Just beyond the green and water sits the striking stone façade of the grand Tuscan style clubhouse, which no photo can do justice. The Mediterranean theme is apparent throughout the property, from the club house to the breath-taking multi-million dollar residential properties located around the golf course. I hope to play this club again at some point during the future, with the aim of not losing a ball (Easier said than done… Trust me).