Having played this course twice in its earlier days, it became apparent that Jack Nicklaus had been given access to a most beautiful and challenging piece of property from which to build the original or two courses planned for the resort. I have reviewed this course before (see here) but after a recent follow up visit, and important course routing changes, I am compelled to re-write my review.
With Bear Mountain hosting a 2016 and 2017 PGA Champions Tour event, it was apparent that investments were made to the course, notably the bunkers, but clearly throughout the course. Importantly, adding their former 19th hole to the rotation was a brilliant and important decision which makes the course more enjoyable, and depending on the weather, more challenging. I was critical of the course before but important changes, investments and upgrades have me re-thinking my critique. Remaining still are some elevated greens and a tighter, target-golf feel on some holes at this course but as the course has matured, the focal areas for landing the ball seem more visible and prominent and have helped to mitigate this. Add the fact the completion of the Valley course and the challenges of the Mountain course are well complemented with design differences with its sister course. The Mountain remains the crown jewel of this 36 hole resort.
So has my attitude about this course changed? Yes it has. The back nine present three of the most visually appealing par 3’s you will find in golf. The closing stretch – 15-18 – present significant risk-reward options to score well or save a round. I still love the affinity green look of 13 (originally the 14th), where it seems anything long will fall off the mountain and into the strait well below.
During my recent visit where I toured the back nine, the 14th was playing just under 160 yards from the Golden Tees. And that was a good thing as you’re essentially at the highest and least protected part of the course and winds can give you significant pause for reflection on club selection. Stand over your ball and the small green looks ever smaller. I applaud the course for their decision to incorporate this hole into play; it truly magnifies the excellence of this course.
Since my play there back in 2013 and 2014, the housing developments are also more mature. Not everyone feels comfortable with houses so close to play, but this is a special course and with the maturity of the course helping showcase specific landing areas on certain holes, players should focus on enjoyment and playing to their own strengths.
It is certainly a course where one should bring their A game and a well charged camera, as there are countless opportunity for photos. It is a challenging layout but a golf experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and only hope I can experience once again. Look around and take in the marvelous scenery, even look back, for some holes offer an incredible view behind you as well as ahead! My pictures paled in comparison to the pictures available on their website.
It is always exciting to tee it up where the pros have played. I look forward to my next visit where the Mountain course will be a priority for me to play!
Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – This is a special course with views of Victoria and Washington State which are stunning. The golf course is of a quality that complements the scenery.
Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10. Not the value track that others can boast in Victoria, but there is a quality to Bear Mountain which makes playing here worth the expense; it is a wonderful golf experience.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – Improvements are clear and evident since my first visit and this is one area where the course shines! – 8.5 out of 10
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Having played there twice, I loved it and would welcome a chance to come back and play it again. It is a very stout test of golf on a beautiful piece of land. With a second course alongside it is now a destination for golfers seeking great golf – 8.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The view off the 14th tee is breathtaking. But before you even tee it up, step outside of the clubhouse and check out the scenery and breathe. You would never know you were mere minutes from downtown Victoria.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – The obvious choice is for me to get an office in Victoria so I can play more regularly at Bear Mountain.
Just So You Know – The addition of the new Valley Course provides a great complement to this course and makes the Stay and Play options for this Westin Hotel resort course even more attractive.
Playing Partner Notes – When you play with a member who is a retired golf professional you get some unique insight. My first experience playing with Brian D. was special. It was a damp, foggy December morning and we got off early. After the round he stated he was pleased with his score considering he was seeking to hit close to the cart path to avoid walking far to get to his ball. He demanded I keep my bag on the cart as we played another round in the afternoon as the fog burned off. He was insistent I see this course in all its natural beauty, and wow, what a thrill that was!