The MBP’s meet the Golden Bear.
Written By: Dan Mann
I hear it all the time… Course reviews are great but you live in a little corner of Canada that no one really pays much attention to. Well I’ve traveled, played some of the best, stayed at top five star resorts and let me tell you I easily live in one of North America’s best spots for golf. So you know what? Pay attention.
One of these great spots in my home of British Columbia is Vancouver Island, located about an hour ferry from Vancouver. Now to say Vancouver Island is beautiful would be an understatement; to say it has good golf, would be a slap in the face. The fact of the matter is that Vancouver Island is not only a visually stunning place to visit, it’s also home to some of Western Canada’s best golf period.
Recently, my beautiful wife Nidine & I were invited to spend a day at the Nicklaus designed and much heralded, Bear Mountain Resort. Who am I to turn down an invite to experience The Mountain Course, home to the 2010 Canadian Skins featuring the likes of Couples, Goosen, Poulter, Weir and Villegas.
So with the following quote from Mr. Nicklaus himself in mind, let’s see what The Mountain course has to offer.
Now before we go any further you may want to familiarize yourself with the MyGolfSpy - Course Review Criteria
Co-designed by Jack & Steve Nicklaus, the Mountain Course at Bear Mountain is 7089 yards from the tips set in the foothills of Mount Finlayson.
Slope & Ratings:
The Mountain Course at Bear Mountain is green where it needs to be and after a recent heat wave of roughly forty straight days of sun the greens crew should be commended. I will say though I found the overall presentation to be a little rough around the edges. Now perhaps this was a result of the heavy rain over the last day, or just part of the whole roughed in mountain course style; I just didn’t feel the entire package came off as tight as it could be. At times things were a little patchy fairway wise or a tee box that could use a little more seeding love.
However, there are a lot of elements in play here I love about a quality course. The tee boxes are flat, the greens rolled consistently smooth and I never received a bad lie in a fairway. Yes, there are some faults but really The Mountain is far better than most courses out there.
The running joke with Nidine and I after leaving is we probably saw more deer in 18 holes at Bear then we’d seen in our entire lives combined. Seriously though, we must have seen fifteen that day. So if you’re into wildlife this place is National fricken Geographic.
To cap it off Bear Mountain gives us a 19th hole. Yes, you read that right, a 19th hole that is set on the edge of the mountain with a view of the city of Victoria below, which looks across some ocean, to stunning views of Northern Washington`s Olympic Mountains. So, it’s got that going for it.
You would think all this plus being cut into a mountainside and other various valley views is enough to get this course a perfect score, but alas you would be wrong. Bear Mountain is not immune to the occasional house, condos, power lines and some pre-construction areas. Of course most of these are a necessary evil when it comes to resorts, but doesn’t quite put it in the once in a lifetime class of properties. Trust me though, these are things you won`t be paying much attention too during your round.
* Chatting with Cheryl and Jordan as swooning MBP fans look on
Customer Service/Guest Experience
We were lucky enough to have hosts for our visit in the form of Westin Marketing Manager Cheryl Bushby and Director of Golf Jordan Ray. Of course you’re all thinking those two are just there to grease my palm and ensure they score 100 on this review. Well did they score 100?
What I did get was a guided tour of all things Bear Mountain has to offer by two really cool people, who take pride in their business they work for. You want to read a good review then I’ll need to gather all the information I can from the best people possible.
And when you have people this professional at the top, you can see there’s an obvious trickle-down effect going around Bear Mountain. You really do get first rate service from everyone starting with the club valet, to the snack shop girl and the young guy cleaning your clubs after the round. Seriously though, most people just see me coming and tell me to get lost. This wasn’t exclusive to us either, just a look around and you could tell this treatment applies to anyone and everyone who pulls in here.
Resort courses should be held to a certain standard, if you’re charging us for luxury then one would expect a certain level of pampering and amenities. Bear Mountain really steps up in this category and I was more than impressed. It starts right at arrival where you’re greeted by a club valet who takes your bag and ensures they’re on your cart and ready to go come golf time.
On the course side everything is first class. The cart girl visited often with a fully stocked selection and there’s a really good snack shack after nine. The power carts are solid and clean with one of the better GPS systems I’ve come across to date.
The clubhouse and pro shop share the same west coast styled building as the Westin Hotel which adds to the overall grandness of things. The pro shop feels very high end and I couldn’t keep track of all the brands that were in there.
You won’t go hungry here either. From The Masters lounge overlooking 18 to Jack’s Place Pub, the Bear offers a variety of dining environments and cuisines. Nidine will note that she had some of the best Sushi she’s eaten at Jack’s.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a hotel with spa? It’s a Westin and it’s pretty fancy. For you trivia fans out there it’s hosted the TV series The Bachelor and I can only assume the looks I got when I walked in the lobby were assumptions I was there to shoot Season 2.
Let’s keep this section short, but sweet. There’s a full size grass tee range with decent targets, a great short game facility and no shortage of putting greens throughout. There’s even a putting green next to the first tee which is not exactly situated near the clubhouse. Plain & simple: facilities aren’t the best ever and the conditions not truly perfect, but they still won’t leave one exactly wanting more.
Accessibility to All Skill Levels
Golfing with Nidine is really an advantage when it comes to judging a courses overall accessibility to everyone. While she`s not ripping it up score wise yet she knows her way around; at no time did she complain about length or difficulty from up front. With the Mountain Course offering golfers five sets of tees from 7089 yards at the tips to 4814 at its shortest, no one in your group should have any problems getting around this place.
Look… It’s got really tall trees, some pretty big elevation changes (you know, because of the whole mountain side thing), a ton of deep bunkers, water, fescue and fairly large undulated greens. So, needless to say there’s enough trouble to make this course play really hard. Oh, uhh… Did I mention the slope rating from the tips is 152? Yah…
But, let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and look at it from the other side of things too. As a resort course the fairways at times can be fairly forgiving width wise and the greens are really not that fast or overly difficult to read. So on a whole with some solid ball striking and smart gameplay one could traverse these slopes without pulling all their hair out.
Well what does this all add up to? We’re not all pros and don’t always put the ball in the fairway. With all The Mountain has going on out here, it’s not going to be easy at the end of the day to post a round that reflects your handicap.
Right off the bat I only have one very minor complaint variety wise and that is I felt the two par 3`s on the front played as roughly the same shot uphill. Overall, the Nicklaus`s have done a great job of utilizing the natural terrain and integrating it into many of the shots out here. There`s no shortage of elevation changes, sloped fairways or forced carries. On one hole you can be faced with evading outcropping natural rock formations and the next just a big old ravine. All this constantly plays into your thought process of where you want to land the ball to take best advantage of your next shot.
Just ask my wife and she’ll tell ya I’m cheap. I prefer thrifty, but we’re really splitting hairs here. So if you were to ask me to spend more than a hundred dollars on a round of golf I’d better be playing one of the best out there. So with that said and Bear’s $129 (weekday – weekends can run up to $149) green fee including cart in question I’m going to hand this one off to NIdine this time.
I’m torn… ‘cause I’m still cheap. But, let’s consider everything you get for that price compared to other resorts worldwide and Bear Mountain is actually a really good value.
It would be unfair though not to point out some of the offers Bear Mountain has in place to subsidize some of the rising peak hour costs to play our game. Island residents can play for $89, foursomes are offered a $320 group rate with $20 food credit and if it’s your birthday, you my friend can play for free.
Jack said it best in his quote to start this all off and I will reiterate: “there are 18 signature holes”. Although I complained about those two kinda similar par 3’s, there’s really nothing else about the golf experience that could be categorized as forgettable. Obviously, Bear Mountain takes advantage of being blessed with BC’s natural landscape making this a very memorable property. I’ll say it now, I can’t wait to get back out here and tackle all these holes over again and correct the mistakes I made the first time.
Ok well then, if you’ve paid attention two things should be very clear by now; One: Canada’s West Coast is very beautiful; Two: this Course is a big part of it. If you haven’t already figured out I like this place, I like it a lot and I’m very fortunate to have it sitting in my own coastal backyard. This course is tough, fun, friendly and full of amazing scenery. If you are planning on visiting South Vancouver Island & playing some golf then Bear Mountain and more specifically The Mountain course should be at the top of your must play list.
Total Score: 94/100
VISIT WEBSITE: The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa
Not quite fitting into any specific area of the review I really must tell you about a great charitable program Bear Mountain has in place. I’ll let their own press release do the talking from here.
Jeans To Greens...Everyday on The Mountain!
Every day is Jeans Day when golfing at Bear Mountain. Jordan Ray, Director of Golf Operations for the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa announced today that for a $5-dollar donation to Children’s Hospital, golfers are permitted to tee off in jeans until December 31, 2013 on both Nicklaus-Design courses.
"Dress code can be tricky," explained Ray. "Particularly when we are still experiencing declining golf participation numbers in Canada and the US, turning people away who want to golf in their jeans is an uncomfortable challenge. We are a blended golf operation up at Bear Mountain meaning that we have golf members, hotel guests, and we are open to the public. We absolutely want to encourage new golfers - either new to the sport or new to Bear Mountain – while respecting the traditions of golf that many of our our members and hotel guests expect. Creating an opportunity to welcome golfers every day who are seeking a more relaxed atmosphere by supporting the amazing and critical work undertaken every day at Children’s Hospital is a fabulous compromise," said Ray. "And it has been very well received."
Ray estimates that at golf courses across the country, thousands of golfers are denied the opportunity to play due to the enforcement of dress codes that exclude jeans. “Like it or not - jeans have become a mainstay part of a professional wardrobe for many people – particularly on the west coast. Now at Bear Mountain, you can wear your jeans on the greens.” Ray and his staff look forward to welcoming everyone who wishes to play in their lucky denims to Bear Mountain where the Nicklaus-Design Mountain and Valley courses were recently voted the two top public courses to play on Vancouver Island by SCOREGolf Magazine.
We could not be happier to be part of a year round Jeans to Greens celebration at the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa,” said Debbie Preston at BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. "Jordan and Andrea Ray are fabulous supporters of Children’s Hospital as their beautiful son underwent a successful Carniotomy (cranial neuro surgery and plastic surgery) several years ago. They know well the important medical care and emotional support that is delivered every day to British Columbia’s sick children and their families. For Jordan, this Jeans to Greens relationship is a genuine and heartfelt opportunity. We at the Foundation thank him and all the golfers who wish to participate year round."