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|The 13th hole is one of the most difficult and scenic at the new Valley Course at The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)|
VICTORIA, B.C., Canada - Until recently, officials at The Westin Bear Mountain Resort and Spa downplayed the difficulty of the original course. They didn't want to scare people off by revealing the true difficulty of Jack Nicklaus' Mountain Course.
But now that Bear Mountain's Valley Course has opened, making the resort the only golf property in Canada to feature 36 holes by Nicklaus Design, they don't mind telling you how tough the Mountain Course is because relief is here.
While the Valley Course, opened in June at a cost of $20 million, is no slouch, it's much more resort friendly than the Mountain Course, which has a slope rating of 152.
"Most of our play right now is on the Valley Course," said Steve Sims, assistant professional at Bear Mountain. "Partly because it's new, but also because it's easier."
The Valley Course, which was designed by the firm's talented associate, Chris Cochran, holds its own, though, especially if you play the Golden Bear back tees of this par-71, 6,807-yard layout.
While the Valley Course is about 400 yards shorter than its sibling, which opened in 2003, there are still plenty of forced carries, ball-swallowing high grass and undulating greens. Both courses are part of the Vancouver Island Golf Trail.
The first nine holes of the Valley Course actually opened for play in 2008, with the other nine coming online June 1, 2009.
Immediately, resort guests started gravitating to the new course, not because it's easier necessarily, but because it has a character all its own.
Although the Valley Course is much lower in elevation than the Mountain Course, between 300 and 400 feet above sea level, there are still plenty of elevation changes on the tees and greens. That makes for some fairly dramatic views.
The sixth hole, for example, is a 200-yard par 3 that plays much shorter than its yardage because of a large drop-off from tee to green.
The 477-yard 13th is similar. Although the yardage screams driver, it's really not necessary given that the hole plays downhill and the fairway narrows considerably at 300 yards.
The 13th is also one of any number of holes that could be considered the course's signature hole. Water runs down its length before emptying into a large lake right off the green. There's also a large boulder just short and left of the green, and the lake is only revealed once you're ready to hit your approach.
Two holes later, the same lake stands between the tee and fairway on the long par-5 15th, which plays uphill once you carry the ball some 240 yards to the fairway from the back tee. The green isn't protected by bunkers, but it has plenty of swales around it, making for some interesting short-game challenges.
Other terrific holes include the short par-4 seventh, which has rocks, tall fescue and a stream that cuts in front of an elevated green.
The finishing hole is also dramatic. At 550 yards, big hitters can let fly off the tee to a generous fairway, but going for it in two can make for some short game challenges on this sloping green.
By no means should this review serve as a warning not to play the original Mountain Course at Bear Mountain. Most resort guests should certainly play both courses; however, high handicappers will find the Mountain Course very difficult.
The truth is you just can't miss many shots on the Mountain Course and expect to succeed. The Valley Course is more generous off the tees and certainly around the greens, where you can find opportunities to save par or bogey.
The Valley Course also has a beauty all its own. While the Mountain Course offers some great vistas of Vancouver Island, the mountains and even the city of Victoria, the Valley Course is very picturesque, winding through and around creeks, naturalized tall fescue areas and up and down hills and valleys.
There is also an abundance of wildlife, including the occasional bald eagle sighting. (Both courses are enrolled in Audubon International). And the bentgrass greens are flawless.
Both courses share The Westin Bear Mountain Clubhouse, a massive West Coast-style building with a timber-beamed lobby with large fireplaces and a two-story waterfall. The clubhouse also has three restaurants, including a large outdoor deck overlooking both layouts.
Practice facilities are superb, with a large range, putting greens and chipping greens and practice bunker. Lessons are available, and a Nicklaus Golf Academy is in the works.
July 20, 2009
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before joining the TravelGolf Network team in 2008, he held positions at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Read Mike's golf blog here and follow him on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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