I stumbled upon the Bear Creek Golf Complex in Chandler shortly after I moved back to the Phoenix area in the fall of 2011. What I liked about it right away was the practice range and learning center. This is the best place south of the Red Mountain Freeway, and perhaps all of Southern Arizona, to work on your game. It features a grass driving range (you’ll never have to hit off a mat), a short game area with a greenside bunker and multiple hole locations, and two expansive practice putting greens. About the only thing the range is missing, if I’m being picky, is lights for late-night practice sessions during the hot summer months.
Range balls may be purchased in three sizes:
* Small (30 balls/$5)
* Medium (60 balls/$8)
* Large (90 balls/$11)
And if you’re a real range rat, you can also get a range pass:
* Silver – $55 for 540 balls
* Gold – $99 for 1,080 balls
* Platinum – $165 for 2,160 balls
The range balls are always in good shape, a personal pet peeve of mine, and this fall as a matter of fact, Bear Creek cycled-in several thousand brand new, fluorescent yellow Pinnacle Practice range balls. If you don’t believe me about the quality of the practice area, Golf Range Magazine ranked Bear Creek a Top 100 Golf Range in America in 2011. The Golf Academy is fond of using it for outdoor classes, skills development sessions, and short game skills tests. I feel fortunate that Bear Creek is one of the practice ranges students can sign up to practice at during the semester.
The range closes around sunset each day, and balls are usually sold until about 30 minutes before. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the range closes approximately one hour before sunset for maintenance, but the putting and chipping greens are always open for business. Now that we’re in the offseason, the course only stocks range balls at the short game area from Friday through Sunday. The attendant on duty is constantly clearing the practice green, which is a nice touch.
Then there are the golf courses. The Bear Creek Golf Complex features two different courses – The Bear Course and The Cub Course. Both courses and the practice area were designed by the Nicklaus Design Group and architect Bill O’Leary (who also designed The Concession Golf Club in Florida and Red Ledges in Utah) and opened for play in January of 2000. The Cub Course is a fun, 3,552-yard Par 59 executive course – an ideal place for the beginning golfer, juniors, and families. It has five Par 4s and 13 Par 3s.
The Bear Course is geared more toward the seasoned veteran looking for a challenge. It is a championship-length, inland-style links course that will eat your lunch if you let it. The land in the surrounding area is flat, dry, and barren, and every time I’ve ever played here, the wind has been howling. This is a great course to play if you want to work on keeping the ball below the breeze. It is a real beast. The Bear plays 6,825 yards from the Gold Tees to a Par of 71, a course rating of 71.6, and a slope of 122. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
While a lot of the links-style holes out here start to look alike after awhile, there are a few interesting ones. The 179-yard Par 3 5th is tough because there’s water short and right, a bunker long left, and all the wind you can handle tiny a shallow green. Rarely, if ever, will you play this hole or this course with little to no wind, so club up. The miss is left. The last time I played out here, I saw a pelican dive-bombing for fish in the lake that runs along the green. I spent my first three years out of college working at an NBC television affiliate in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where there were pelicans everywhere. To see one of these already strange-looking birds in the desert was a real oddity.
My favorite hole on the course, by far, is the Par 4 16th. The hole measures 299 yards from the Gold Tees, and usually plays straight downwind. Driver is too much club most of the time because of the wind, and you can easily end up in the drainage ditch to the back of the green if you decide to hit that club. I like 3-wood or even 5-wood, but you have to birdie this hole. I don’t care what anyone says. Birdies are few and far between on this course, and this hole is about as close as it gets. Just try not to give it right back on the next hole like I did. You’re downwind on the Par 4 16th, but the 228-yard Par 3 17th hole plays straight into the wind, and there’s a good chance you’ll be hitting the same club on this tee shot as you did on the last.
Bear Creek recently re-did the bunkers on the back nine of the Bear Course, and the sand is still very fluffy. It will take some time for it to settle, but right now, when you go to dig-in to take your stance, you feel as if you might sink. I’m glad they re-filled the bunkers, the sand is just really thick.
Out here, there is a lot of wildlife – quail, jackrabbits as big as small horses, roadrunners, doves, and colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs. Out here, to the prairie dogs go the spoils. You’ll want to keep your head on a swivel for all the desert creatures you’re going to see. You might even want to bring your camera.
If you miss the fairway out here, get ready to yell “Fore!” Right off the fairway, and I mean right off, the grass starts to get really clumpy. Your ball could be sitting down below two tufts of grass, making it difficult to get the club on the ball at all. You shouldn’t lose too many balls out here because it’s pretty wide open between holes, but miss the grass, and you’re in the rocks. If you have a rock or desert club, I would bring it out with you if only for recovery shots.
While We’re Young
The Golf Academy foursome I was with was able to get around the course in a little more than 3:30. We rarely had to wait in between shots, and I appreciate a course that moves the patrons along.
Next On the Tee
Arizona Biltmore Golf Club in Phoenix. This is a class reward for having the highest attendance percentage at the Golf Academy last semester. For some reason, American Presidents always play the course when they’re in town. Can’t wait.