Living in Ontario where winter dictates a clear off-season, I was so excited to have an opportunity to travel back to Victoria this winter and play the newer course which is part of the 36-hole resort at Bear Mountain. The course opened up in 2009 and with “elevated tee boxes, more generous fairway widths, fewer bunkers and larger greens…the Valley course will likely be considered a ‘friendlier’ version of the original”. (see course website) I played on a mild day in early February, enjoying 9 holes of play and touring the remaining 9.
Jack Nicklaus was wise in creating a course to complement the unique challenge of his original work, the Mountain course. And the website is apt in its description, it is a friendlier version and for all the reasons cited. Friendly, yes. Easy? Not by any stretch.
The Mountain course has undergone several upgrades, which I wrote about, and which made it more compelling for me, having experienced it several years back. The Valley course is very reminiscent of the early years of its sister course; structurally sound but with opportunity to mature more over time. Taking advantage of excellent practice and warm up facilities – after all, Golf Canada uses the site for its National Team Training Centre – there are no reasons to hit the first tee feeling less than ready.
Contrasted to the manicured and polished nature of the Mountain course is a more natural, rugged Valley course. A contrasting component I really appreciated was the sense of tranquility, as while housing developments are underway they seem set further back from play than on the Mountain course. There are no holes which are adjacent to each other and this creates a very peaceful golf experience.
With five sets of tee boxes ranging from 4674 to 6807 yards, I chose a relaxed tee box, the Grizzly tees. My nine consisted of Holes 1-4 and 14-18. I immediately wished I could have had access to play the balance of the back nine, as the fifth hole was a fabulous uphill par 4. With prominent rock croppings behind the green, it would be a fabulous target from which to base your approach shot. Par 3’s are exceptionally guarded throughout the course with natural and rugged bunkers. The par 4 8th hole is gorgeous. Again, rocks frame the landing area and while not in play, a slight gorge cuts the fairway from the green.
The routing of the course is not a traditional loop. The 10th hole is a par 3 set away from the resort. Underrated holes, the 11th and 12th, give way to the stunning 13th. A long par 4 brings players to their first real view of a small lake which is more prominently in play on the stout par 5 15th. A challenging driving hole, it opens up a closing stretch of 5-3-4-5 which like the Mountain course opens up some scoring opportunity.
My initial impressions of the Valley course are positive and there is very little to critique on this layout. The course provides an excellent complement to the Mountain course and if I was given a chance to play 54 at Bear Mountain, I’d play two rounds at Valley, I liked it that much. Mountain is a course players simply need to experience but like myself, I won’t be surprised if many people find themselves longing for another chance to tee it up on the Valley course.
Aura – 8.0 out of 10 – Mountain’s 14th is the show stopper in terms of aura, but make no mistake, the Valley course holds its own in terms of natural beauty. I was quite taken by the resort view off the 18th tee.
Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10. I was fortunate to play in the off-season, which makes a difference in terms of greens fees but one does roll the dice in terms of weather. The Bear Mountain courses won’t win value awards but they are legitimate top 100 courses in Canada and are worthy of the cost to experience.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – The layout is simply brilliant. And the course was in sensational condition considering the area had experienced significant rain the week prior to my arrival. Tee boxes were immaculate. The bunkers were so well designed, with a natural feel. Fairways are significantly more generous than the Mountain course. I could play this course over and over again and never tire of it. – 8.5 out of 10
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Time didn’t allow it or I’d have simply pegged it up and played that nine hole loop again. This was a course I have wanted to play for many years and did not disappoint at all. – 8.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – Holes 13-15 may get considerable accolade but safe to say there are several great holes on this course. I did appreciate in my drive around the chance to see some national team members practicing on the 9 which was closed for public play. Using the shoulder season of this great course to hone their skills simply makes sense and was a pleasure to experience up close.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – With a layout which does not bring players back to the clubhouse, the lack of washroom facilities throughout the course was surprising. The lack of a halfway house (which needn’t be exactly halfway) was also surprising to me.