Don’t be lulled into complacency, though: this Victoria resort’s new course is no pushover
By Brad Ziemer, Vancouver Sun
VICTORIA — Bear Mountain already had its beast. Now it’s got a beauty.
The Victoria resort’s new Valley course opened for public play this week and the best way to describe it is as a kinder, gentler version of the original Mountain layout.
Of course, kinder and gentler is a relative term. The Mountain course is rated as British Columbia’s toughest track. Its slope rating from the back tees is 152 and without getting too technical that basically means anyone not a scratch golfer teeing it up from back there figures to be a whimpering wreck by the time their round is over.
The Valley course is sloped at 135 from the tips, so it is far from a pushover. But the fact is it’s much more playable than its original sister course and Bear Mountain boss Len Barrie says that is no coincidence.
“One of the knocks we had early on was that it was too hard for everybody,” Barrie says. “But we couldn’t do it all at once. This is a lifetime project and I think we now have something to offer everyone.
“The Valley course is made for everybody to really enjoy. It was really built for the everyday player. If you want to beat yourself up, we’ve got the Mountain course which is rated as the second hardest course in Canada.”
With five sets of tees, the par-71 Valley course can play anywhere from 4,674 to 6,807 yards. That makes it a full 400 yards shorter than the Mountain layout.
But it’s more than length that sets the Valley course apart from the Mountain.
Although tree-lined, the Valley’s landing areas are for the most part extremely generous. You don’t stand on the tee wondering how on earth you are going to find the fairway.
Also, many of the Valley’s tee boxes are elevated and you play down toward the hole. That makes the course play significantly shorter than its yardage.
The Valley course is set at between 300 and 400 feet above sea level. The Mountain course, by comparison, rises as much as 1,100 feet above sea level. So there’s not quite as much up and down, although a power cart is a necessity.
The real challenge on the Valley course comes on its huge greens. They are full of undulations and that would be my only criticism of the course. Some of them are just too severe. Chances are, you will be left with at least one or two near impossible putts. One of my playing partners, who carries a low double-digit handicap index, shot one of the rounds of his life — an 80 — but had to endure six three-putts.
If the guy setting the pin positions happens to be in a bad mood the day you play, you could be in for a long, frustrating round.
But there is so much to like about the Valley course. There are some truly unique holes and the extensive bunkering is very impressive. The bunkers have a minimalist look to them, with jagged edges and rough around the borders. They fit the natural surroundings wonderfully.
There are creeks and lakes to play across and impressive rock outcroppings to avoid. A couple of holes feature huge solitary boulders near the green.
The opening of the Valley course gives Bear Mountain the distinction of having 36 holes — 37 if you count the extra bonus par 3 hole on the Mountain layout — of Nicklaus Design golf. Jack Nicklaus and son Steve did the Mountain course, while the Valley layout was a Nicklaus Design Group production.
The Valley course cost $20 million to build, with much of that spent to blast 350,000 cubic meters of rock. Two fish ladders were built to help trout navigate their way through the course.
The addition of a second course should help make Bear Mountain a true golf destination resort.
“You can come here for a three-day weekend and you’re not bored,” says Barrie, the former NHL player who has about a dozen past and present NHL stars as his partners. “We have got a (Westin) hotel, five different restaurants, we have a wine cellar, we have two spas, you’ve got 37 holes of golf, a Nicklaus Academy that will be ready to go next spring. I think we have tried to cover it all.”
That Nicklaus Academy will be set up on the newly opened three-acre driving range that is just a mid-iron away from the Bear Mountain pro shop. That leads us to yet another tree story involving Barrie, who is now part-owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
In was back in the fall of 2001 that Barrie, who lived behind the third green at nearby Royal Colwood Golf Club, had 28 trees that he thought were on his property removed to provide him with more sunlight for his backyard and a better view. It turned out those trees were on Colwood’s property and Barrie had to pay damages and was turfed from the club. Barrie then stumbled upon the Bear Mountain property, purchased 1,300 acres and built his own course.
Barrie had another run-in with trees last year when he decided he wanted to clear some timber for his practice facility. He required regulatory approval, but that seemed to be taking forever. Barrie noticed that the maximum fine for tree removal was $10,000 and he did the arithmetic in his head. He knew the timber he wanted to remove would fetch him well into six figures. Out came the chainsaws and Barrie went down to the local government office where he happily paid his $10,000 fine.
“I think they have now changed the rules,” Barrie says with a smile.