Fun with Clubbing at Elevated Bear Mountain Golf Course
For 70 years, the elevated play at 9-hole Bear Mountain Golf Course in Big Bear has been testing club selection. While the track may tip-out at a mere 2,783 yards, the pine-scented setting at 7,000-feet of elevation has a habit of keeping scores in check by way of narrow fairways, testy approaches and, of course, watching balls fly at altitude.
Come the late spring melt (hopefully), the popular SoCal ski destination sees the golf grounds adjacent to the slopes become a popular summer complement to Big Bear’s bounty of outdoor activity, which ranges from biking to hiking to fishing and beyond.
The succinct golf season endeavors to run, weather permitting, from about late May thru the close of October.
League and tournament play helps fill the tee sheet, and a new monthly “Glow Golf” initiative (with hundreds of lights around greens and fairways, along with glow balls) has fast proven a readily popular way to swing alight on a mountain night.
“Our crowd is definitely diverse,” says Bjorn Bruce, director of golf of Bear Mountain. “We get a lot of people from Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and San Diego.”
Just a two hour drive from both the Coachella Valley and L.A., players have been ascending the San Bernardino Mountains to crunch club math at Bear Mountain Golf Course since 1948.
“There’s not an exact science to it, but it’s generally about a club’s worth; that’s how I gauge it,” Bruce says of enhanced distance at elevation.
Complementing the altitude and attractive surrounds, Bear Mountain sees an equally enhanced degree of respite across its historic holes; while club selection will indeed prove engaging to the scratch player, the course is aptly enjoyed by a happy host of families and beginners simply seeking a day amid the terrain.
For low-handicappers enjoying an extended Big Bear escape from the desert sizzle or city din, a suggestion: Play a different tee each nine-hole round, and keep continual clubbing choices in-play as you rotate from the tips back to the 2,180-yard forward tees.
“The course has something for everybody,” smiles Bruce. “From a playing standpoint, it may not be the longest course, but it does have its challenges. We’ve got the water, the creek, which comes into play throughout the course; which for me, just happens to be a ball magnet.”
With the creek quietly holding the right side of the benign par-4 opener, Bear Mountain’s 512-yard par-5 second proves an excellent chance to get in the red early; playing a studied fade to the right of the short grass proves beneficial, before angling a mid-iron to the green over the creek fronting the left side. For the cautious: Simply lay-up to the right on the approach before working a wedge in for a birdie try.
However the second is played, know that Bear Mountain does start to growl on the 344-yard third, which demands an earnest, uphill approach over the creek hazard. Clubbing becomes paramount to finding the putting surface, as the altitude + elevated green sees the mountain math come to full fruition.
“One of my favorites is No. 3, where you may lay-up a bit off the tee before the approach to the elevated green,” Bruce explains.
The rising segue from the third green to the Bear’s latter par-5 proves the course highlight for many, as a well-struck drive from the towering tee box sees the ball seemingly stall and pause among the clouds.
“On the fourth hole, there’s the elevated tee; and it’s a super-fun hole for everybody whether you’re an experienced player or not,” Bruce continues of the 463-yard play. “For newer golfers, it’s just nice to be up there with the great view, whether you smack it down the hill or not. And for the good players, the altitude really comes into play and you’ll see the elevation of the tee box also enhance the distance of the drive. I’ve had a lot of guys tell me, ‘I’ve never driven the ball that far in my life.'”
On the 382-yard sixth, Bear Mountain’s penchant for levity finds a reminder as players need take potential pause on the box to ensure that practice strikers from the on-site driving range and practice area aren’t walking across the fairway back to the designated lot for range parking.
Rounding home, back-to-back par-3s on Nos. 7 and 8 find a mean, swaling green on the burly, 180-yard former before the penultimate hole engages with aesthetics.
“It’s so scenic with the water in front of the green,” says Bruce of the 133-yard eighth hole. “And then we have the forward tee box on the island dock in the middle of the pond on 8; and just because it’s close from there (55 yards), it’s not an easy shot.”
Playing along condo-lining, the taut, 252-yard No. 9 is a pure risk-reward finisher, as bombers will now doubt gun for the green while the prudent will take mid-iron from the box and aim to wedge in for a finishing birdie.
“You need to be surgical,” concludes Brice of the home hole. “It’s the most narrow fairway we have; people do drive the green on occasion, but it’s one of those holes where you have to battle some tree overhang and your distance control.”
But whether you go around once for a light nine or play Bear Mountain twice for a casual 18, its best not to bring an attitude to the altitude. Elevated expectations should be kept in check at the Bear, where an easy-going spirit pairs best with the relaxed round, and a leisurely style of play echoes the drive “up the hill,” where flatlander cares and stresses are best left in the rear view.