Bear's Best Las Vegas: Enjoy the works of a legend

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- Jack Nicklaus holds the undisputed title as the greatest golfer in history with his 20 major championships, 75 Tour victories, and towering presence in the transformation of golf in the last 30 years. On top of his unmatched record as a competitive golfer he has also distinguished himself as one of the foremost designers of golf courses and will certainly be remembered as one of the more prolific course designers of this era, having set his signature on over 250 designs worldwide.

In order to get an understanding of his design philosophies and styles, there are a few options open to the avid golfer. First, you could find a collection of cocktail books on the golf courses of the world and look at some glossy photos of his work. Or you could dig up all of your back copies of Golf Digest and read about his different golf courses in the back of selected issues. Of course, you could just take a year off, stuff your life savings in the glove box of a R.V., and tool around the country playing his courses on a daily basis for a year.

Now a better alternative is available, brought to you by Club Corp of Dallas, Texas and premiering in the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas, Nevada. Bear's Best Las Vegas is a compilation of 18 of Jack's best golf holes brought together in one golf course. The idea to blend together some of Jack's most memorable holes creates a golf course that is both intriguing and stimulating as you play holes from his great courses in Arizona, Spain, Mexico, Florida, and California.

The idea for this concept came from the attempts of the Tour 18 course in Texas that tried to blend together 18 of the best holes from the PGA Tour. This course had some awkwardness to it as it reflected the designs of so many different golf designers that it failed to blend into a memorable round of golf. The folks at Club Corp felt that using the work of one designer would help to create a better flow to the layout. The idea works incredibly well here in Vegas.

"The key to making this concept work was to take this property here in the foothills and then let Jack pick holes from his other courses that he had built in similar topography. Nicklaus got permission from the various courses to allow golf holes to be recreated here, and he then worked to scale those holes into this landscape so that the same shot values would exist between the original hole and the replicated one," explained Director of Golf Pat Mastandre.

Nicklaus chose holes from such venerable designs as Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona Castle Pines in Colorado, Palmilla Golf Club in Los Cabos, Mexico and PGA West in Palm Springs, California to formulate this dream 18 into the western desert. A second Bear's Best will open in Atlanta this fall using holes from Jack's Southeastern influenced courses. This terrain dictated Jack's sweeping holes that are flavored with huge flanking bunkers and shows how he has become a true master at creating undulations that make golf holes fun rather than impossible.

The course plays from 5,043 yards from the front red tees and is a hefty 7,194 yards all the way back. The blue tees gives a player plenty of golf course and at 6,628 yards, presents the perfect challenge for good players.

From the clubhouse you really can't see any of the course, so as you swing down the path to the first tee, the view of the huge lake running along the left side of the hole is a surprise. This hole is a copy of the 6th hole at the PGA West Private Course and the palm trees dotting the island in the lake and framing the back of the green just put you into the Palm Springs feel. This intimidating looking hole shows how Jack uses the contrasts of grass and water to make a hole look tougher than it really is. It also gets you into the most important aspect of Jack's designs; the premium on the approach shot.

The front-nine topography is not spectacular and Jack obviously chose holes that feature creative shaping and bunkers complexes to add pizzazz to setting. The par 3 4th hole, a replica of the 7th hole at the Old Works Golf Club in Anaconda, Montana, is a visual treat with a huge black sand bunker contrasting against the undulating green. The 5th and 6th holes are also great examples of how Jack has the flair to create something out of nothing, as the islands of green fairway seem suspended over the desert terrain.

The back nine climbs into the foothills more and the added movement puts even more drama into Jack's golf holes. The 10th hole is another replication from PGA West and is noteworthy with its raised fairway split by a long, deep bunker that teases with your thoughts while you are on the tee. The 12th hole is a par 5 from Bear Creek Country Club in Murrieta, California that works well with the large mountain backdrop. Here, large undulations affect your stance and depth perception forcing you to just trust your judgment. Again, it is Jack's way of making you hit your best shots in order to score, rather than tricking you into hitting it somewhere that you shouldn't.

You get the feeling that Jack takes pride in the work he did at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale as 4 holes are replicated here and he uses three of them in the finishing stretch. The 17th hole is a copy of the par 5 9th hole at Desert Mountain and is reachable in two.

For the closer Jack chose the 18th hole from the PGA West Resort course. This is a tough par 4 which blends water, sand, and grass together like an all-terrain spectrum to create a visually inviting and intimidating scene. The yardage book says it all about Jack's designs. It suggests that you "be precise on your approach." That is the Nicklaus concept in a nutshell.

"We built this course with the knowledge that we would bring many corporate groups here to play. While the course is a visual treat, it is also very playable. I think that anyone who plays this course will develop a new appreciation for Jack's design work. The way that all of these golf holes come together help to make this a very memorable golf course," Mastandre said.

I couldn't agree more. If you are in Vegas and want to enjoy the works of a legend, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to Bear's Best.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment