At Nicklaus' terrific Bear's Best golf course near Atlanta, it's all Jack, all the time
Like it's sibling course in Las Vegas, Bear's Best outside Atlanta is no mere replica golf course - it ties 18 of Jack Nicklaus' favorite holes into a complete, and terrific, golf experience.
SUWANEE, Ga. - Quite a few upscale daily-fee golf clubs promise you a private-club experience. It's almost a marketing cliché by now.
But how many give you forecaddies?
It is a little strange to see forecaddies at a public golf course, even a high-end one like Bear's Best in Atlanta, but there they are, giving you yardage and lining up your putts.
Bear's Best already has a lot going for it. It's a Jack Nicklaus design, of course, a compilation of 18 favorite holes from his more than 200 layouts (all different from the choices at the other Bear's Best course, in Las Vegas).
And they're careful to let you know that this Bear's Best isn't just a replica course, a copycat course, an inspired-by course or whatever it is critics call such things.
"The difference is that this one stands on its own," Head Professional Ian Grimwade said. "The design theme is consistent throughout."
That it is. This is top-notch golf entertainment, a big, challenging course that winds through a neighborhood of big, million-dollar homes, none of them Jack's but all of them impressive.
Still, they take a back seat to Nicklaus' showcase.
The course rolls through some of the highest land around (the tee box at No. 16 is the second-highest point in Gwinnett County). It's exactly the Rockies, but there are some nice, misty views of the countryside around Atlanta.
The elevation gives the course its architectural and strategic energy. You'll be hitting uphill and downhill pretty much all day, and rarely off an even lie.
The course is so good as a whole that the holes' origins become secondary. Not surprisingly, there isn't a weak one in the bunch.
The long, par-5 14th, rated the hardest here, is based on No. 17 at the Governors Club in Chapel Hill, N.C. It's - excuse me - a bear, but one that can be tamed if your tee shot reaches the crest of the hill on the dogleg left.
If so your roll will easily take you into mid-iron distance to reach in two. If not, the hole earns its No. 1 handicap rating with a downhill approach to a well-guarded green, including a huge bunker just short. A lot of people will lay up because of that bunker.
Bear's Best: The verdict
The green fees are $89-$109 at Bear's Best, plus another $20-$25 for the forecaddie, and you get what you pay for - a terrific, beautifully maintained course that requires a variety of shots and will keep you engaged throughout the round.
It's a touch over 7,000 yards with a slope of 140 from the back. If you don't want to try to be Jack, move up to the more manageable blues (6,447 yards).
Bear's Best has an excellent two-acre practice facility, and the clubhouse and locker rooms are fine enough to make you think you're a blueblood - not surprising given the location in the ritzy Edinburgh development. It draws a lot of corporate play, so you won't see many cutoffs and jeans here.
Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain is a restful respite only an hour's drive from hopping Atlanta and its choking traffic. There are numerous lodging options (cottages, villas, the Mountain Creek Inn and new, fancier rooms at The Lodge) and beautiful public gardens spread out of 14,000 acres.
A luxurious spa is opening soon, and there are a ton of outdoor activities for the golfer and non-golfer alike: tennis, shooting, bicycle and nature trails and swimming in the lakes. You can fly-fish here for big bass and even trout in the winter months.
There are also workshops and informational hikes for people who want to know more about the impressive flora and fauna of the region.
There are a nearly a dozen restaurants both casual and fancy, and almost 100,000 square feet of meeting space and three big ballrooms to accommodate the extensive business traffic.
May 24, 2007