Course Review: Bear Creek Golf Club

My insane week of great private club golf continued yesterday as I was able to check another new local course off the list: Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta.

This is the busiest time of year for the SCGA, with many member outings in May and June. I’ve been signing up for as many as I can since I have flexibility in my schedule right now. We had a smaller group for Bear Creek, so they had us slotted for regular tee times starting at 11:00. I was in the second-to-last group at 11:48, but we actually went off a little early. It was a nice relaxed pace with nobody pushing from behind. We had to wait on the group ahead a number of times, but it was never too bad.

I have to say that I am officially sick of this weird May weather we’re having in Southern California. It sucks being in the midst of getting to play a number of really nice courses, but the sun barely peeks out a few times during each round. My pictures are not coming out well and it’s been cold, gloomy and windy while playing, so it is marring these wonderful experiences a bit for me.

I know that makes me sound a little whiny and spoiled because I should just be grateful to have the opportunity to play some of these courses that aren’t generally accessible to the public. Still, I just wouldn’t mind a little bit of spring sunshine!

Anyway, despite the weather I still enjoyed myself plenty at Bear Creek. I must say the course was different than I imagined. Having played everything else in the Temecula/Murrieta area, there’s a certain style of golf course I’m used to. I really like just about everything around here, especially CrossCreek, RedHawk, Journey at Pechanga and Temecula Creek Inn. All of them are rather hilly and dramatic against the distinctive rugged boulder-filled hillsides of Temecula. 

When I looked at Bear Creek’s location on the map, right against the hills, I expected some more dramatic changes in elevation. There really isn’t anything major here. The front nine gently goes up and then back down a gradual slope, with the par-4 5th hole’s approach shot providing the most significant downhill shot on the course.

The front nine here meanders out and back through some amazingly big and beautiful homes and a ton of neat old oak trees. A small creek runs across several fairways, as well. Though the changes in elevation aren’t very severe, there’s also not a lot of flat lies and there are some narrow angles with those trees in play. The back nine opens up a lot and is more of a links style. Some water hazards come into play and the bunkering gets much more dramatic. Many of the bunkers on this side are huge and some of them feature super deep rough lining the edges for a rugged look. 

Then, there are a handful of holes on the back where they moved a lot of earth to create unique shelves of rough leading up to and around the greens. They don’t really serve much purpose, but they look cool. Looking at some of these holes, you are reminded of Pete Dye design aesthetics, but this is a Jack Nicklaus signature course. His course at PGA West also has some of these elements, so it’s a style I’ve seen him utilize before, as well.

Where this course is clearly Nicklaus is on the greens. He is known for making very difficult greens with tons of undulation. I think Bear Creek may feature the most extreme Nicklaus greens I’ve ever played personally. They are insane. Most of them are massive complexes with all sorts of funky shapes. There are big shelves, humps, bumps and false edges. It’s a real adventure. 

The most notable green can be found on the par-4 7th hole. It is a giant U-shaped complex wrapping around a deep bunker in the middle. The hole was cut on the far right front of the green yesterday, which rendered at least the whole left half useless and would absolutely require a delicate chip if you were on that side. Luckily nobody in our group had to deal with it.

Our group did gripe and grumble about the greens all day, joking about windmills and mechanical alligator mouths that should be added. Some of these green complexes are downright wacky. At the same time, I think that was a big part of the fun throughout the round. People love to hate Nicklaus greens and a lot of players will really despise the greens at Bear Creek, but I couldn’t help but kind of enjoy myself on them. They are frustrating and will impact your score, but they are also quite fun, challenging and anything but boring. I wouldn’t want to play these every day, though (have at it, members). 

The course was in good condition overall. The tee boxes had excellent turf that was beautifully maintained, but a few of the blues yesterday were positioned on unlevel sections. The fairways were playing firm and fast with lots of roll-out. There were some brown and thinnish spots, but the lies were generally very good to hit from. The rough was pretty nice throughout. It was mostly cut down, but the grass was just sticky enough to make you work. Then, there are some sections of super deep stuff around certain bunkers and the outer edges of a few holes. That is definitely to be avoided. I wasn’t in any greenside bunkers, but they looked decent. I was in one fairway trap and it was good. The greens were very nice. They were soft and receptive, and rolling true at medium speeds. There were a few bumpy spots here and there from old ball marks and a some greens still looked to be recovering from their aeration, but generally I thought they played great.

Overall, I thought Bear Creek was a really good course and the conditions were well above average. The setting is pretty, the community is very nice and the layout is interesting and challenging. The crazy greens will turn off some people (think RedHawk, but maybe even more dastardly), but it’s still a course well worth checking out if you have the chance. It is under new ownership and there are rumblings that it may go public at some point. If it does, it will be a worthy addition to the great Temecula area rotation.

Some pictures from Bear Creek Golf Club (5/25/16):

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