There is a 150-foot elevation drop on No. 4 and another 100-foot plunge on No. 16.
In all, the differential from the lowest point on the golf course to the highest is 700 feet.
Here’s roughly how that adds up: 150 + 100 + 700 = 18 appealing holes, with countless spectacular views of Lake Chelan and distant snow-capped mountains.
The track is as good as the scenery. It’s cart-only, which reduces the leg work required to navigate the ups and downs primarily found on the front side.
“I don’t know of a golf course that has more stunning views than this course,” pro Von Smith said. “You’re always looking at the Cascade Mountains and at Lake Chelan. The other comment we hear is, ‘Wow, when do we get a level lie?’ That’s after they come off the front nine. The back nine is built much more on plateaus that they used to farm wheat.”
The 13-year-old course is aptly named, nestled among slopes and vistas on Bear Mountain that provided a unique canvas for the layout.
“One of the original owners, Jerry Scofield, along with current owner Don Barth, wanted a natural course that fit the terrain instead of the terrain fitting a certain design,” Smith said. “That’s why on the front side you have some side-hills and a couple of blind shots. They moved very little dirt.”
We took on Bear Mountain and Mother Nature in late April. There was a wind advisory with steady 20-25 mph breezes and gusts in the 30s. It was usually a two-clubber, adding another layer into pre-shot calculations along with factoring in subtle or obvious elevation changes.
“That’s very unusual,” Smith said. “A lot of times if the wind comes from the southwest there will be whitecaps on the lake and we’ll have no wind because it hits the backside of Bear Mountain and gets lifted over the course.”
One of the aforementioned blind shots comes on your first swing. The fairway landing area isn’t visible from the No. 1 tee box but it’s down there. It’s fairly wide and it doesn’t require using a driver on the 327-yard hole. Your first picturesque view of the eastern edge of narrow, 50.5-mile-long Lake Chelan comes on the elevated green.
Players can try to overpower some holes, beginning with Nos. 1 and 2 and a few of the par 5s, particularly from the white tees. Some of the par 4s are reachable or close to it, but the penalty for wayward drives can be hitting a provisional.
On No. 2, for example, a long drive can leave an awkward length pitch of 40-60 yards.
“That fairway is a little more narrow than some of the others,” Smith said. “Overall the fairways are of decent width where people can hit driver and still have room.”
The visual treats continue on Nos. 3 and 4. The third is a downhill, 142-yard par 3, and the fourth is 411 yards but plays much shorter due to the dramatic drop from the tee box. Both holes feature a backdrop of Lake Chelan and the town of Chelan.
A series of mostly downhill holes concludes with No. 7, which mirrors No. 3 right down to the view of the lake except its 20 yards longer. The par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth steer back uphill.
Four deer sauntered across the 10th fairway. Chances are you’re going to see wildlife, usually deer, at Bear Mountain. There is an occasional coyote or turkey, and rare sightings of bears and cougars. That doesn’t include Gracie the grouse, who helps Smith park cars in the morning.
“The thing that amazes me is I’ve been in the valley 40 years, town is five minutes away, but when you get up here it’s like you’re up in the wilderness,” said Smith, who has seen a cougar twice in 13 years. “It’s quiet up here.”
The 10th and 16th have a shared green. The par-3 11th might be the flattest hole on the course. The par-4 13th measures 282 yards, and it wasn’t clear if that was the distance of the uphill climb. It requires two well-placed shots to find the elevated green.
The camera phone gets a workout with the panoramic view from the 16th tee box.
The 15th is a quality, 405-yard par 4. No. 17 is just 158 yards but aim for the left half of the green to deal with the sloping green.
Both back-side par 5s are gems. The 14th has OB left and water right. The 18th is reachable with two long, straight shots, but the latter must clear a ravine guarding the front of the green.
“There’s lots of room to the left on 14 to hit driver and if you get it down there now you have a great risk-reward shot,” Smith said. “You have to be a big hitter from the blues to reach 18 or you’ll have to worry about the creek. It’s probably one of the best par-5 finishing holes anywhere.”