17th green and fairway

Black Bear comes out of hibernation

by Arnie Hamel

Are you like me? Do your shots find water when there didn't seem to be any danger? Are your rare birdies almost always followed immediately by a snowman? Could your short game be any worse?

Well, if you're at all like me you look for the things about golf other than your double and triple bogies for golfing satisfaction. Rather than trying to feel good about carding a 97, isn't it better to have enjoyed the nice scenery? Instead of puffing out your chest over your three pars on the day, you're happier that the course wasn't crowded and you were with your friends.

The obvious benefit of such a philosophy is that you become a more laid back golfer who doesn't mind if the course is less than immaculate. The better you get at golf, the more demands you (might) have of a course, and the pickier you become about the quality of the sand traps, the condition of the tee boxes and the swankiness of the club house.

So if you're a scratch golfer, I would say don't play Black Bear Golf Course in Backus. The greens, tee boxes and traps probably won't meet your lofty standards. Plus, imagine the shame and embarrassment if, by chance, one of your golfing fraternity brothers would find out that you played a course that cost less than $50!

14th fairway

But if you're anything like the laid back golfer described previously, then by all means check out Black Bear - course designer and owner Calvin Bristow's newest creation. The new (June 2001) back nine is now open and definitely has the potential to be nice enough for elite golfers to play someday. Lengthy holes dart through hilly terrain, with water hazards looming on several holes. Golfers can look forward to having to make plenty of different types of shots: A steep approach shot over water on number 11; a tricky downhill par 3 at the 12th; a par four at 13 from an elevated tee box.

Fairways are wide and the mostly-flat greens are very small, making the par fours on the back a fun challenge to reach in two. The course finishes strongly with scenic par fours at 16 and 17 and a 475-yard par five concluding hole, with cornfield dead right.

The front nine - opened a few years ago - has its moments, particularly the massive par five 532-yard fourth hole, with an up-and-down-and-up final 250 yards that makes reaching in two basically impossible. The fourth hole features a huge green, the first third of which is part of the hill and is guaranteed to not hold an approach shot.

Just like the new back, the older front has a nice trio of finishing holes. The seventh is a beautiful, nearly unfair 434-yard par four with a sloping fairway leading down to a big pond. Your tee shot has to be almost perfect in order to have a decent second shot. A par on this hole would make a scratch golfer proud.

Number eight is a 400-yard hole with water coming into play only if your tee shot is pure macho. The approach is to an extremely long and skinny green, making a birdie putt something of a rarity. The ninth is an uphill par three measuring 203 yards that starts in a woodsy valley with water, then opens up to a wide fairway and ends with a sloping green that will test your current level of putting skill.

While the back nine is in good shape for a new course, the old front nine greens suffered heavily this year from what Bristow described as "snow mold". Bristow, who also designed the Pine River Golf Course in 1977 and Ridgewood G.C. in nearby Longville, is slowly working the severely damaged greens back into shape.

The USGA recently paid a visit to Black Bear and confirmed a 6100-yard course with a 69.4 rating and a 113 slope. Greens fees are $14 for nine holes and $20 for 18 holes -- $36 with cart.

Of course these numbers will do nothing to impress the golf snobs, but while they're paying $50-100 per round, less-demanding players can have their fun and scenic beauty at Black Bear.

Black Bear Golf Course
Route #2, Box 93
Backus, MN 56435
(218) 587-8800