Black Bear Golf Course Review
Black Bear Golf Course
Teachers’ Comments: Poor conditions, annoying design.
For years, I’ve driven up US 75 past Black Bear Golf Course on the way to Indian River and back to Ann Arbor. And for years, I’ve gazed at the holes visible from the highway and thought: One day I’d like play there.
This was the year.
I was disappointed. Conditions were poor and the course design was infuriating. Black Bear certainly is not the “Up North” resort/vacation course I thought it would be.
Weather conditions have not been great anywhere this summer, but Black Bear had some of the worst fairways and greens I have yet seen. There were immense dead spots in the fairways, and several of the greens looked as though they had been vandalized (I’m kicking myself now for not getting photos) with curious gashes. Unrepaired ball marks were everywhere.
The course also had a trash problem. I saw a lot of it blowing about—napkins, hot dog boats, empty bottles, cigarette butts. Black Bear desperately needed Rangers to speed up the play and clean up the place a bit.
Black Bear’s course design was for me a bigger issue, though. By my count, there are twelve blind or partially blind tee shots on the course. By “blind,” I mean that you either couldn’t see either the landing zone or the hole. There were even two par 3s where the greens were mostly obscured from the tee boxes.
The first is a good example. I couldn’t see the hole from the tee, but did see the 150 mark and a landing zone. I hit to that with an iron, but from that spot, all I could see was the very top of a long flag pole. I drove ahead to the crest, but still had trouble discering the depth of the green. So I just hit and prayed.
I was lucky to have been paired with a guy who had played the couse several times before (and who professed to love it). He steered me through the confusing maze of aiming points: “aim at the top of that hill” or “aim at that tree.”
A couple of blind shots is fine as far as I’m concerned. Twelve is about ten too many.
Course management apparently knows the blind shots are an issue because several of the holes have extra long white aiming poles in the fairway, and the flags are extra tall. Those, however, are stopgap solutions to a problem that should have been corrected on the drawing board.
The par five seventh for me actually had three blind or semi blind shots. No one can see the fairway from the tee. Further, I couldn’t really see the landing zone for my second shot, and at least part of the green was obscured for my third. My playing partner noted the same thing. In fact, we both accidentally hit into the group ahead of us on our second shots because they were hidden behind a swale.
Neither of us was in any trouble on these shots, either. We played right down the middle of the fairway.
Another design issue for me is that the holes did not flow naturally one from the other. To reach several required long drives down vacant residential streets, while reaching others involved driving past several intervening holes.
What I think happened here is that the course was initially intended as a golf-residential community. That explains the streets without houses. It also explains the sometimes awkward routing. The architect had to account for the planned homes (which haven’t materialized).
There were some positives:
An interesting feature of the course is the presence of a 19th hole—a par 3. On the day I played, it served as a warm-up hole. Play the par 3, then drive across the course’s (and the planned community’s) entrance drive to the par 4 first. Nice idea, and it worked on the relatively uncrowded day that I played. I wonder what kind of course traffic problems it creates on busy days as groups pile up to start on a par 3 and others drive around it to get to the “real” first tee.
The course’s look is a mix of pseudo-links and parkland. It’s actually quite pretty, especially with views of the Pigeon River valley from the heights. Most of the holes are cut through, around and over sandy dunes. A few on the exterior edges are cut through thin forest. Tall grasses and scrub line the fairways, though those were sparse, thanks to the dry weather.
Another positive is that I played well. Black Bear has (what I consider) correctly spaced tees, and on the par 4s, I usually had a scoring club in my hand on the second shot. I solved most of the par 5s with a driver and a couple of mid-irons. While I wouldn’t describe Black Bear as easy because of the blind shots, a thinking golfer should be able to navigate the track in good order.
But I’ll plead again for the course to get some rangers to move thing along. The several groups ahead of us were the poster children for the PGA of America’s Tee It Forward initiative. If one of the four got fifty yards past the red tees on any given hole, it was a miracle. The fools were playing from the tips and didn’t have the distance for the senior tees.
Finally, there’s the price. The course’s standard summer rate is $49 with cart, and $25 for a replay. That’s too much. BUT … it apparently is not hard to find coupons and other deals for the course. I actually played with a Group Golfer coupon—play all day for $39 with a bucket of range balls and a hot dog lunch (I played twice). My partner said that he never pays more than $35 with a $15 replay, so apparently there are other deals out there.
Still, in the end, I can’t really recommend Black Bear, given the plethora of other fine courses in the area. Half an hour south are a dozen top flight courses in Gaylord. Half an hour north is the excellent Indian River Golf Club, which offer the same prices and also the option to walk. There are a dozen fine courses in the Petosky area, which is only a bit further up the road. Play only if you can get a good deal.
The Black Bear Golf Course Review was first published in September 2013 from a round played that summer. Please leave comments if you have updated information.
More Black Bear Golf Course photos follow: