Back in mid-March, my family and I went to Las Vegas during what was then my spring break. Naturally, I saw this as an opportunity to play a type of golf course that we just don’t see here in the Northeast. So my uncle and I searched for courses to play near the strip and we settled on Bear’s Best Las Vegas. Comprised of 18 of Jack Nicklaus’s favorite holes from around the world (mostly the United States) that he himself played a role in developing, this seemed like a unique course and judging by the photos the views weren’t too bad either.
When you first walk in to the clubhouse, you are surrounded by memorabilia from the Golden Bear’s career. Clubs, golf balls, signed photos, flags, hats, you name it and they seemed to have it right there on display in the main area. It feels like Jack’s own personal trophy room and it’s an awesome way to get your day of golf started. Then you make your way out onto the practice area and immediately you get a view of the mountains, giving you a taste of what’s to come. My uncle and I got there well ahead of our tee time to take advantage of the practice facilities, which included a large practice green, a large grass driving range and a separate chipping and pitching green. This was probably the largest practice green that I’ve ever seen at a course in person and it rolled true to what we encountered out on the course.
Right from the first tee, you are faced with an intimidating tee shot with water all along the left side and a fairway that continues to get narrower the farther you try to hit it. The starter warned that we shouldn’t hit driver here, but of course I wasn’t about to layup in Las Vegas. Turned out that he was right and I hit my tee shot into the desert sand to the right of the fairway. You’re then left with a two-tiered green with a trio of bunkers guarding the front-side. Definitely not the easiest start to a round of golf I’ve had. This was a common theme throughout the day. Difficult shots all around, but also very fair. Good shots were rewarded and bad shots were punished. There weren’t many tricks on the course that added an unnecessary amount of difficulty.
The conditions on the course were fantastic. The fairways were in great shape, the tee boxes well-maintained and the greens rolled firm, fast and true. The course was a blast to play, with each hole offering an unique challenge and making you think carefully on how to best play the hole. The hazards were well placed and the areas of desert only came into play on severely offline shots (I won’t disclose how many times I played a shot from one).
I’m really stretching here to say something bad about Bear’s Best, but if I had to point out one thing it would be the condition of a few of the bunkers. On a few holes the bunkers seemed to be a little lacking in sand and they had stones and rocks scattered throughout. Being in the desert, I guess that would make sense that the sand could be a little rough, but since not all the bunkers were like this I think that these bunkers might have been overlooked or neglected a bit. This made hitting solid bunker shots that much tougher from already arduous positions around the green complexes.
This par-3 wasn’t too unique, except for the fact that all around the green were bunkers filled with black sand. That isn’t pavement you see in the picture above, it’s a fine-grained sand that was taken from the course the hole is based off of in Anaconda, Montana. It was very unusual to look at from the tee and it made an otherwise standard par-3 interesting to play. You are also greeted with a view of the strip and the extravagant houses from the tee and it makes for a nice backdrop to play your shot off of. My uncle also made about a 50ft birdie putt from off the green here, which was memorable since red numbers were hard to come by that day.
The par-4 8th hole stood out to me because of it’s severely sloped green and also the view of the houses along the fairway and beyond the green. The houses almost seem too close, which makes you a little nervous on the tee that you might put one in somebody’s backyard, but there is more room than meets the eye. A tee shot to the right side of the fairway leaves you with a good angle in to the green, as you can see above, but the pin placement on this particular day was brutal. Go long and your putting back towards the down slope, with little room for error behind the hole. Go short and your ball will roll back off the green. There is also a significant right to left slope to the green that can either funnel your shot towards, or away from the pin. There’s a lot to take into account on this shot and it makes for a fun challenge.
The long par-3 15th plays about 230 yards from the back tees, but from where we played it was was around 210 yards long. Still, this was a beast of a par-3, not so much because of the length, but because of where the pin was placed. The play here is to hit a draw that lands in the middle of the green and then uses the slope of the green to continue feeding towards the pin. However, if you overdraw your tee shot into the bunker short left like I did, then getting your next shot anywhere close to the pin is a challenge.
The second to last hole at Bear’s Best Las Vegas is a medium-length par-4 with a wide fairway, but well protected green with large bunkers framing the hole. The mountains right behind this hole, along with the rolling contours of the fairway and green complex make this hole stick out from the rest. It also helps that I hit my approach to about ten feet from 160 yards out and made the putt for my only birdie of the day. A good way to end the round for sure.
The finishing hole at Bear’s Best Las Vegas is one of the best finishing holes I’ve played on any course. It is a long par-4 that doglegs to the right, with sand and water all along the right side. For a shorter hitter like me, I had to take on the right side of the fairway to be able to reach the green in two without hitting 3-wood. I failed. Although I made a mess of the hole, I will never forget the views we had as the sun was setting as we finished our round, with the shadows casting on the mountains and on the course. It was the most fun I’ve ever had making an 8 on a hole. Check out some of the pictures from the 18th hole in the carousel above.
Bear’s Best met my lofty expectations and then some. I was eagerly anticipating this round for weeks in advance and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The views alone were worth the price of admission ($129 for 18 and a cart) and the golf course itself was just as good. Bear’s Best had two of the best finishing holes that I’ve played anywhere and they provide a fitting end to a fantastic day of golf. For more information you can check out the link below and visit the course’s website, where you can even get a hole by hole overview narrated by the Golden Bear himself. It’s a neat way to prepare for your round. If you’re ever visiting Las Vegas and are looking for a place to play golf, Bear’s Best should definitely be at the top of your list.
Bear’s Best Las Vegas Website