Bear's Best - Nicklaus's Greatest Hits Act Performing In Las Vegas

By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Photos By Jeffrey A. Rendall


Bear's Best's Website

LAS VEGAS, NV – Compilations. We see ‘em in all walks of life.  A compilation of great songs makes an anthology; a compilation of scenes (or acts) is a movie or a play; and a compilation of chapters adds up to a book.  There’s something about combining parts to make a whole that just seems natural.


That’s true even in the world of golf, and no place better demonstrates it than Bear’s Best in Las Vegas, Nevada.  It can be said of almost any golf course that its eighteen holes were meant to go together -- after all, they occupy the same piece of land, were designed (usually) by the same designer and a cart path or walking trail connects the greens and tees.


The 413 yard, par four 1st hole is one of two on the entire course with water. From PGA West - Private.

But what happens when you combine eighteen different holes from several different locations?  Impossible, right?


Hardly.  That’s exactly what they’ve done at Bear’s Best, which is a compilation of eighteen of designer Jack Nicklaus’s memorable holes from the western part of the North American continent.  You could say Bear’s Best is about as close to a ‘greatest hits’ album as you’ll get in golf, and each one plays its own special tune.


Adam Owen, Bear’s Best’s Operations Manager, says the idea was inspired by ClubCorp, which owns the facility (and also the course in Atlanta, by the same name):  “ClubCorp owns and operates a few Nicklaus properties, and they’ve got a pretty good working relationship with Jack – so they came up with an idea of creating, almost like a Tour 18, a collection of his best holes.  But instead of having the holes be merely ‘inspired’ by the originals… they wanted to completely replicate each golf hole, right down to the finest details.”


In contrast, music producers have it much easier – they can pick all of the band’s best selling singles, or merely ask the band what they want to compile, then string the songs together electronically, get the label to release it, and voila, instant record sales.

From the tee of the 507 yard, par five 12th hole, it looks like you're headed straight for the sky. From Bear Creek CC in Murrieta, CA.


It’s not that simple when you’re trying to fit eighteen original golf holes on land that wasn’t ‘designed’ for it.  And it’s not like you can just pick up a big piece of earth and transport it somewhere else.


Owen says that didn’t deter them – they went the extra mile, or inches, you might say:  “The holes you see out here are exact replications of the originals, right down to the architect’s blueprints and field modifications.  They used GPS (global positioning satellite) technology to map the entire golf course to ensure that, if there’s a 3-foot berm on the right hand side of the fairway in its original setting, it’s got a 3-foot berm on the right hand side here in Las Vegas.”


Difficult, yes, but even then it doesn’t sound impossible, if you’ve got some big earth movers and the original drawings.  If Richard Dreyfuss could construct Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes (in Close Encounters), then as long as you’ve got the drawings, you should be able to sculpt just about anything out of the earth.  Right?


Put it in between the bunkers on the par four 5th hole -- you don't want to be in the waste area on the left, trust me. From El Dorado Resort in Cabo Real, Mexico.

Again, easier said than done.  Owen says just having the drawings wasn’t nearly enough:  “Building a golf course is more than just blueprints – Jack and his team will make modifications in the field that are never written down.  If he didn’t like the way a hole looks when it’s roughed out in the dirt, he’ll make a ‘field modification,’ by drawing it in paint on the ground, and verbally instruct the crew on what to do.  And instead of going back and making the change on the blueprints, they’ll just change it at the site and leave it at that – to go back and modify the original drawings every time would be too costly and time consuming.”


Owen continues, “Then once they go to the final grade, they’ll return to look at the recommended changes, approve it, or make other modifications – again, they don’t get it down on paper.  So we sent Jack’s people around to actually blueprint the finished golf hole at each location, draw in the field modifications and take photographs.  We then built off those new spec sheets.  As a result, our golf course is like the original site, right down to a few inches.”


Now that’s what you call a cover song.  Musicians can copy almost any song they desire and change it all the want, as long as they pay the rights fee to the songwriter.  But Bear’s Best didn’t settle for something that merely ‘looked’ like the real thing.


The quality shows.  Bear’s Best may feature holes that in reality are hundreds if not thousands of miles apart and occupy different types of terrain – but the layout flows as if each hole was meant to be there.  Pretty remarkable that you won’t notice an interruption in the way the course ‘flows.’

Gaze at the Las Vegas skyline from the tee of the 230 yard, par three 15th hole -- but don't forget to concentrate on the shot. From Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona.


“You’ve seen other ‘replication’ golf courses, and it’s almost like a hodgepodge of different holes in different settings.  This course, from the time you tee off until the time you finish – you can definitely see and feel some differences, but if you were just to play the eighteen holes as a complete golf course – it’s a darn good layout and flows like a normal eighteen holes would flow,” added Owen.


Not to be overlooked is the fact that very few people will ever get the chance to play these particular golf creations (Jack’s favorites) – because of geographic challenges, but also because a good share of them are found in private clubs.


“It’s a way that, if you were to sell our property (as far as sales and marketing), you can say players have the ability, not only to play several different Jack Nicklaus golf courses and get a taste of ‘em of all – but you’re also playing a combination of public and private courses.  So here you have an opportunity to try some golf holes that no one else (other than members & guests) can,” Owen said.


You can't see it from the tee view, but the green of the par four 3rd hole is quite treacherous. From Desert Highlands in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Bear’s Best is a fine golf course, and the holes fit the environment very well.  Owen said they selected holes that wouldn’t be a stretch to place in the Las Vegas desert/southwest environment – so nothing looks out of place.


And just as you’ll find at the ‘real’ Nicklaus courses, you’ll have some pretty tough but fair challenges.  While the entire course only features 90 acres of turf grass, the fairways are resort course wide.  If you hit in the desert, however, reload – it’s a rocky proposition to play the ball ‘outside the lines,’ even if you do find your ball.


Where the Bear ‘bites’ you is on and around the greens.  Owen elaborates:  “People don’t realize it, but we sit a thousand feet above the center of the city of Las Vegas.  Everything, even if it looks flat – everything breaks towards the city.  Players have commented that some putts almost look like they break uphill – but geographically, it’s downhill to the city, and will break that way.”


Breaking putts are one thing.  What’s really the stickler is the speed of those greens.  We played in late November as the bentgrass was just maturing, so those putting surfaces were skating rink slick.  Owen says they’re that way year-round.  Quite simply, the fastest putting surfaces we’ve ever seen.

The short par three (151 yards) 13th hole is devilishly tricky. From La Paloma in Tucson, Arizona.


“There aren’t a lot of places you can go where they could hold a Tour event twelve months a year.  We actually have to raise the height of our mower’s cut because the greens get so quick – we’ll raise the cut and they’ll still stimp at 11 ˝ or 12 after the adjustments,” Owen proudly proclaimed.


Listen to your caddy on your approach shots – this is one course where being above the hole can mean three putts at best.




More beautiful mountain views on the par three 7th hole. From Las Campanas in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In addition to the unique course concept at Bear’s Best, the club features a forecaddie program to add to the experience.  Again, Owen expounds:  “There are lots of golf courses in Las Vegas that I, as a golf professional -- it wouldn’t be very hard to navigate on my own.  We’re fortunate that Jack, as an architect, doesn’t put in design features that will trick you standing on the tee box – other designers are a bit more mystical in their approach, and it can be confusing.”


He continues, “Ours isn’t confusing, but there are definitely subtleties on the course that require some local knowledge – a good example is reading the greens.  So we take our service a bit farther than most and have incorporated a forecaddie program, someone to help you navigate around the layout.  It’s a custom service so that, if it’s your first time around the layout or your thirtieth, you’ll have some expert advice on course management.”


It’s more than management and lower scores, it’s reviving a ‘lost art.’


“The caddies give you yardages, help with club selection, fix ball marks, replace divots, rake bunkers – it’s a special service that’s probably not found elsewhere, except for some very exclusive private clubs.  He’s also there to ensure pace of play and to make sure the experience is memorable for each member of your playing group.  We wanted to bring the ultimate in customer service to Bear’s Best, to go along with a terrific layout and outstanding playing conditions,” Owen said.

There are two fairway options on the par four 10th hole. Just don't choose the bunker in the middle. From PGA West - Private.


With a layout and setting such as this, it’d be hard for it not to be memorable.  Hole highlights include the fourth hole, a 229 yard par three from the Old Works Golf Club in Anaconda, Montana.  The hole plays downhill, to a pretty severely sloping green.  But what you’ll recall from the hole is the black sand bunkers that surround the green, just like the original.


The fifth hole, from the El Dorado Resort in Cabo Real, Mexico (438 yard, uphill par four), features a waste bunker down the entire left side of the hole.  Set against the backdrop of the mountains, the second shot’s uphill to another very difficult green.  This time, if you’re above the hole, you’ll have a hard time keeping the ball on the putting surface, let alone get it close to the hole.


On the back, you’ll definitely remember the tenth hole (411 yard par four).  From the Nicklaus private course at PGA West, you’re presented from the tee with an ‘oversize’ fairway – but there’s a large fairway bunker that splits it.  I thought if I aimed at the bunker I’d end up on either side.  Wrong.  This green’s another Nicklaus classic, sloped severely from back to front.


Black sand in the Nevada desert -- the par three 4th hole. From Old Works Golf Club in Anaconda, Montana.

The 151 yard, par three thirteenth hole is one of the best short one-shotters I’ve seen.  Protected by bunkers in front, if you’re past about the middle of the green with your tee shot, you’ll roll into a grassy hollow where it’s a very difficult up and down.  You’ve got a short iron in your hands on the tee, and par’s still a very good score here.


Like all of the better public-access layouts in Las Vegas, you’ll pay good money for the privilege of playing Bear’s Best.  That being said, you’ll get an experience there you won’t at the others, with the forecaddie program in place.  And where else can you find several different Jack Nicklaus golf courses, combined into one?  Here’s one greatest hits compilation you’ll not soon forget.


Note:  Many thanks to caddy Lee Cupick for showing us a good time.


Bear’s Best (Las Vegas)

11111 W. Flamingo Road

Las Vegas, NV  89135


Phone:  (702) 804-8500; Toll Free:  (866) 385-8500

FAX:  (702) 804-1127




Course Designer:  Jack Nicklaus

Operations Manager:  Adam Owen

Caddy Extraordinaire:  Lee Cupick



Gold    7194   147/74.0

Blue    6628   130/71.3

White  6043   122/68.3

Red     5043   116/68.7




Vary depending on the season, from $125 to $245.  High season:  $195 M-Th, $245 Fri-Sun. 


The forecaddie fee is built into the greens fee (which covers everything, including range privileges and cart fees as well), one forecaddie per foursome.  Suggested caddy gratuity is $25 - $30 per player.

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