Average golfers will feel at home on the range and course at the Bear Creek Golf Complex in Chandler, Arizona
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Do you know the best way to tell an elite, top-100 golf course from a place where novice golfers will feel comfortable?
That's right. Range balls.
At the country's best golf courses, the range balls are bright white and arranged in the shape of a pyramid. At places like the Bear Creek Golf Complex in Chandler, the range balls are yellow and players need a bucket to retrieve them from the dispenser.
See the pyramid, and you know you're about to play a high-end course that has popped up on somebody's best of list. Play Bear Creek, and you know you're about to play a round of golf that won't tax your wallet or your scorecard.
"The owners designed the course to be fun, affordable golf for players of all ages," said Jeff Huseman, general manager at Bear Creek.
The owners succeeded.
Bear Creek, which opened in 2000 and was designed by the Jack Nicklaus Group, is actually two courses: The Bear Course is a 6,825-yard par 71, and the Cub Course is a 3,552-yard par-59 executive that features five par 4s and 13 par 3s.
The two layouts have one thing in common: They are meant to be enjoyed by families, juniors, seniors and golfers trying the sport for the first time. The courses are relatively flat, there's little trouble, the fairways are wide and the greens are receptive to both high shots and bump-and-run shots.
Low-handicap golfers more than likely would scoff at Bear Creek's minimalism. But the complex isn't designed to impress. It's an open invitation.
"We've never used the word muni but depending on your definition of a muni, it's probably a fair fit," Huseman said. "We've tried to structure the maintenance of the course such that people aren't overly penalized. It helps facilitate the pace of play."
The prices also reflect the purposeful simplicity of Bear Creek. In peak season, an 18-hole round will cost no more than $65, while tee times on the Cub Course range from $20 to $32. Even better, Huseman said the course offers drastically reduced rates on GolfNow.com for tee times that are still open the day of play.
What will golfers get for that low price? Well, the Bear Course is technically a links course, but links courses generally come with high grasses, numerous bunkers and, of course, a seaside. There's no seaside along the Bear, there's only about 30 bunkers stretched over the 18 holes and the native grasses along the fairways were eradicated to improve the pace of play.
The 16th hole typifies how relatively simple it is to play the Bear Course. From the tips, it's a 299-yard par 4, but unlike a lot of short par 4s that are consumed by bunkers and demand some strategic thinking, there's only a small bunker complex staring at golfers off the tee, and it's placed far enough from the green that even the average player can just grip it and rip it without fearing severe consequences.
"If you move the bunker complex up to the greens it might be a better placement," Huseman said. "It would challenge bigger hitters. But we're not the most difficult course. That's just who we are."
The best bet -- and biggest secret -- at the Bear Creek complex might be the Cub Course. The 14 par 3s range from 75 to 209 yards, and golfers can get around the 18 holes in about 2 ½ hours.
"You'll use every club in your bag on the Cub Course instead of maybe just several of them on the Bear Course," Huseman said. "People who know Bear Creek very well like playing the Cub, and more accomplished players enjoy playing it too if they're time-pressed or want to work on their short game."
Huseman said the Cub Course is particularly popular with families -- on Sundays juniors play for free with a paying adult -- and seniors.
"Some of our older customers who have maybe played the Bear since it opened have migrated over to the Cub because they're still interested in the game and still want to enjoy the game," Huseman said. "I think there's a lot to be said for those kinds of courses."
Bear Creek Golf Complex: The verdict
There's still a place amid golf's technology boom and challenging layouts for golf courses that are easy to play and don't cost a fortune. Bear Creek delivers on both counts. Neither the Bear Course nor the Cub Course has holes or views that stay with you for a lifetime, but if enjoying 18 holes with your buddies or family is the goal, Bear Creek is for you.