CHELAN – There are plenty of good reasons to visit the Lake Chelan area of central Washington, and golf has always been one of them.
Now, with the arrival of Bear Mountain Ranch Golf Course, there is added reason to pack your clubs for a summertime trip across the mountains.
Bear Mountain, which opened a year ago, joins a smattering of fine courses in and around Chelan. Whether vacation visitors are planning to squeeze in a round or two between other family activities or are coming solely for a few days of golf, the area offers some dandy golfing venues – among them, Orondo’s Desert Canyon Golf Resort, East Wenatchee’s Highlander Golf Club, Alta Lake Golf Course in Pateros, and even Lake Chelan Municipal Golf Course.
The addition of Bear Mountain, on a hillside overlooking downtown Chelan, is helping to make this region an even more viable golfing destination.
“A lot of golfers from Western Washington may think of going to, say, the Sunriver area (of Oregon) or maybe up to the Kelowna area (of British Columbia) because those places have so many golf courses to choose from,” said Von Smith, Bear Mountain’s head pro. “But those courses are kind of all the same and they require longer trips. Here, there are golf courses with different personalities, and if you’re based in Chelan, they’re all within about 30 minutes in any direction.”
Another option for west-siders is to plan an excursion over the mountains using an I-90/Highway 2 loop via Highway 97. That way, they can stop at Suncadia Resort outside of Cle Elum for another first-rate golfing experience.
“I think as we grow up a little bit (in Eastern Washington), we’re going to see more and more golfers coming over from west of the mountains for four or five days and playing more golf courses,” Smith said.
Designed by Don Barth (he designed the second nine holes at Alta Lake) and owner Jerry Scofield, Bear Mountain is a scenic property with a nice mix of challenging golf holes. And with five sets of tees, there is a suitable challenge for golfers of every ability. Low handicappers will get a devilish test of 7,231 yards from the championship tees, while many women, seniors and beginners will favor the forward tees, which measure 5,063 yards.
One thing you discover in a hurry at Bear Mountain is the importance of accuracy. Golfers who stick to the fairways have a good chance to score well, but those who stray will pay a heavy price. Most holes are bordered by native vegetation areas that devour wayward shots, meaning it is sometimes impossible to find – let alone play – an errant ball.
Any frustrations brought on by mounting penalty strokes should be soothed by the terrific views available at Bear Mountain. The Cascade Mountains provide a regal backdrop to the west, while lovely Lake Chelan is the primary panorama to the north.
“I like to think what we offer here at Bear Mountain Ranch is exceptional service and a golf course with views that are unmatched anywhere,” Smith said. “These are phenomenal views, and I hear that time after time from our visitors.
“We have, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, 18 truly signature holes with views,” he said.
One caution for first-time visitors. Bear Mountain has a few blind shots on the front nine, including a tricky tee shot on the opening hole (make sure you get a tip sheet and trust the advice). There is another at the No. 4 tee, though that flaw is mitigated by a terrific view of the south end of Lake Chelan and the town of Chelan itself.
Also, be prepared for lies of every angle. Very few holes are completely flat from tee to green, and in many places the terrain is sloped, meaning “golfers are going to be challenged with sidehill, uphill and downhill lies,” Smith said. “We are a true mountain-style golf course with not a lot of trees and a lot of varying terrain.”
Because winter brings snow to the Chelan area, Bear Mountain’s season typically runs from mid-March to late November. Cooler temperatures and overcast skies are common in the spring and fall, but summer generally means sunshine.
“Mornings (in the summer) are absolutely gorgeous here,” Smith said. “People can start out in the morning and it’s 65 or 70 degrees. In July and August it can get up into the 90s, but we’re also at about 2,000 feet so it’s a little cooler here than down in town. But if people want sunshine, this is the place to come.”
Between the blue of the sky and the nearby lake, the white snow capping the distant mountains, and the green of the grass, not to mention a quality golf course, Bear Mountain presents all the ingredients for a memorable golf experience.
Or as Smith puts it: “We offer more than just a golf round. We offer an experience with golf thrown in.”