I recently got the chance to work in North Central Washington, which is a stunningly beautiful area with some world-class courses to its name. If you’ve lived in the Seattle or Spokane areas for long, you know that Lake Chelan, which sits about 30 miles North of Wenatchee, is pretty much the jewel of summer destinations in Washington State. It’s the largest lake in Washington and the third deepest lake in the country behind only Crater and Tahoe. Now you can’t say you didn’t learn anything from this site, unless you already knew that, in which case you should be trying out for Jeopardy right now…so go do that. Perched on the Southeast hills above the town of Chelan is Bear Mountain Ranch. An ambitious effort from Don Barth (Owner of Desert Canyon, Alta Lake and Rock Island) that offers spectacular views and some pretty solid shooting as well.
The drive in is one of the coolest around. Whether coming from the North or South, you wind along the Wenatchee River into the resort. The steep road up is lined with million dollar view homes, vineyards and canyons. The clubhouse is surprisingly modest, but well-appointed and finished. I played a weekday twilight and hopped on with a cart for $39, but normal weekend rates are $59 in the shoulder season and $79 at peak season. They’re a bit high on the spectrum of prices, but considering the weather and the views you’ll see, it’s really a decent deal. When you’re sent out, you climb to the top of the hill where you are greeted with an amazing view of the lake and the valley, a blind tee shot, an aiming pole and a prayer. Blind shots are abound here. Some come from the tee, a couple on an approach and at least one on a second shot from a par 5. In this case it’s a split fairway that you can’t really miss. If you wind up on top you’ve got a tough longer approach, but if you end up below you’re shooting 30 feet uphill to a rough green with waste area all around.
I’ve got too many favorite holes to list here, all though none are really great. I’ll stick with the awkward but insanely fun 4th hole. From the tee box, you stare out over a pretty sheer face onto a fairway that is at least 100ft below you and about 350 yards long. I’m not a big hitter, but I got into one and carried it a wind aided 315. Bunkers guard the back edge of the fairway and the green is pretty slippery, but even a decent drive gives you a great shot at birdie. My other “favorite” favorite was the 17th. A long par 3 that plays nearly 200 from the tips; it’s a disaster without local knowledge. In fact it was such a disaster that I went back and played it a second time (the marshaling was non-existent, but I’ll get into that in a second). The second time through when I knew how to play it, it is a spectacular golf hole. A natural amphitheater wraps around the left side of the hole while the right is guarded by a deep collection area with a couple of trees to complicate things. You can’t see it from the tee, but the natural slope of the green is so severe that I when my tee shot landed in the front left about 15 feet from the pin, it rolled over 100 feet along the kidney-shaped green and left me with a sickening putt.
Now, after those glowing paragraphs, I’ll bring it back down with the cons. The greens were dry and very sandy. I’m not sure when they were punched, but in my non-expert opinion, I’d guess at least two weeks prior. They were slow, bumpy and a lot had dead spots. I’ve seen worse, including at Desert Canyon (which is next on the review list), which leads me to believe it might be a climate issue and less a care issue. The tee boxes and fairways were tip-top and some of the less shaded greens looked very good. I cannot, however say anything nice about the pace of play, it was awful. I don’t know if they were understaffed or unaware, but the back 9 took FOREVER!
According to the timestamps of my pictures, I teed off on the 1st hole at 1:49pm. I caught the group in front of me on the 9th tee box at 3:18pm. So my natural pace is just under 3.5 hours. I teed of at 16 at 5:00pm even and the green was cleared on 18 at 5:38, just in time for a 5:44pm finish. Check my math, but by my count, that is just about 4.5 hours for 18 pace. And after looking at it now, it doesn’t seem to back except for the fact that the group never asked if I’d like to play through, even after the group in front was more than a full hole ahead. The advanced GPS system on the carts lets you and the clubhouse track the position of other carts, and there is even a handy Marshall call feature on the unit. I called it on the 15th hole after watching this group go fishing for balls in the pond (after getting on the green, but before putting). But alas, no Marshall ever came. It’s not a good look for a course that’s charging nearly $90 for a weekend play.
Bottom Line: It’s a strange place. Because of the land, they can’t really route this course well, and it requires a cart because it’s an impossible walk. They include it in the price, but it’s not much of a consolation. After sleeping on it, this course strikes me as a grandiose self-indulgence that isn’t really great golf as it is a getaway with some awkward golf holes. Final Score: 65/100
Design – 15/25
Test of Golf – 15/25 (It’s rather unfair if you haven’t’ played and/or you’re playing alone)
Value – 10/20
Condition – 8/10
Amenities – 9/10
Experience – 8/10