Northern Bear Golf Course
51055 Range Rd 222, Sherwood Park, AB | 780-922-2327
Green fees: $79 – $119
Is a golf course only fun if you play well? If a golf course kicks your ass for four hours, can you still have fun playing it?
Those are the questions I kept asking myself as I raked yet another sand trap at Northern Bear near Edmonton. The Jack Nicklaus designed course has claws at every corner. There is nowhere to hide. If you don’t hit your spot, you’re in the sand or in the water, and even if you hit your spot, your second and third shots face challenges as every pin gets tucked in somewhere tight.
“I design layouts that challenge golfers to play intelligently rather than ones that test their strength,” says Jack. “So I try to use the richest possible mix of shot values. I like to give the golfer options, and design holes that reward the player who can hit the difficult shot. I also try to avoid penal design–that is, design that severely punishes the golfer for wayward shots.”
I’m an 18 handicapper. I can find a few pars each round, if I can sink a putt, I might just get a birdie. Mostly, though, my card is filled with 5s, 6s, and 7s. When I played Northern Bear on a mid August morning, I was writing down 8s. So I might disagree with Jack’s assertion that he avoids ‘penal design.’ Every hole on Northern Bear has a bunker right in your landing zone. Every green is protected as if there was a gold medallion at the bottom of a birdie putt.
Northern Bear is a quick 30 minute drive southeast of Edmonton. Each green fee comes with access to an impeccable driving range, a cart, some water, and great service. From the bag drop getting things loaded on a cart, to the cordial starter, to the juniors waiting to clean off every one of your clubs when you leave the 18th green, it’s the kind of experience you’d get at a private club – without the dues. Each cart has GPS with precise measurement to the traps, front and back of the green, and pin placement. This kind of information is invaluable on a course with so many places to invite you into trouble.
I parred the first hole of the day, the only bright spot on my scorecard, so I’d be tempted to pick that as my favorite hole, but the views coming home on 9 and 18 are fantastic. The clubhouse towers above the greens, each protected by large ponds with geese.
The 17th hole, a long par 3, is also fantastic. The green is massive, and if you can reach it, you’ll have a chance to score, but the visual from the teebox is terrifying. large swails and bunkers give the appearance that you’re swinging at a sliver of green. Get that out of your head, and you’ll do just fine.
And it’s that visual intimidation that left the greatest impression on me after a round at Northern Bear. Each pin was tucked just over a trap, a ridge, or into the thin part of the green just a few paces off the edge. It was a round to challenge every club in my bag (and my math skills – it’s been a while since I’ve had to add that high).
If your game is on point, and you’re looking for a place to put your progress to the test, Northern Bear is just that. If you’re a higher handicapper you might just want to save yourself the expensive punishment.
See more golf course reviews here.