Bear Ridge Golf Club: Variety plus length equals bear
WACO, Texas -- For years Waco has been known by many as the place where you stop for a bathroom break on your trip between Austin and Dallas. Today, there's one more reason - and it's a "big" one - to stop in the city that by way of its geographic location refers to itself as the Heart of Texas.
Bear Ridge Golf Club, which is located southwest of downtown and opened in November 2001, is the newest attraction in Waco that is sure to draw golfers from around the state as well as the country. The new track, which was designed by course designing veterans Jim Hardy and partner, PGA Tour veteran Peter Jacobsen, measures a Texas-size 7,478 yards and when it opened was considered the biggest, or longest course in the state. However, earlier this year it was surpassed in length by Dallas National Golf Club.
From the "Big Jake" championship tees, so named after co-designer Jacobsen, you get your first clue on the challenge of the course and its length when you step on to the No. 4 tee box. The 587-yard par 5 is the second longest hole on the course - that's right, second longest. Length is less of a factor on this dogleg-right as the elevated tee box plays to a downhill fairway approximately 50 feet below.
Interestingly, this type of elevation change, which is present on several other holes throughout the course, is not commonly found in the Waco area. "That hole and the others with change in elevation have more of an Austin/San Antonio or Hill Country feel," said assistant golf professional Lynn Boozer.
While the tee shot on No. 4 does allow you to enjoy views of the surrounding landscape, the beauty belies the treachery that waits. Unless you hit your driver like Tiger Woods, there isn't much of a decision about going at the green in two. Your second shot demands accuracy with a landing area that is pinched between an expansive lake on the right and two of the course's 41 bunkers on the left. The TifEagle green is also protected by several bunkers to the left and short and the water surrounds it on the right.
Nos. 8, 10 and 16 are just three holes, but like No. 4, are par 5s and comprise one-quarter of the course's length. No. 10 is the longest of the threesome measuring in at a staggering 610 yards.
Hardy, who has teamed with Jacobsen in designing course for a dozen years, said the length of No. 10 and the course in general were planned with careful deliberation. "We gave a great deal of consideration to the course because we knew it would be the home to the Baylor University men and women's golf teams and it would likely host intercollegiate matches in the future. We also made sure we understood the weather patterns."
He said the holes that run north-south were intentionally given extra length so that they could be extended and played from the very back of the tee box if the wind was blowing behind the golfer. Conversely, in those cases when the wind is in the golfers' face, the tee could be moved up or the golfer could play one of the six other sets of tees. Hardy said this type of variety is crucial to a good course. "We didn't build a long course," Hardy said. "We built a flexible course."
While the tee boxes offer variety in length at Bear Ridge, the changing landscape including an abundance of trees allowed Jacobsen and Hardy to create an assortment of hole designs. This is apparent throughout the course, in particular on the front nine. "On the first four holes you are in a wooded, forest area," Hardy said. "Then, on hole No. 4 and continuing through No. 7 you are in a meadow. You go back in to the forest on hole Nos. 8 and 9."
With such a variety of quality holes, the management and even the course designer have never officially designated one signature hole. They have, however, deemed the final five holes as the "Signature Stretch," and with good reason.
No. 14 is probably the most spectacular of the holes and ironically, on such a long course, it is a par 3. The 216-yard hole features a drop in elevation of approximately 85 feet from tee to green and a large oak tree that sits directly in the flight path of the ball and can obstruct the view of the pin. Nos. 15 and 16, a par 4 and 5 respectively, are both challenging, yet in different ways.
No. 15 is a par 4 of 419 yards that may be the most intimidating tee shot on the course. This hole is tree lined on both sides and features the Bosque River running the entire length of the hole on the left. Add into the mix a creek on the right that crosses the fairway before the green and this hole can add a few strokes to your final tally if you're not accurate.
Like No. 14, No. 16 features a tee shot from an elevated tee box and provides a nice view of the surrounding countryside. This par 5 is somewhat of an oxymoron as it is the shortest par 5 on the course, yet it still rates as the no. 1 handicap. It is reachable in two if you hit two very crisp shots. If you dare, your second shot must clear the creek that crosses approximately 100 yards in front of the green.
The finishing hole will test your strength, as it plays uphill with a predominantly left-to-right breeze. To salvage par and end your round on a good note, you must clear three fairway bunkers on the right and avoid the creek. If successful in placing your tee shot, you are left with a long to mid-range iron over a creek bed to a green that is guarded by bunkers on the right. Truly a "bear" of a hole.
Although the final five holes are highlighted as the class of the course, Hardy said he knows that some of the golfer's will favor certain other holes earlier in their round. If that's the case, then he and Jacobsen achieved their goal in designing with such variety. "Some of the golfers will like the holes at the start of the round that are in the dense woods, while others will like the holes around the meadow. But that last five holes in the forest are stunning."
"The holes in between are pretty good, too," he added with a laugh.
The citizens of Waco are smiling, too.
Where to stay/where to eat: The intersection of Highway 84 and Highway 6, approximately six miles from Bear Ridge, is a hub of shopping, dining and lodging with Richland Mall being the centerpiece. On the outskirts of the mall parking lot are a choice of three varied restaurants including Red Lobster, Marie Callender's and the Olive Garden. Located within a minute's drive of the mall are a couple hotels.
Best Western-Waco Mall
6624 Highway 84 West
Waco, TX 76712
Marriott Fairfield Inn
5805 Woodway Drive
Waco, TX 76712
Things to do: The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum provides an in-depth look at the oldest police force in the nation, which during its storied history took down the likes of Bonnie and Clyde.
The Dr. Pepper Museum is the oldest surviving headquarters for a major soft drink and serves up history, nostalgia, and authentic soda fountain drinks.
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame will engage you in an interactive tour of the history of Texas athletics including clips of important sports moments in Texas history in the Tom Landry Theater. It also features numerous artifacts from many of Texas' biggest sports legends.
Log on to www.wacocvb.com/waco-attractions.html for contact information on these and other attractions.
Directions: From Waco, travel south on IH-35 to the Highway 6 exit and go right. Go west on Highway 6 approximately two miles to the Highway 84 exit. Turn left on Highway 84 and go south six miles. Turn right at the entrance to the Village at Twin Rivers on Twin Rivers Blvd. Turn right on Twin Rivers Circle and the entrance to the course is on your right.
April 2, 2002