Houston's Bear Creek Golf World: As Good as Ever

By Steve Hunter, For GolfTexas.com

HOUSTON - Flip your calendar back about 25 years into the last century...you're a golfer visiting Houston, and you're hoping to squeeze in a round of golf. A few inquiries reveal a fairly bleak picture. Not being a member of a private club, your choices are limited to a few municipal tracks and a handful of privately owned public facilities. The recommendations for all are, at best, lukewarm. With one exception. The far west side of Houston is home to Bear Creek Golf World, which opened the first of its public courses half a decade or so ago.

Even better, the same facility just opened a second course it calls the Masters, and it's supposed to be outstanding. That's your pick, and you are rewarded with an excellent test of golf, one that makes your visit worthwhile.

Now return to the year 2000, and make the same trip with the same intentions. This time around, you're sent in dozens of directions. There is a quality of daily fee course at every point on the compass. What was once a golfing desert has become a golf paradise. What, you ask, has become of Bear Creek's Masters? The answer? It's just as good as ever.

The golf boom that began sweeping the country in the mid-1980s brought daily fee courses to Houston at an average of two or three courses per year, a trend that has continued to this day. With the almost staggering growth in the availability of public golf in the Houston area, the Masters Course sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. And that's too bad- it's the father of the area's daily fee operations, and it set the standard by which the newer offerings were built.

Houston-area architect Jay Riviere provided the traditional design, to which few changes have been made since the course's opening. Built on flat land and cut through a dense forest of hardwoods and pines, its fairways are guarded by just the right amount of bunkers and water hazards. Its primary defense, however, is its length.

From the back tees, the par-72 Masters covers 7,131 yards. Three sets of forward tees can modify the challenge to fit your needs, but if you choose the tees that match your skills, you're likely to use your driver and long-irons more often that you would at many courses. Trouble is, those are exactly the clubs that bring the aforementioned trees, bunkers, and water hazards into play.

Nowhere is the test more evident than on the Masters' par 4s. Only one, the 393-yard 16th, weighs in at less than 400 yards. A narrow, tree-lined fairway, a pond flanking the left from 100 yards to past the green and bunkers surrounding the putting surface insure that even #16 is no "gimme" par.

The stars of the show, however, are the 9th and 18th. Both have received consistent mention from national and local publications as "best in the area" holes, and for good reason. The ninth hole is a sweeping dogleg right that covers a mere 464 yards. A fairway bunker and scattered trees to the left guard the prime landing area, with tee balls failing to find the left half of the fairway which is blocked from the green by a thick line of tall trees along a right-side creek.

The creek flows from a pond in front of the green, a sprawling affair on which the pin position can mean a difference of three or four clubs for your approach. Sand traps to the front, right and rear complete the picture on a hole where par usually gains a stroke on your fellow competitors.

The 18th offers a similar challenge. At 443 yards, it demands a driver from the tee. A pond to the left forces tee shots to the outside of the turn, where plenty of trees await in hopes of preventing a clear approach to the green. The approach must thread a needle between flanking trees and clear a pond in front of the green while avoiding bunkers at all quarters. It is truly an outstanding hole that requires your best shots if you hope to protect a one- or two-shot lead at the finish.

The Masters' par 3s range from 164 yards (#4) to 206 yards (#8)- none of them can be called a pushover, completing all four in 13 or 14 strokes is a pretty good effort. The best and most attractive of the collection is #12, a 185-yarder over a pond to a large green protected by five bunkers. The tee shot, usually played into prevailing winds that swirl through trees to the left, is all carry, and the green features enough undulation to turn a comfortable par into an annoying three-putt bogey.

The best chances for scoring on the Masters come on its par 5s. Even the longest, 557-yard #6, can be reached in two under the right conditions. On #6, for instance, you'll need a tee ball of 210 to 230 yards to clear a creek crossing the fairway, so your first shot will come off your driver. A shot that finds the fairway might get enough roll to bring you within 230 yards of the green and a prevailing southeast wind will help - go for it if you dare.

From the back tees, Bear Creek's Masters carries a course rating of 73.8 and a slope of 132, another indication that it's more than the average "bear." It has hosted the 1981 USGA Public Links Championship and the 1984 NCAA National Championship tournament, and was for years the host of the All-America Intercollegiate Invitational event.

It is a regular member of Golf Digest's list of the top 75 public courses in America, and earns a spot in similar lists published by area newspapers and magazines.

Bear Creek Golf World
18 Hole Public
16001 Clay Rd
Houston, Texas 77084
(713) 859-8188

Steve Hunter, For GolfTexas.com

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