Monica Alary wasn’t counting.
But she certainly got acquainted with many of the 78 sand traps at Bear Creek Golf Club.
“I found each one of them,” Alary joked after her recent round. “I usually stay out of sand. But here I was in it all the time.”
The Ontario, Canada native — playing Bear Creek for the first time during her first-ever visit to Hilton Head Island — quickly figured out that all those traps were going to dictate the feel of the course. Avoid them, and the sailing was smooth. Find them on a couple holes in a row, and it’s a different story.
The track, which opened in 1980 and helped put Rees Jones on the map, was revamped slightly in 2006 when he returned for a redesign project to help update the track for a new-age style of play. What remained constant was a large number of sand hazards with a large variety of angling, position relative to the fairways and greens, and shaping. Some of them are so heavily clustered that only a few yards of grass separates them from getting the waste bunker identifier.
Instead, Jones used the individual traps to craft a target-rich course.
That starts from many of the tee boxes, where fairway bunkers and a seemingly endless body of towering pines create chutes that players must navigate. Flying the mounded bunkers isn’t an option, although rolling into them definitely is.
From there, it’s on to even more sand near the greens.
And that’s where things can get really dicey. Some are front-loaded. Others serve as a backstop. The sides of several greens are just as well protected. One hole may give players an option for bump-and-run while the next cuts that completely out of the equation.
Why was it designed in such a way?
That part’s relatively straightforward.
For starters, Bear Creek was originally a private course, open only to members - most of whom were nearby homeowners. Private courses aren’t prone to easy golf. While the course is now open to the public, though, removing the majority of those bunkers would eliminate the biggest challenge.
Those pines can be avoided, and losing golf balls here is pretty hard to do. That leaves the bunkers, as Alary knows all too well now.
“It’s a good day for the beach,” she said.
AROUND THE COURSE
By the time players reach Bear Creek’s signature hole, hopefully they’ve loosened up a bit. No. 18 is a dynamic finisher — one that sometimes comes with a gallery of onlookers who are taking advantage of the property’s recently upgraded bar and grill and vast food and drink options.
The 499-yard hole - the longest of the day from the standard white tees — takes you from the tee (hopefully, at least) up a right-side bend around an oversized lagoon. Closing out with a par isn’t impossible, although a steep-faced bunker lies between most players' approach lies and the green. But by this point, anyone who made it this far had to know that was coming.
Beyond the sand, the design here is straightforward. The only hidden sightlines are wrapped around a handful of doglegs that can’t be carried. What’s more, seven holes are a 180-degree line from the tee to the pin, frequently with no obstructions.
Six holes include natural grass and/or waste areas, but finding them is typically a result of a mishit shot, not some necessarily bullish carry. Jones, in both his original layout and the renovation project in 2006, aimed to keep Bear Creek playable for the patient.
AT A GLANCE
Bear Creek Golf Club
Location: Hilton Head Plantation
Designer: Rees Jones
Yardage: 6,804 / 6,486 / 6,162 / 5,727 / 5,316
Year Opened: 1980
Notable: Originally a private course, Bear Creek eventually opened its doors to everyone while maintaining a strong membership from nearby homeowners and other regulars. The open format is accommodated by the luxury of comfortably being able to host 175+ golfers on any given day.
On the Web: www.bearcreekhhi.com
Phone: (843) 681-9510