PGA tournament: Bear Mountain is ready to roar

What you see as a casual player or member at Bear Mountain Golf Resort is what the PGA Tour Champions pros will get this week at the Pacific Links Championship on the Mountain course — except for a subtle change.

Or not so subtle, if you’re not into cliff-hangers.

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The course’s signature hole — the par-3 14th — at the highest peak of the Jack and Steve Nicklaus-designed original course, will be played from the back tees at about 160 yards, a rarity for most who get to play.

Any tee shot short is dead and any wayward shots right or long are also adios on the scenic par-3, formerly known as the 19th hole, rarely used in years past, but brought into play with recent changes to the course.

It has a magnificent panoramic view of the Juan de Fuca Strait, the majestic Olympic Mountain range and the city of Victoria. That’s a lot of distractions on what will be a key tee shot over the three rounds which begin Friday.

The hole is usually played anywhere from 99-126 yards.

“The rules official was out here early and he wanted that as an option. It’s a 160-yard shot with no room for error. Short, right and long, the ball is gone. Left and you can probably find it,” said Bear Mountain director of golf Jordan Ray.

“That specific tee was there shaped out, but it was almost like a picture or wedding venue spot in the past. We haven’t used it in play very often at all — occasionally, but not in play more than a half-dozen times a year. I think we used it at the Bear Mountain Amateur or the RBC Open qualifier,” Ray explained.

The tee could, however, be moved up depending on conditions.

“I was a little surprised they are using it, but these guys are good. One thing the rules official said is they will decide, especially Saturday and Sunday, based on what the scores are or if it rains. They could move them up a little if the scores are high or if the course isn’t rolling out the way they want it to.”

The tournament will roll out in the same hole rotation, always starting at No. 1 as opposed to going off the front and back.

“Once we got them here the second time and they realized how far the 10th tee box was away, they decided to go with 8:30 [a.m.] first tee times every day and 1:30 [p.m.] last tee times, which should be good for viewing and for the fans,” said Ray.

The tour’s agronomist and rules official arrived two Sundays ago as preparation work hit the stretch drive.

“This is their tournament and in a way you kind of hand them the keys and they give the direction on things they want to see. They gave us a long list, but it was mostly minor alterations for TV,” said Ray.

“It’s in awesome shape and we’ve had original members tell us it’s the best shape they have ever seen it in the history of the course, which is good because four or five years ago we were bank owned and we weren’t in this kind of shape,” Ray said, refreshing everyone’s memory of how far the course has come back.

“We’ve grown out the rough so it’s more challenging for them that way. The rough is pretty punishing. I’ve had it happen to me a few times where I’ve got stuck in it where I say, ‘Holy smokes.’ The rough will be thicker than in the past,” added Ray, who said the 12th hole also features a new tee box that pushes the hole to about 500 yards.

“Other than that, it’s pretty similar to how it plays every day,” he offered.

One other difference fans will notice is that players do have a choice to use golf carts on the mountainous terrain, which features plenty of elevation changes, including a beautiful drop down from the par-3 16th.

“They have the option,” said Ray. “I was at the Boeing Classic about four or five weeks ago [in Snoqualmie, Washington] and it is quite a hilly golf course and I was surprised how many chose to walk, but they are athletes.

“We’ll have it set up ready for them all to ride, but if they want to walk there are shuttles between a few holes for them, like the ninth to the 10th holes, which is a pretty good walk.”

Golfers were arriving Monday and some were set to play a practice round, but most will finally get out today, while qualifying also occurs on the Valley Course for a handful of spots into the actual tournament.

“It’s good that it’s finally here,” said an excited Ray. “The grounds crews have done an awesome job the last four months and now it’s here.”

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com

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