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Bear's Best Golf Course in Las Vegas more than just homage to Jack Nicklaus' best

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Bear's Best in Las Vegas is no cheesy replica golf course. This collection of Jack Nicklaus signature holes is tailored to fit the desert surroundings, with service and conditions that make it one of Vegas' top high-end options.

Bear's Best Golf Course - hole 4
The black cooper slag bunkers on Bear's Best Golf Course's fourth hole almost swallow the green.
Bear's Best Golf Course - hole 4Bear's Best Golf CourseBear's Best G.C.Bear's Best Golf Course - hole 8

LAS VEGAS -- It's only natural to expect Bear's Best Golf Course to be as cheesy as Tony Danza in dinner theater.

It's a replica golf course, after all. In Las Vegas. Surely there will be a volcano "exploding" near a green, or an irrigation pond posing as the Pacific.

But no, Bear's Best turns out to be the rare replica course that tries to fit into its surroundings. And it succeeds. Jack Nicklaus' design team came up with an actual desert course for the desert environs, and the result is one of Las Vegas' near must-plays.

Hold the cheesiness. Double the satisfaction.

Think of Bear's Best not so much as a collection of Nicklaus signature holes, but as a course obsessed with great conditions and service. The bag boys will chase you down in their golf carts rather than let you lug that bag up a little hill.

You'll likely remember that type of thing more than which hole came from Cabo San Lucas and which came from La Quinta.

"I don't even pay attention to the hole names," golfer Tim Heilman said. "I just enjoy playing the course."

Bear's Best does have plaques at the tee boxes describing its forebear, if you're interested in that sort of thing. But, blessedly, they don't take it too seriously around here.

"The ocean's supposed to be on the left side," head professional Greg Blackwell laughed as we teed off on No. 2, modeled on No. 12 on Nicklaus' famed seaside Cabo del Sol Ocean course. "It probably looks a little different without it."

You could say that. This left is all desert. Nicklaus isn't trying to hide where you really are.

Bear's Best does have a little showmanship up its sleeve. You won't see black cooper slag traps anywhere else in Las Vegas. Nos. 4 and 11 were based on holes at Old Works Golf Club in Montana, and black sand was trucked in from a Montana mine.

It's fun to shoot over. Not so much fun to shoot out of. On No. 4, a long par 3 (229 yards from the back tees), there's enough of this black cooper slag in a front bunker that's as big as Tiger Woods' front yard, that you'll wonder if they used a fleet of jumbo jets to bring it in.

No. 11, you don't even see the black sand bunkers until you're almost on top of the green. Which makes them even more striking.

"Golfers tend to talk about those two holes," Blackwell said.

The most unnatural sight by far, though, is all the little pine trees - some of them wilting from the effect of the Vegas climate - on No. 8. This is supposed to be like Castle Pines' No. 14, but nobody's mistaking this for Colorado.

Still, aiming at the Stratosphere tower from the raised tee, shooting down through pines that would only loom over Mini-Me, is fun. And outside of the eighth, Bear's Best is as gimmicky as an old tool belt.

Bear's Best Golf Course: The verdict

Nicklaus didn't just throw 18 of his hardest holes together and jet away laughing. Bear's Best is a golf course, not a theme park or a bunch of showy misplaced parts.

The best holes work together (Nos. 15-17, for example, all come from Desert Mountain in Scottsdale), and there are a number of fun risk-reward opportunities, like on No. 6, a short par 4 with a split fairway.

This is no Vegas cheapie (not that there's really any such thing). But it's one of the better high-end options in Sin City, one where you don't have to worry about what shape the greens are going to be in or whether you're going to have fun.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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