Renovation work at Bear Lakes includes rebuild of greens and bunkers

  • Bear Lakes
    Nicklaus Design

    The Lakes course at Bear Lakes Country Club is back in play following a Nicklaus Design renovation

  • Bear Lakes
    Nicklaus Design

    The recent work has seen Nicklaus Design reduce the bunkering to 100,000 square feet

Alice Chambers
By Alice Chambers

The Lakes course at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, is back in play following a Nicklaus Design renovation project.

Nicklaus Design originally designed the course in 1984, then returned in 2003, reducing the total bunkered area from 250,000 to 150,000 square feet. For this latest project, which began in April 2021, the firm further reduced the bunkering to 100,000 square feet and added Capillary Concrete lining, and rebuilt of all the greens to USCA specifications. “As the site continues to mature with trees and development around it – in 1984 the site was one big cattle pasture with very few trees – the framing, personality and much of the strategy of how the holes play, is more about the mature trees on the golf course and less about the need for as much bunkering as there use to be,” said Chris Cochran, senior design associate for Nicklaus Design.

In addition to reducing the square footage of bunkers, 15 bunkers were removed and many of the larger bunkers were converted into multiple bunker complexes. 

This work has enabled the design team to increase the variety of recovery options around greens: “Even though the size and contouring of the new greens closely followed the old greens, more capes, roll offs and interior movement on the edges of the greens were added to make chipping and pitching from the new fairway chipping areas, where there was once bunkering, a different but equally challenging recovery shot,” said Cochran.

“Even though the 2003 renovation was very successful and well received, after 18 years of play on it there were several significant changes needed to make the course play better,” he added.

On two challenging par-fours, the seventh and fifteenth, adjustments have been made to the shape and pitch of the greens so they hold more approach shots. And the seventeenth green, which was surrounded by live oaks, has been shifted 30 feet east, giving it more sunlight and addressing turf quality issues. The removal of one large oak has exposed others and allowed the design team to retain the beauty of the trees around the green, while improving turf health.

Construction work was completed by Superior Golf Concepts, with Kevin Patterson as construction superintendent, and shaper Doug Graham of Graham Golf, the same team that collaborated with Nicklaus Design on the recent renovation of American Dunes in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Nicklaus Design also designed The Links course at Bear Lakes, which opened in 1986 and was renovated in 2007. “The two courses at Bear Lakes are very different in design, look, strategy and difficulty,” said Cochran. “The membership takes pride in this and embraces that the Lakes course is as challenging as a tournament golf course that there is in South Florida, and did not want to make the course any easier or make any drastic changes to the course because they really like it.

“The course has been open for play for about a month. All the feedback I have been given from the membership has not been about whether the course is tougher or easier, but has been about how much better it is, which to me is the ultimate goal.”