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A Peek Behind the Gates at Nicklaus’ Private Retreat

The Bear’s Club

Bears Club From my home in Jupiter, Fla., you can’t throw a Titleist without plunking a tour pro.

On their off days, the 60-odd pros who live in and around this seaside burg congregate at a handful of private clubs. Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Rickie Fowler hang out at the Medalist in Hobe Sound. Fowler tees it up at Dye Preserve, too, alongside Keegan Bradley and Richard S. Johnson. Others fan out to Old Marsh, Frenchman’s Creek and Tequesta Country Club for camaraderie and the occasional high-stakes skins game.

Each course has its devotees, all drawn to the challenging layouts, immaculate conditions, world-class practice facilities and the promise of privacy, far from the public course hordes. But when it comes to caché, one place stands alone — the Bear’s Club.

As you might have known (or guessed), the Bear’s Club is Jack Nicklaus’ personal Florida hideaway; think of it as Muirfield Village South. Jack’s imprimatur is everywhere at the Bear’s Club – from the plaques and vintage pictures lining clubhouse walls to the massive swales on the course’s flawless greens – and so are tour pros.

The Bear’s Club membership role reads like the upper reaches of the World Golf Ranking: Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas. Michelle Wie’s a member too, and Michael Jordan is building a palace overlooking the course, which he’s frequented for years.

So what the heck was little ol’ me doing at the Bear’s Club on a recent Friday?

Good question. Actually, I snagged a last-minute invite to an outing thanks to a well-placed friend. Classic blind-squirrel-finds-nut stuff, really.

My subversive side thought about showing up in cutoffs and flip-flops, but fortunately my subversive side is a big coward. So I donned the requisite golf togs and headed for this ballyhooed golf haven, eager to see what super-exclusivity looks like in the flesh.

The answer: like heaven on earth.

The Bears Club Private

A playing partner clued me in to the Bear’s Club initiation fee: 350 grand. Our fantastic forecaddie pointed out the mansions of hedge-fund managers and international jet-setters, few of whom live there year-round. One humble abode stretches some 120 yards from end to end, built not so its owner can zing full wedge shots down the hall, but to accommodate a colossal art collection. Another fortress-sized dwelling rents for $40,000. A month.

If you want to see how the other half lives, steer clear of the Bear’s Club. It’s reserved for the other one-tenth of one percent.

Nicklaus himself lives a few minutes east at a venerable club called Lost Tree, but the Bear’s Club is his lair. No doubt Jack’s presence is a big part of its allure, especially among idol-worshipping pros. But they don’t join the Bear’s Club just to kiss Jack’s ring. They go for the golf.

The vast practice area is better groomed than a prize-winning poodle. The staff heeds every beck and call with the eager efficiency of 30 Rock’s “Kenneth the page.” And most days, the golf course is emptier than Kim Kardashian’s head.

Jack's Private Golf HeavenI don’t have to tell you the golf course is spectacular, but I will anyway. It’s quintessential Nicklaus from start to finish: forgivingly wide fairways, scores of bottomless bunkers, enormous greens with roller-coaster undulations, and water hazards every few holes. Our forecaddie informed us that the greens were running about 11.5 on the Stimpmeter, well out of my comfort zone but standard-issue for a tour stop.

Except for the hazards and scrubby waste areas, the entire place is covered in a tightly-knit turfgrass called Celebration Bermuda. I doubt if it boasts the medicinal properties of “Carl Spackler Bent,” but it’s a glorious playing surface. For the record, I did spy one invasive sprig poking conspicuously through the fringe off the 12th green. Clearly, Jack’s standards are slipping.

I’m sure that rogue grass blade was long gone by day’s end. In this neighborhood, word about such imperfections spreads like a weed. On top of the clubs mentioned before, Bear’s Club is sandwiched between two other high-end Nicklaus designs, Loxahatchee and the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa. Mighty Seminole GC lies just down Donald Ross Road, with awe-inspiring Jupiter Hills a quick trip north from there.

Jupiter is a golfer’s haven if ever there was one. Of course, it helps to be outrageously wealthy – or at least have friends in high places.

Daniel MitchellDaniel Mitchell is a golf writer and Golf-Newz.com contributor who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.

Comments

  1. If you live in Jupiter, you know Loxahatchee Club is on the other side of town; Trump-Jupiter (formerly the Ritz Carlton-Jupiter) abuts the Bear’s Club to the west, on the south side across Donald Ross is Frenchman’s Creek and on the north side across Frederick Small Rd. is Admiral’s Cove. I have been fortunate to play all these wonderful tracks more than once and the Bear’s Club truly is heads above the rest in an area of super-elite clubs. The Medalist coming very close to this level and I have not been to Seminole yet. My host all but throws me out the cast-iron gates as I’m kicking and screaming because I don’t want to leave. It’s that kind of place.

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