The Bear's Club | Links Magazine | Dave Shedloski | December, 2011

"The Bear's Club"

Jack Nicklaus had long harbored a desire to bring a first-rate golf club to his adopted home of South Florida, a destination as fine and reflective of his commitment to excellence as Muirfield Village Golf Club, his masterpiece near his Columbus, Ohio, hometown. He made the dream a reality in 1999 with the creation of The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, and he spared no expense in mind or motion to create another seminal golf experience.

“Muirfield Village is my place to give back something to Columbus, Ohio, to where I grew up and where people have supported me throughout my life,” Nicklaus says. “But I live in Florida now, and I always wanted to have a very fine private golf club in my own backyard.”

At The Bear’s Club, a golf community nestled among 369 immaculate sylvan, sandy acres a mile from the Atlantic, Nicklaus expertly transformed the native environment with his exacting standards of design. The result is a gently rolling 7,164-yard layout that exudes a Lowcountry feel as it moves through a property rich in native vegetation, old oaks, pines, cypress trees and wetlands areas.

Aesthetically and strategically placed throughout are 102 bunkers, many of them steeply flashed. They were inspired by the bunkers at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, which Jack visited in 1998 when he was captain of the United States Presidents Cup team. A collection of medium-to-large undulating greens demand precision; they are rounded off at the edges and feed into hollows and chipping areas.

“The members like it because they can score well on it, but it’s a challenging golf course from the back,” says Nicklaus. In 2010 he installed additional teeing areas on 10 holes and simplified the 442-yard 15th by altering a transition area to eliminate a forced carry to the green.

The Bear’s Club possesses a memorable collection of par-5 holes, anchored by the gorgeous home hole, which features an inspiring greensite. The long pear-shaped green is tucked into the elbow of a lake, leaving a generous bailout area to the right. Just beyond the water that guards the green sits the impressive stone façade of the grand Tuscan-style clubhouse

Complementing the 18-hole championship course is the Jack Nicklaus Performance Solutions academy, featuring state-of-the-art technology not seen at other private clubs. There is also a par-3 course that offers a mix of challenges ranging from 100 to 180 yards.

The rest of the property is equally impressive. Barbara Nicklaus partnered with her husband to hone the Mediterranean design that ties together the clubhouse with the residential community. The massive golf headquarters, which sprawls more than 64,000 square feet on two levels, is a bastion of splendor. The interior design, to which Barbara lent her tastes, radiates an unmistakable warmth enhanced by woven rugs, decorative pieces of ceramic and porcelain, original artwork, and elegant fabrics and patterns.

While the upper level contains the main dining room, private dining area, mixed grill and lounge, the lower level features a spacious central meeting area accommodating a men’s grill that feeds into five individual locker areas outfitted with their own bathrooms, showers and Jacuzzi, along with steam and massage rooms.

Out-of-town members or their guests can also utilize four elegant one-bedroom suites named for four of Nicklaus’ favorite addresses in golf: Pebble Beach, Augusta National, St. Andrews and Muirfield, the Scottish links where he won the 1966 British Open to complete the career Grand Slam. Property owners can retire to luxurious homes; residential options include 17 golf villas, 14 club cottages and 57 estate homes built in Tuscan and French-provincial styles.

But don’t leave the clubhouse without a meal prepared by the chef, Brian Sode, who recently passed the Certified Master Chef examination at the Culinary Institute of America. One of 65 chefs in the U.S. to have earned that elite designation, Sode can put the perfect finishing touch to a day of golf, regardless of whether it was filled with birdies or double bogeys.