Bear Mountain Ranch: The Best is Yet to Come!

By Bob Spiwak

When Bear Mountain Ranch golf course opened for business in April 2005, driving up the hill to the clubhouse was a promise of a first class first class operation.  Before even arriving at the entry kiosk the steady 1,500 foot drive from sparkling Lake Chelan up to the course transit through grape vineyards, impressively large homes and with every turn the views became more spectacular.

Arriving at the Kiosk a greeter, usually a woman would step out and welcome the occupants of the car, offer directions to the course and solicit questions if there were any.  From here it was more of the gradual uphill journey and for the first time a view of the course; a pond to the left that fronted the par 3 seventh hole with the fairway of number six beyond that.

A few more yards and the long fairway of the eighth hole, number one on the handicap chart accompanied the golfers almost to the turnoff to the Spanish style clubhouse.

A corps of cart boys awaited the arriving vehicle, tee times were confirmed, bags unloaded and put on the carts and directions given to the clubhouse.  Head Professional Von Smith presided over a small but well stocked pro shop from equipment through a wide choice of clothing.

Less than two decades ago there was one 18 hole course in North Central Washington from Wenatchee to the Canadian border, about 150 miles to the north. That was the municipal venue at Lake Chelan.

In 1993 at Orondo, Desert Canyon opened for play, bragging it had the longest par 5 hole in the state.  Farther north at Pateros, Don Barth added nine new holes to his Alta Lake course, a journeyman nine-holer. Barth had been involved in the design of Desert Canyon along with the Late Jack Frei, who owned the course.

Barth has had a long experience with golf in the area.  Years before he had leased the nine-hole Rock Island track about eight miles south of Wenatchee, fronting the Columbia River. Coincidentally, Von Smith, now head pro at Bear Mountain, had essentially grown up working on that course where his father was superintendent. Later he became head pro at the muni in Chelan then moved to Desert Canyon.  When Bear Mountain opened, he got the job there.

Barth designed Bear Mountain and worked the heavy machinery in its construction.  Owners Jerry and Mary Pat Scofield wanted a first-class operation and they got it.  As with any new track there were golfers who were dissatisfied.  Right from the beginning the first hole was a blind shot dogleg right from an elevated tee.  There are hanging lies on the fifth, the first par 5 that aggravated some golfers.

But oh, the views.  From almost every front hole there is a downward view of sparkling Lake Chelan, a 65 mile body of blue water.  Framing this are the snow-capped North Cascade Mountains to the west, and the slightly less rugged Sawtooth Range eastward.  Easily the most scenic 18 holes of any course in the nation, Pebble Beach included.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

After a year or two of partnership, Barth and owner Scofield parted company.  Bart had an option to withdraw and exercised it.  What caused the separation is unknown, and in the best politic-speak, the parting was amicable and all included are still friends.

As the years went by, changes were noted by the regulars who played Bear Mountain. The greeter disappeared from the kiosk.  The cart staff shrank. There were no cart girls on course dispensing goodies and suds. The course however got better: The greens got more receptive, mowing patterns were altered, bunkers were changed or eliminated.  A new 6th fairway was constructed offering two choices: level or downhill dogleg to reach the green.

As with course around the nation the current recession took its toll.   Desert Canyon, showing signs of wear had previously been sold to Homestead golf of Lynden, Wash. In 2011, it was on the auction block and purchased by Don Barth and partners.  Barth said that his primary aim was to make his courses more user friendly, especially older and less skilled players.  Even with five tees, as at Bear Mountain, he planned to eliminate a lot of the sand that flummoxed many golfers and held up play in the process.

In April 2012, Barth repurchased Bear Mountain.  It has been his dream to have his baby back after the toil he put into its birth.  One of these is modification of the first hole, and there are others less consequential.

Now in its eighth year Bear Mountain Ranch offers top notch service, a great golfing experience and a staff that bends over backward to please the patrons.  Improvements are in the works, and the golf is such that a cadre of golfers weekly drives a 150 mile round trip to play there.

It may be the course.  But oh my, the views.

 

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 while awaiting the Korean War draft. First published at the age of 12, he entered the golf writing arena in the early 1980s as a freelancer, was a staff writer for Golf Course News and GOLFWEEK, all the while freelancing for other publications in the U.S. and abroad.

A co-founder of the Northwest Golf Writers’ Association and contributing editor for Cybergolf.com he lives below a mountain near Mazama, WA. with a wife and pets, wildlife from wood ducks to cougars, and a very high golf handicap.

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