After our morning round we headed over to Bear Dance to take advantage of their twilight rate ($79). If you thought that you heard me mention the name of the course before, then you are right! I was in Colorado last year with a golf buddy and our round at Bear Dance got rained out. I was pretty disappointed so there wasn’t any doubt that I was going to take another stab at playing here this time around!
Bear Dance is about 45 minutes south of Denver off of I-25. It is a bit out of the way from the metro area, but the extra effort getting there will be worth it! Bear Dance typically gets rated as one of the top public courses in the state and it is the home of the Colorado PGA. I’m not sure exactly what the Colorado PGA does, but when a golf organization’s home is at a course it is usually a top notch facility. For the California folks, think of Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge in this regards.
Bear Dance is located in an upscale community and has some impressive views, both of the ski-lodge like homes and the nearby mountains. I spent plenty of time staring at the pictures on the course’s website before my trip! The views throughout the course were some of the best that I’ve ever enjoyed on a golf course, at least for one that isn’t nearby an ocean. The few homes that lined the course weren’t any bother except for the one off the back of the 16th green. I guess that one could come into play.
The course has the feel of a mountain course, just without any of the holes squished onto the terrain. Sometimes when playing a mountain course you can tell the designer just ran out of room because of a random hazard or a fairway that is too narrow. Bear Dance doesn’t have that problem! Each hole is in its own little world separated by hillsides and pine trees. It felt like I was just outside swinging a club and enjoying nature. We saw plenty of wildlife during the round, including a coyote!
Nothing about the layout is small! Both the front and back nine make a large loop back to the clubhouse as the holes sprawl their way around the property. On the scorecard, Bear Dance can stretch up to ~7,700 yards. A local that we played with mentioned that he never can find some of the back tee boxes, so I’m not sure if they are hidden or were never constructed. It didn’t matter to me as I opted to play the blue/black combo tees which are called the “Players” tees. They play 7,113 yards with a rating of 73.2 and a slope of 135.
That same single commented that he likes to play the black tees because he can hit driver more. Sure enough, after the round I thought that the course played a lot shorter than the distance on the scorecard. Of course, some of that has to do with the elevation in Colorado, but there were plenty of elevated tees and sections of fairway that would add plenty of distance. I’m not the longest hitter and I laid up seven times! It’s one of the rare courses that someone might consider “teeing it back”!
I found the course very playable and one that encouraged me to dream up the shot that I wanted to hit! The fairways were wide and I found Bear Dance to be more forgiving than I expected. There were options off the tee, space when the landing area couldn’t be seen, and any number of ways to get the ball close on some greens. I played away from the flag twice trying to use slopes to get the ball close and it worked once. I think the difficultly comes from the elevation change and all the slope in the greens.
Normally I take a paragraph and review the maintenance, but that isn’t going to be needed. Everything was in great shape. The only quibble is that the greens seemed to have some poa annua in them and I had a couple long putts hop a bit. Other than that, no complaints about anything! In my opinion, Bear Dance lives up to the hype and I’d put inside the top 25 courses that I’ve ever played.
#1 (434 yard par 4):
The downhill 1st is ranked as one of the harder holes, but I think most of that has to do with the approach and green complex. There is more fairway out there than it looks although it does run out into rough around 280 or 290 yards. The approach played almost two clubs downhill for me into a deep, narrow green with a bunker left and rough on the right which is below green level. A straight shot into the green is going to be helpful to begin the day.
#2 (176 yard par 3):
The 2nd is a mid-length par 3 that plays through a chute of trees up to the green. The green slopes from left to right so getting it close to a left flag might require a draw. The flag in the picture seems like one of the more accessible ones as long as you don’t go over the green.
#3 (401 yard par 4):
The 3rd, at 401 yards, is actually one of the shorter par 4’s on the course. The hole goes a bit left, but the tricky piece to it is that the fairway slopes from left to right off a hillside that is partially obstructed from view. The fairway narrows and goes downhill so I’d suggest laying up the first time around. I had just a short iron into the green and I hit 3 wood off the tee. My approach played from a downslope into the green which has a back left section that could be tough to access.
#4 (414 yard par 4):
The tee shot on the 4th is similar to the 3rd because the hole plays a bit downhill and moves left. The same shot shape and distance should work very well. An aggressive line will carry the left bunker, but the tee shot can be played out towards the right bunker which I think is ~260 yards. The ball can kick left off a line to the right so a draw could run out a bunch. The second shot is played over a hazard and into an interesting green. There is a severe slope on the left side of the green which can feed shots close to the pin location in the picture. You can get creative around this green!
#5 (616 yard par 5):
The 5th, at 616 yards, isn’t even the longest par 5! There are a couple ways to play the tee shot on this double dogleg. One option is to hit a driver to the corner of the first dogleg (which goes right) and have a clear view of the layup area. The other option is to play to a wider part of the fairway by hitting less club off the tee. However, that leaves a semi-blind layup over the right bunkers and it might require working the ball around a pine tree. Laying up off the tee could actually leave a similar distance into the green. The hole rises up to the green and the best spot to miss it is short and right.
#6 (326 yard par 4):
The 6th is one of the signature holes! I wish my camera captured the colors better, but there should be plenty of pictures online. This is the shortest par 4 on the course and can be a chance for a good score. The tee shot plays downhill to the fairway and then slightly back uphill to the green guarded by bunkers short. You’ll notice that the bunkers are in the shape of a bear paw! There is a valley at the bottom of the fairway and if the ball isn’t in that then the approach can play from an uphill or downhill lie. I laid up off the tee and had just a sandwedge into the green. The green has a bowl on the left side which makes pins on the higher sections tough to access.
#7 (186 yard par 3):
The 7th is what I would consider another signature hole! It plays about a club downhill over the pond in the picture. The green has a rise to a back shelf so it can be receptive to a mid or long iron. I’d make sure not to mess with the water.
#8 (535 yard par 5):
The 8th is one of the two reachable par 5’s. It plays slightly uphill to the green so a good drive to a narrowing fairway is needed to give it a go. There is a chance to hit a shot up short and right of the green and it might bounce onto the surface. There is a bunker and a pond left of the green that can come into play. I missed the fairway left and had a hook lie for my layup. The green has a ridge about two-thirds of the way back which creates a separate back section.
#9 (465 yard par 4):
The 9th is the longest par 4 on the course and it plays uphill the whole way! It is the #1 handicap which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Short of the green is open which allows an opportunity to hit a low, running approach up onto it. The back half of the green is narrower but I’d just be happy with a green in regulation!
#10 (420 yard par 4):
The 10th is a mid-length par 4 that moves left around some pines. The fairway narrows before it opens up near the green. The approach was semi-blind and there is a pond off to the right which shouldn’t come into play. The bigger hitters might be able to reach the pond off the tee.
#11 (463 yard par 4):
The 11th is a long par that was of the funnest holes to play! It doglegs hard left and one of the reasons I found it so fun are all the different ways it can be played. Any number of lines and clubs can be chosen off the tee. The left bunker is ~260 yards to carry and that lone tree out there is ~240 yards. There is fairway over the left bunker and all the way to the right bunker, but the angle can make it narrow. I took an aggressive line with driver and had only a wedge into the green. Unfortunately I missed the green, but the pin was located in a bowl on the right side and I was able to play my chip away from the pin and still get it close.
#12 (191 yard par 3):
The 12th is the longest par 3 on the course from the combo tees that we played. It plays downhill at least a club though into a green that slopes from back to front and left to right. I wouldn’t want to miss the green long or left because that will leave a speedy chip or bunker shot!
#13 (477 yard par 5):
There is a lot going on at this reachable par 5. The hole moves to the right and there is plenty of risk/reward on the tee shot. I took a conservative line out towards the left fairway bunkers. I ended up in the fairway, but didn’t have a chance to get near the green in two even after a good drive because of the line that I took. Plus, there is a lot of left to right slope on the left half of the fairway. That makes it tough to get around a pine tree and bunker short of the green with a draw. The layup plays to a stepped fairway and favoring the right side is best. If someone wants to challenge the trouble on the right off the tee then they can be rewarded with a flatter lie, shorter second, and a good angle.
#14 (428 yard par 4):
The 14th is one of those holes where I couldn’t get comfortable. It plays quite a bit downhill and doglegs left. Come to find out there are a couple ways to play it. I took the layup option off the tee, which looked like the only play off the tee. The fairway ends ~260 yards and I hit my 210 yard club which went about the full 260 yards. A right to left shot is best so you don’t have to challenge the left trees. I was left with a short iron into a fairly large green that has a back left shelf. If trying to challenge a back flag location then don’t go long because the green drops off into some rough. Another way to play the hole is to take a driver out over the left trees hoping to find a lower section of fairway.
#15 (395 yard par 4):
The 15th is one of the harder ranked holes on the course and I think that has to do with it playing uphill. The ball probably won’t get much roll on the tee shot, the stance in the fairway is uneven, and it is a blind approach into the green. All that could work against the average golfer. A lower handicap shouldn’t have as much trouble because the fairway is wide and there aren’t any bunkers that surround the green.
#16 (416 yard par 4):
The 16th is what I would consider the signature hole at Bear Dance! It plays from an elevated tee down to the fairway and then into a green guarded by water. The views from the tee are some of the best that I have seen on a golf course so make sure to take some extra time and enjoy. The tee shot was challenging because the ball stayed in the air for what seems like an eternity! The pin was tucked on the smaller, back right section of green when we played and it was very difficult to get at. There is a spine that separates the back right section and anything to the left of the spine feeds away from it. I hit my 210 yard club again off the tee and had just a 9 iron into the green.
#17 (132 yard par 3):
The 17th is the shortest hole on the course and it was a blast to play. It plays just enough uphill that the green’s surface cannot be seen from the tee and there is a three or four foot rise in the middle of the green. The rise separates the green into a narrower, accessible front section and a wider, elevated back section. The ridge can be used to feed shots back towards a front flag. Shots to the left of the green (avoiding the rock outcropping) can kick right off the hillside and onto the surface. The front pin location could be the site of a hole in one! Make sure to avoid the creek to the right of the green.
#18 (638 yard par 5):
The 18th is a monster par 5, even at the elevation! It is the #2 handicap and I agree with that ranking. The tee shot has an intimidating look to it because it plays through a chute of trees. The hole turns left for the layup and plays uphill to the green. The ideal layup will skirt some pine trees left of the fairway, but it is a tough shot because of the angle. I decided to lay it a bit further back than I wanted to avoid some of the risk. The approach is semi-blind into a green that has some sideboards on the left. If playing to a left flag, don’t short-side it.