Big Jake: Waco's Bear Ridge Now Longest Course in State

March 21, 2002

This article by Grant Lovaasen ran earlier this year in Texas Golfer Magazine. Reprinted with permission. For more on the magazine or Texas golf, please see

PGA Tour Veteran Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy have set a new milestone in Texas with their design of the recently opened Bear Ridge Golf Club in Waco. Measuring 7,478 yards from the "Big Jake" tees, this beautiful track challenges even the longest hitters. Located along the Bosque River, the course is one of the most varied in the state, featuring dense wooded areas, open links, and dramatic elevation changes.

Opened in November of 2001, Bear Ridge is home to both men's and women's golf teams from Baylor University. The teams have their own training and practice facility on the property.

Course owner Dennis Nelson has contracted with Kemper Sports Management to operate the daily fee course. The facility is a great setting for the individual golfer, corporate outings, or someone just learning the game. Its location on the outskirts of Waco provides easy access, but places it far enough out to provide a very natural setting. The course's fairways are TifSport Bermuda and landing areas are typically medium to wide, but are often bordered by trees, water or sand. Head Pro/General Manager Steve Smith says Bear Ridge is a "driver's golf course," as quality shots off the tee are essential to scoring well.

The Tif Eagle greens are mostly medium in size. Assistant Pro Lewis Mexia commented that "..the greens are running pretty fast right now," a fact echoed by several recent patrons. Mexia went on to explain that the plan is to keep the greens short even during the growing season to provide a consistent challenge.

Six sets of tees are available on every hole, from the shortest red tees at 5,157 yards, to the silver ones, which were given the "Big Jake" moniker. Even the black tees play at a championship length of 7,123, for the long hitter that just can't quite work up the courage to step all the way back. The yardages of the other three sets of tees are more in line with what the typical golfer would play.

While the course can play very long, depending of the tees chosen, Smith calls the layout "a very fair golf course." The front nine is pretty, with many quality golf holes, but the back nine is even more scenic, with several views that will wow even the most well-traveled player. "The holes are quite varied...with woods, doglegs, water, bunkers, and elevation changes all coming into play," explains Smith.

The first three holes on the course play through the woods, with moderate elevation changes. Holes 4-7 are out in the open, but all have elevation changes or water in play. No. 8, a longish par 5, starts out in the open with water and bunkers providing the challenge, but doglegs left uphill into a chute of trees for the final 100 yards of the hole. Holes 9 and 10, have trees in play on both sides, while No. 11 emerges back into the open.

The 12th hole, a medium-length par-4 at 407 yards, is one of the more demanding and beautiful on the course. A lake runs the entire length of the hole on the left, and also cuts across the fairway in front of the green. Though not a huge carry, tug the drive just a touch and the ball will meet a watery grave. Bail to the right and there are three steeply sloped fairway bunkers to swallow up the ball.

A well-placed tee shot affords the player the opportunity to soak in the beauty of the approach, as water frames the green on three sides. But one must not be taken in by the comeliness of the hole, as the shot is quite demanding, and just a small twitch can foretell a sandy or watery destination.

While Jacobsen and Hardy have not designated a particular signature hole, Smith calls Nos. 14-16 the "Signature Stretch." The par-3 14th plays 216 yards from the back tees, with an 85-foot drop over a large tree that can obstruct the view of the pin. For the more humble player, the shorter tees play from 145 to 173 yards at a different angle with less elevation change. Though the green is large, trouble awaits errant shots, as is the case with most every hole on the course.

The Bosque River runs along the left side of the 15th hole, with a ridge rising above on the right. Even though the hole plays 419 yards from the back, a drive cannot just be blasted, as it must stay between the wooded river left and a ravine on the right. Even a straight tee shot that travels too far may run into the water hazard that crosses the fairway. A mid-iron approach follows a quality tee shot, and a player leaving with a 4 should count his blessings. The 515-yard 16th hole is the only par-5 on the course that is reachable in 2 under typical conditions. The hole plays pretty much straight away, with a gorgeous view of the generous fairway from the elevated tee boxes. After a solid drive, many players will have a go at the green, as only a very errant second shot should find much trouble. Hit a good putt here and the player may leave with birdie or eagle.

The course finishes with a very challenging hole. Its 430 yards plays into the prevailing south wind. The drive is uphill to a plateau fairway with three bunkers on the right and trees down the left. Even a good tee shot leaves a medium-to-long iron approach over a ravine that juts in from the right to a green well protected by bunkers. Leaving 18 with a par can help ease the pain of the almost inevitable penalties paid earlier in the round.

The 8,500 square foot clubhouse boasts a hill-country motif, with a wood and Austin stone exterior. It houses facilities to host multiple groups from 16 to150 people. The 1,200 square foot pro shop carries many of today's top brands including Ashworth and Cutter & Buck.

The staff at the course is extremely helpful and friendly. An attendant greets each guest in the parking lot, and is present to assist and clean clubs after the round. The pros are very personable and provide excellent instruction.

Green fees are $30 Monday through Thursday, and $40 Friday-Sunday and holidays. Cart fee is an additional $10, but walking is allowed.

While striving to provide a "country club atmosphere for the daily fee player," Bear Ridge also offers memberships. There are unlimited and weekday offerings, as well as programs for the lighted driving range and practice facility.

Bear Ridge is a golf course that is both beautiful and fun to play for golfers of all levels. So when in Central Texas with a few hours to spare, make sure you "Dare to challenge The Bear!" It's a great experience.

Fast Facts
Where: Waco, Texas
Type: Daily Fee with memberships available
Yardage: Silver ("Big Jake") tees, 7478, Black tees, 7123, Gold tees, 6698, Blue tees, 6257, White tees, 5674, Red tees, 5157.
Rates: $30 Monday-Thursday, $40 Friday-Sunday, $10 Optional Cart Rental.
Pro shop number: (254) 848-7800



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