Before an initial ball is struck, the visitor to Bear Mountain Golf Course is welcomed to the wilderness by the howl of mountain life.
Running adjacent to the tee box of the 379-yard, par-4 first at the 9-hole track, the wolf inhabitants at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo let the player know that you're someplace unique, native and unfettered.
Just 90 miles away from Palm Springs, an ascent through the San Bernardino National Forest up to the 7,000-foot elevation of Big Bear brings an ideal, temperate respite from the late-summer, early-autumn sizzle of the desert. Among the host of mountain activities, a round at Bear Mountain shouldn’t be missed.
"It's very peaceful and quiet up here, surrounded by the trees and the wilderness," says Robert Hendricks, pro shop and operations manager at Bear Mountain Golf Course. "We're looking down at the temperatures in the desert when it's 115 and here it's at 80. I would say that at least half of our regular golfers are up here from the desert during the summertime."
As regular course visitors will attest: The elevated environs are coupled with a game of clubbing-adjustments. While most travelers don’t go to Big Bear to do math, modifications are necessary at the altitude, with one's ball soaring an additional 8-12 yards through the breezy, pine-perfumed air.
"It's a different game up here," agrees Hendricks of the Bear Mountain grounds that have been posing club-queries since 1948. "Our golfers say it's about a one-club difference. But it affects every player differently. And you can notice your ball so well up here. The ball almost looks like it's going in slow-motion sometimes."
To wit: The elevated green on the testy, par-4 No. 3 is a terrific study in club selection. A sound drive on the 344-yarder segues to an approach over trouble, and a putting surface that slopes dramatically from back-to-front.
On the ensuing, 463-yard par-5 fourth, the elevated tee box is a thesis in high-altitude play, as the ball appears to ceaselessly soar, seemingly suspended in air.
Rounding home, Hendricks notes:
"The eighth is our water hole, where you're hitting over a pond," he says. "We've made some major adjustments with a new retaining wall in front and by raising the green. Before, the ball used to roll down to the pond. Now, we can use more pin placements."
The nascent may eyeball the 2,783 yard scorecard at Bear Mountain and perhaps consider the layout a pushover in contrast to stout, desert challenges. That would be a mistake.
There are wolf's teeth amid the mountain majesty and club choices gone awry will lead to a few doubles. Golf, as always and before, is a gentleman's game. Up at Bear Mountain, it's a mathematician's effort as well.
At just two hours away with 80-degree temps, crunch the numbers and card your own elevated experience.
Bear Mountain Golf Course, 43101 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake, Calif., (909) 585-8002, www.bigbearmountainresorts.com