Jason Bell Behind the Bench
Free Press
No more hibernating; Black Bear beckons
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No more hibernating; Black Bear beckons

Good day to all,

There’s a golf game in my immediate future. Finally.

Just booked a group for late afternoon Sunday at the home course, Black Bear Golf Club, near Lee River and about 12 minutes east of Lac du Bonnet.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of nine-hole layouts, but this sweet par-33 track is the exception. While it’s not exactly Canadian Shield at its most rugged, Black Bear highlights the granite landscape of eastern Manitoba lake country and offers varying degrees of elevation. It also comes with a few ponds placed in some tricky spots.

It's a wonderful place for beginners and mid- to high-handicappers but has a couple of holes that can eat you alive. I routinely butcher the monster par-5 fifth hole, every bit of 580 yards from an elevated tee box, with out-of-bounds along the left side and an enormous water hazard dug directly in front of the green.

To me, the ninth is Black Bear’s feature hole, a diminutive par-4 that can be reached with a solid poke of a hybrid club – although it’s a totally blind 210-yard shot over trees. A couple of times, I was certain I’d be dancing, as it were, only to spend five minutes searching in vain for my gently used Srixon.

“Must have hit the vey last branch,” I’ve muttered to myself more than once, before clanging the bell to alert the group behind that the green is clear.

Posting a low score (my game gets progressively worse each year) will be secondary to enjoying two hours outdoors with my kids. Scott, soon to be 29 (how that’s possible, I have no idea), has been beating me on the golf course since he was 13. Eliza, nearly 25, is just beginning to show an interest in the game, so it will be fun to see how she makes out in the season-opener. Scott’s girlfriend, Justine, another relative beginner, is also part of the family foursome. I expect some colourful language at times and a pile of laughter along the way.

Black Bear Golf Club (Allan Gould photo)

This is my 50th season pulling out the sticks, as I played my first game in Carman in 1973 when I was only seven. My playing partners were my uncle, Bill, and my cousin, Miles, two of my absolute favourite people who, sadly, are no longer with us.

I spent many summer weekends with extended family in the small southern Manitoba community and played a lot of golf on the original nine, long before it was expanded to 18.

I’m a lefty and could hit the ball a long way in my teens, with a bit of a natural fade, which helped significantly on those short, dogleg-left par-4s. (Those familiar with the original Carman design will know exactly what I’m talking about.)

In my late teens, I played almost exclusively at Rossmere – still one of the city’s true gems. I carded a lot of scores in the high-80s, low-90s, never dipping into the 70s despite a few hundred attempts during my time at the course in East Kildonan. Not even the time when I drained a five-footer on the par-3 fifth to move to 2-under and then promptly split the sixth fairway with a lengthy tee ball. (Charged with adrenaline, I then sailed an 8-iron beyond the green, over a fence and into someone’s backyard, eventually posting a triple-bogey 7.) I’m almost certain I finished 42-44 for a then-mundane 86. I'd kill for that number now.

In university, I played out of Elmhurst (an affordable intermediate membership) for a couple of seasons before getting married and moving to Brandon to write for the Sun sports department in 1990. Joining Shilo for a few seasons was a special treat, particularly trying to block out -- while putting -- the ear-splitting boom of mortar fire as soldiers trained at the nearby military base.

With the arrival of children and their many activities, golf for me became a sporadic pastime, usually just a half-dozen games a year with buddies in and around Winnipeg. We’d hit up the municipal courses – Kildonan, more often than not – and also ventured out to Mars Sandhills, Bel Acres and ultra-scenic Granite Hills.

I hadn’t been to Kildonan in about 15 years but played there two years ago as part of a story FP columnist Mike McIntyre wrote to kick off the 2020 season in the outset of the pandemic. You can see by the picture below I had some trouble with railway bridge on the signature par-3 10th hole.

Trouble at the trestle hole. (Mike McIntyre photo)

I’ve had the privilege of playing some world-class courses, such as Kapalua Bay in Maui (1990) on my honeymoon, the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., (1993) with my late father-in-law, two-time Manitoba senior golf champion Hugh Turnbull, Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., (2008) during a golf junket, and Cabot Cliffs in Inverness, N.S., and The Links at Crowbush Cove in Prince Edward Island, on a 2019 trip to the Maritimes with Scott.

Father-son day at Cabot Cliffs (Scott Bell photo)

Lately, my go-to has been Granite Hills, the absolute beauty just 10 minutes from our cabin. The views along the lake are simply incredible. It’s now open for business and I’m eager for the first real test of 2022, although I already know what to expect when I get there. I’ll either sky my tee shot about 160 yards on the (almost unfairly so) difficult par-4 first hole and face a second blind shot up the hill, or, even worse, push my drive into the left trees. Either way I make 8, indeed a solid start.

I also anticipate chipping in for a rather unjust, scrambly birdie at some point, and expect to be standing on the 18th tee box in desperate need of a par to break 100.

While the weather continues to suck, I’m sure some of my subscribers are hoping to get a game in during the long weekend. I’d love to hear stories about where you played and how you made out, or, perhaps, your special golf memories from the past. Send them in and I’ll feature snippets next week.

Until then, keep it in the short stuff.

Jason Bell

— Sports editor Jason Bell

Jason Bell


Downs set for season: After two unsettling years, Winnipeg's iconic track is preparing for a 'normal' thoroughbred horse-racing season, FP columnist Mike McIntyre reports. 

Toughest test yet: The Winnipeg Ice faces a formidable opponent, the Edmonton Oil Kings, in its quest for a spot at the Memorial Cup national junior hockey championship, writes Mike Sawatzky.

Talent distributed: Brandon's Cole Temple was the first of many Manitobans selected in Thursday's Western Hockey League draft, reports Sawatzky.

Back to work: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were a grateful bunch as they returned to the field Thursday following successful labour negotiations, reports Taylor Allen.

Learning the ropes: CFL rookies all geared up to make a lasting first impression had their dreams stalled when they walked off the job, Allen reports.

Sweep, sweep: The Goldeyes took all three games from the Canaries, highlighted by a 10-1 trouncing in a rare late-morning start Thursday. FP intern Gavin Axelrod took in the action.


The Winnipeg Goldeyes’ Reggie Pruitt Jr. (4) celebrates with team mate Eric Rivera (19) after hitting a grand slam home run during a game against the Sioux Falls Canaries at Shaw stadium Thursday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)




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