-A Higher Standard-
When Brian Magee set out to build a golf course just north of Belleville he was determined that it would be no ordinary product. A passionate golfer and successful business man, he has high standards and knew that in the very competitive golf industry; he would have to offer an experience at a level that would be respected and appreciated.
He accomplished that and more in Black Bear Ridge, a ScoreGolf Top 100 Course in the Canada and the an award-winning design from the day it opened in 2005.
Magee had owned the property on Harmony Road just north of highway 401 for some time before Black Bear came to be and he took his time in planning the project, ensuring it was well thought out and in line with what he felt golfers would really appreciate. The design was his own, and working with an experienced course builder they carefully crafted a memorable product that blended well with the land it sits on.
What struck me as interesting about Black Bear Ridge when I first heard of the project is that I envisioned an attempt to create a premium public golf course on a scale that had yet to be seen in Eastern Ontario. That was only correct in some ways.
Black Bear Ridge, I soon discovered, was not about being the most revered and vaulted course possible due to extravagance, but more about being the most complete and well-conditioned golf facility possible without being encumbered by an exorbitant green fee.
Complete; no compromises; but open to all with an interest in the game.
It is always surprising to speak with golfers who visit the course for the first time. Their expectations may have been heightened by what they have heard but few really understand what it offers until they make that initial visit.
While many know there is a fine golf course to be played – one of enough regard to be recognized by multiple publications, enlightenment comes when they see the extensive short game practice area, practice range, nine hole short course, and inclusive Skills Development Centre with it’s own training grounds and guidance by former Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member Cathy Sherk.
To think all this is in a city of just over 40,000 in Eastern Ontario is surprising but in that regard the setting is part of its attraction.
The expansive undulating property is an idyllic golf setting if you prefer a course of endless interest and natural beauty. You only need to look to the first tee and the vista it provides from seventy-five feet above the fairway below to begin your appreciation for the place.
Despite its youth, the main golf course has great bones provided by the mature landscape. It looks less created and more “drawn out” from the land.
Mr. Magee does not take credit for the beauty of the course, as he stated in an interview a couple years ago– “The truth of the matter is that it was here all the time. I’d owned the land for so long I knew it was there it was a matter of taking the trees and making a few bumps and hollows and dropping in a trap here and there. It was always here; the plan for the course fit the land as opposed to changing a lot of things and moving stuff around and that’s why we’ve been able to have, on basically every hole, mature trees on either side of it.”
That look created instant respect among better players and average golfers were delighted as well. Adding to that appreciation was an overall course philosophy that ensures its general appeal to all levels of golfers.
Playing as little as 5,145 yards and all the way back to 7,238 yards, there is a course within that to suit every player.
You can pick your distance without compromising the beauty and interest in each hole which were crafted in a way that there are limited similarities between each. They are distinct designs; ones that leave a lasting impression.
At the same time you will not find anything over-the-top or overbuilt as became all too common with course design in recent decades. A simple philosophy bourn from years of experience playing golf courses around the world carried through into each hole from Mr. Magee. You will find limited forced carries, no excessive doglegs, no blind shots, and no bunkers with six foot faces that are impossible to play from.
All this in a package as well-conditioned as any you might find in the world under the guidance of Superintendent Bill Fach. Fach, the 2008 Canadian Superintendent of the Year has an impressive resume that includes stints at Essex, Rosedale, and York Downs, and it shows in the product at Black Bear Ridge.
In arriving at Black Bear Ridge you make your way up a lengthy winding and rising driveway that seems to build anticipation. Once you spot the short game area with multiple greens, pitching areas and bunkers you know you are in store for something out of the ordinary.
The greeting is always a warm one at the course, often coming personally from the Head Professional, Bill Kerr, Jr. who is frequently front and centre at the pro shop entrance. While formal in a way it is still comfortable, making you feel as if the course has been waiting for your arrival alone.
After the delight of that first elevated tee shot the golf course saunters along, serving up one fun test after another. As a golf fan there is a lot to like about playing the layout, with a great mix of designs that assure you will play just about every club in your bag.
Holes of particular interest on the front side include the 8th, a short par four where you can make an aggressive play to try and drive the green or simply use a iron off the tee and rely on the deftness of your wedge skills to produce a birdie opportunity.
On the back nine there are some superb holes, notably the stretch of #11 through #15 which work their way around a large pond that is nesting area for many migratory bird species. The concluding holes of that stretch, a 474-yard uphill par four and a downhill 185-yard par 3 are particularly solid.
The closing hole, a 582-yard par five lends a great exclamation to the day. Exquisite in look, it is well framed by the hillside it plays into with a green placed slightly above your approach.
Rarely do you have the same length shot into the greens through the entire course and those putting surfaces have just enough movement to focus your attention.
From the back tees it is a burly test, but one that puts the emphasis on the player to determine their final score. The same can be said of the forward tee decks which leave it to the golfer to have success of challenges. Just as it should be.
A couple years ago Mr. Magee made mention that the golf course was made for “maximum enjoyment” and it is hard to argue that is what has been delivered. If you have an appreciation for the game it is near impossible to leave the course without a smile, now matter how you scored.
In less than a decade Black Bear Ridge has created an exceptional standard for golf, not just in the Quinte region, but for all other top level public courses in North America.
Creating a timeless, affordable golf course with great facilities seems like a tall order but that is exactly what Black Bear Ridge has made as its mark in Canadian golf.
Bill Kerr, Jr.
Director of Instruction
Golf Course Superintendent
Tees / Yardage / Rating / Slope
Black (Men) – 7238/ 75.4/ 139
Blue (Men) – 6780/72.8/138
White (Men) – 6328/70.7/129
White (Ladies) – 6328/77.2/140
Red (Men) – 5703/68.4/122
Red (Ladies) – 5703/73.3/134
Green (Men) – 5145/65.9/118
Green (Ladies) – 5145/68.4/122
Average Hole Lengths (Black Tees)
Par 3’s: 191 Yards
Par 4’s: 412 Yards
Par 5’s: 590 Yards
Black Bear Ridge Golf Course
501 Harmony Road
Tel: (613) 968-2327 (BEAR)
Toll Free: 866-811-2327 (BEAR)