Another course on the expensive side, but well worth it, is Black Bear in Franklin (Sussex County). What my 39th course (River Vale CC) might have previewed in elevation changes and blind shots, Black Bear offers in spades. Set essentially into the side of the mountain, Black Bear is as challenging as it is attractive.
I spent most of the summers of my teen years in Sussex County, so I vaguely remember when the course was built. I was not yet playing golf at the time, but I remember thinking that it was one of the few courses I had even seen (or given notice to) and it had magically just appeared on a familiar route, seemingly out of nowhere. Route 23 was long stretches of nothingness for parts, and small bastions of civilization at others. When anything was being developed, it was easy to notice. The course is tucked away but when it was finished, the sign at the road announced its existence and you could just about see it in the background.
My round at Black Bear started the way no other round in my life had. Bogey on 3 and birdie on 6 meant I was even through six holes. I bogeyed the 7th but parred 8 and 9 to make the turn at +1. I hit 6 fairways and 6 GIR. To put that in perspective, to date for the year, I am averaging 5.17 FIR and 5.56 GIR per round. I didn’t know what I was doing right, and I desperately wanted it to continue coming home.
Alas, I let it get inside my head.
I started the back nine bogey-bogey, and then it unraveled (relatively, of course). I hit the 12th green in regulation from a difficult lie, but I was 36 feet out. I then proceeded to 4-putt. A birdie opportunity turned into double bogey. Something of a running theme for me, my lag putt left much to be desired, as well as another 9 feet before I could hole out. I got careless with a 2-footer coming back, and that is the story of my 4-putt.
I made it through the closing 6 holes in +6, with one highlight and one lowlight. I took triple bogey on 17 after putting my approach into the woods behind the green. That’s the lowlight. My highlight, however, was driving the green on 15. I not only drove the green; I hit what must have been the top of the pin. I initially thought it hit the flag and dropped straight down. However, after taking the carts up to the green, I noticed the ball actually ended up about 3 feet over the green on an awkward downslope. Luckily, I chipped to one foot and carded my second birdie of the round.
And so it was a tale of two nines. After going out in +1, I came back in at +10 to tie my best first-time-on-a-new-course score of +11, set a month earlier at River Vale CC. In a two-round fight, I got the best of the bear at first, but then The Bear got the best of me.