What happens when a long-standing club in a prime location in Palm Beach County receives a full clubhouse renovation, a golf course re-design from its legendary architect and a new management team to lead it?
The result is a hidden gem in the club world experiencing unprecedented popularity and memberships available to accommodate a new generation of members.
That’s what’s happening at Bear Lakes Country Club, an elite, golf-centric club nestled in the heart of West Palm Beach, just a short drive from downtown, Palm Beach Island, Singer Island and other luxurious south Florida destinations.
Founded in 1984, Bear Lakes features two golf courses, both designed by Jack Nicklaus and continually re-designed by his design firm with touches from the “golden bear” himself. The Lakes Course, which received a $2.6 million renovation in 2021, is the pinnacle of Palm Beach County golf, with tour quality conditions throughout its traditional Parkland design, and five different tee boxes to play from so golfers can always find the right fit for their game. Its sister course, The Links Course, is a traditional Scottish-style links layout, with undulating fairways and rolling hills, a unique challenge in South Florida.
A Player’s Club
Bear Lakes is known as a “player’s club,” with over 100 single-digit handicap golfers and the most competitive daily game in South Florida. For amateurs who take their golf seriously, there’s no better place to find a high level of competition than at Bear Lakes. The club also features a robust women’s league, with golfers of all levels competing in weekly games, tournaments and events.
But being a scratch golfer isn’t a requirement for membership. With a wide range of members of all ages and handicaps and an array of tees to play the course at any length, there’s a game at Bear Lakes for any golfer who appreciates the best in course conditions, amenities and services. The membership is extremely active in tournament play as well, with Bear Lakes offering a busy schedule of events. The three-day Member/Guest Tournament sees players fly in from around the country to challenge themselves on a pair of immaculate courses while The Founders’ Cup is one of the longest-running club tournaments in Palm Beach County.
“Bullish on the Bear”
Part of the reason for the meteoric rise in popularity in Bear Lakes over the past year has been the influence of the new leadership team led by General Manager/COO Chris Hull, who took over in February of 2021. A veteran of the club industry, having worked at some of the finest clubs up and down the East Coast (including Baltusrol Golf Club and Addison Reserve Country Club) Hull brought a culinary background and hospitality excellence to Bear Lakes, helping to elevate an already stellar product.
“Shortly into my interview process, I recognized the potential of the club,” Hull said. “The newly renovated clubhouse, championship golf courses, strong food and beverage program and most important — the special membership we have at the Bear. We engaged and I hit the ground running. I immediately began to build the management team and recruited top-level talent. Within my first month at the club, I hired Mike Rienzi (director of golf course maintenance). Mike developed his eye for detail and ability to produce championship playing conditions at Augusta National and Kiva Dunes. Shortly after his arrival at Bear Lakes we began to see his skills and the members have been thrilled with the quality of the turf he produces ever since. Adding Jimmy Gascoigne, the director of golf, was our next win. Jimmy brought his experience running 36-hole golf facilities from Ocean Reef Club, and the Boca Resort to Bear Lakes. He is a skilled player, instructor and manager. We don’t see an individual that brings all three attributes very often in the director role, but Jimmy is the ‘top shelf hat trick.’ Bringing Jeff Moore on the team was our next needle-moving moment. Jeff joined us from the Polo Club adding his marketing and sales expertise. This team likes to function at a high level and our members enjoy the results.”
Hull continued, “Our goal is to provide an elite golf experience for our members, then pair that with a friendly, welcoming social environment offering up-scale food, service and amenities with four star-service attunement between the staff and the membership without pretension. By delivering what our members desire consistently, we have created high levels of confidence and trust. We have an abundance of member pride and the environment at Bear Lakes is electric.”
The Lakeside Lounge and Nicklaus Dining Room feature wall-to-wall sliding doors that open to overlook the Lakes Course and provide members with an indoor/outdoor setting to enjoy the beautiful Florida weather while they dine. From casual post-golf lunch to happy hours with friends to up-scale dinners, Bear Lakes offers a constant variety of dining options to its members.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an incredible rise in both golf popularity and northerners migrating to Florida, the combination of which has led to a tremendous demand for golf and country clubs. This has left many potential club members on waitlists and without a club to call home. Unlike many of its competitors, however, Bear Lakes is still accepting new members while maintaining a manageable membership size.
“We had room to grow,” said Jeff Moore, director of marketing and membership. “So, we’ve been able to welcome over 100 new members in the past two years without any overcrowding to our golf courses and, more importantly, without sacrificing the member experience.”
At its current pace, the club will reach its cap within the next year, but for now there is room left to continue capitalizing on the popularity that has come with its recent success.
“We’re really excited about the energy around the club with all of our new members,” noted Moore. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of Bear Lakes Country Club.”
For more information on Bear Lakes Country Club, visit bearlakes.org. For membership information, contact Membership Director Jeff Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (561)623-5033.