Victoria Golf Club – Pebble Beach North

Victoria Golf Club – Pebble Beach North

https://www.victoriagolf.com/

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The Point.  From the Gold tees on 10 there is the 8th green and the 9th tees.

I am not the first to pen that Victoria Golf Club is reminiscent of Pebble Beach.  But perhaps it should be the other way around.  Victoria Golf Club opened in 1893, making it one of the oldest golf clubs in the country; the oldest in British Columbia.  This venerable course set on under 100 acres of property in Oak Bay, one of the southernmost pieces of property on Vancouver Island.  This course was home to Canadian Golf Hall of Fame architect A.V. Macan who worked and played here, making significant architectural contributions to the course to which are still attributed today.  I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play this course on a cool (but dry) February morning this winter.  The experience was one I will cherish; this historic course is most worthy of its high rankings within Canada.

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This view from the 5th tee over the strait and looking at the Olympic mountains is a favourite of mine.

First, and most notably is the property.  Playing only over 6150 yards from the Gold tees, the course is modest and intelligent in its use of land and plays well to the asset of its oceanside location.  And at the pinnacle of this fabulous location is ‘The Point’, part of the course set off Beach Drive alongside the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Here, on a clear day you will get majestic views of the Olympic mountains, notably Mount Baker, in Washington state.  The Point hosts holes 7 to 10 before crossing back over to the remaining 8 holes.  Yet there are spectacular views throughout the course, not just on The Point.

Notable Canadian architect Jeff Mingay has been retained to do some restoration work with a focus on the bunkers.  He’s also supporting some green restoration and tree removal.  His objective, as stated in a SCOREGolf interview, is just “polishing the gem”.  Bringing back the classic, natural look of the course to what Mingay sees as its peak in the early 1950’s under Macan is his goal and from my perspective and that of members I had the pleasure of playing with, he’s doing spectacular work.

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While not a long hole, the par 4 5th demands your attention off the tee.  That is if you can keep your focus…what a view.

The course is no pushover, despite the length.  Wind and large green complexes (which run quick in the summer) are the courses greatest defenses. I three-putted five times and felt fortunate at that so I can attest to the challenges these would provide in any true competitive play.  The opening par 5 provides a fantastic view to the mountains in the distance but the tee shot will command your attention with trees lining right and bunkers left.  But it was the third hole, called the Road Hole, which will truly grab your attention.  Beach Drive runs left and the hole allows for a bail out right with the adjoined fourth fairway.  A narrowing and uphill approach makes club selection challenging and a multi-tiered green makes par a fabulous score.  Holes 7-10 is where Victoria Golf Club shows off its real natural beauty.  The oceanside holes go 4-3-3-4 on the card.  The par 3’s are not long but may be the most challenging of the four.  Land’s End, the 8th, is only 116 yards from the Gold Tees but factor in wind and a slight plateau to the green and club selection is a challenge on a good day.  Add the natural and rugged bunkering and misses make scrambling for par a scramble for certain.  It was breathtaking and would present a unique challenge every single day.

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Being short-sided on 11 allowed me this fabulous view of the Strait…and a less than fabulous chance at par.

The closing nine is no slouch, with precision being the key.  Back to back par 3’s – the 13th and 14th – demand players to hit the green as there’s no easy miss to assure an up and down par.  A good drive on 17, a par 5, will reward players with a birdie chance.  And good thing, since the 18th is a sharp uphill, aptly named Plateau, where par is a good score.

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The 7th hole.  This photo was taken from an older tee box when the hole was a long par 3.  A great view of the 8th behind it too.

The clubhouse, built in 1928, is steeped in history and provides players a chance to enjoy excellent food and a cold beverage and many places to comfortably look over the scorecard and count shots they would love to have back!

The course enjoys an active membership who have a real appreciation and pride for this great course.  I was fortunate to play within a weekly group of 20 members who tee it up each Monday morning.  The consensus was that Victoria Golf Club is a community of golfers who respect their course, the game and appreciate that they have something truly special – quirky and glorious as one member called it.  And as a guest, I can vouch for that.

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Archie Louis, one of my playing partners and VGC member staring down another fantastic tee shot on 9.  Arch put on a stripe show all day.

Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – a national top 20 course and western Canada’s oldest, I mean what is not to be excited about?!  It was a true privilege to tee it up at Victoria GC.

Course Condition – 8.5 out of 10 – It was the closest thing to an off season that Victoria experiences; bunker renovations are ongoing and the greens were not as fast as they are in peak season (though for me that was a blessing).  But make no mistake, this course is fabulous and well maintained.  Staff, like its members, take pride in this course.

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This group did not hold up the pace of play.  What a sight to greet me upon my arrival!

Overall Experience – 9 out of 10 – This is a very special course.  The history, which Victoria draws exceptionally well from on its website; the unique and sensational piece of property and the intelligent design using a fraction of what most modern courses use in terms of land; and masterful design features all add up to Victoria Golf Club being within a small list of elite courses in Canada.

Highlight – I arrived early and asked at the pro shop which holes I should have my camera ready for and the young man politely smiled and said it would be apparent once our group crossed the road where good places would be for photos.  He clearly undersold here.  This course is a golf photographers dream.  And while the lighting wasn’t necessarily the best, the location and the natural features on the point more than made up for some cloud cover.

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Victoria Golf Club promotes its rich history so well given it’s western Canada’s oldest course.

My Best Shot – I hit it well off the tee for most of the day but on 18 an overly aggressive drive skirted by a tree and left me a short iron in.  The approach was all over the pin but came up 12 feet short.  I eyed up the birdie opportunity (I was playing skins so the putt mattered).  The putt was terrific, well-paced, but broke hard left at the end and just missed the left edge.  A stress free par and fantastic memories from a great round of golf at Victoria.

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An incredible golf experience at Victoria Golf Club.  Thanks to all staff and members who made me feel so welcome.

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Bear Mountain – Mountain Course – A Stunning Track I Wanted to Love

Steve and Jack Nicklaus were provided a very interesting and unique piece of land to work with in developing the original course of a two-course resort layout in Victoria, BC. I’ve had the pleasure of playing this course on two separate occasions and was very impressed with the quality of the course and the natural beauty of the area. This is a course which is worthy of a place on Top 100 lists and should be on the bucket list of Canadian golfers who are seeking exciting, diverse and quality golf experiences. And make no mistake, if and when I return to Victoria I will seek this course out again to play, perhaps as a 36 a day loop with their newer Valley course which I have yet to play. But as much as I liked this course, I can’t bring myself to love it.

There is much to like mind you. There are holes, such as 11 and 14, which are simply spectacular. The optical illusion of 14 is amazing, with a feeling that the uphill approach shot will hold the green or the ball will fall into the harbour. On sunny days you can see Victoria and Port Angeles and are likely able to see Mt. Baker in the distance. Do take time after the hole to admire the view; it’s one of the best I’ve experienced. The conditioning of the course is superb, as one would expect. Greens roll true and quick yet fair. Bunkers are very well maintained and provide a healthy challenge for the player and as a result approach shots demand accuracy. Landing areas off the tee for a mountain course are relatively generous. There are a few holes which require a target approach, and local knowledge is helpful. Hole 15, for example, is deceptive in the landing area and does require a very precise tee shot to remain in play. The par 3 11th hole utilizes the elevation change wonderfully, as opposed to the 4th hole which while extremely scenic is a challenging shot to hold on the green as it’s a slightly uphill tee shot.

The only area in which housing and development comes into play is the first hole. A gentle dogleg right to left on the opening par 5 invites wayward tee shots to the left to approach the resort complex. Once you’re past the first hole, however, this is no longer an issue.

The oddest feature which is unique, exciting and stunning as well as curious, disappointing and detracting is that the best hole on the course is not part of the rotation of 18. Nicklaus saw an opportunity to build a short par 3 after the 14th hole which overlooks the harbour. It’s a visually stunning golf hole which requires a precise shot to a very short par 3. Bear Mountain markets this as their 19th hole but I would like the chance to play this hole as part of the overall layout. To me, this is a serious design flaw and left me wanting.

Playing with a member on both occasions, I can see the pride that members have in this majestic and well-conditioned course. It is a challenging layout but a golf experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and only hope I can experience once again. Look around and take in the marvelous scenery, even look back, for some holes offer an incredible view behind you as well as ahead! My pictures paled in comparison to the pictures available on their website.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – This is a special course with views of Victoria and Washington State which are stunning. The golf course is of a quality that complements the scenery.

Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10. Not the value track that others can boast in Victoria, but there is a quality to Bear Mountain which makes playing here worth the expense, it is a wonderful golf experience.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – I would love to rate this higher, and it is worthy of a higher rank save for the failure to incorporate the best hole into the 18. To me, it’s a missed opportunity. – 7.5 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Having played there twice, I really enjoyed it and would welcome a chance to come back and play it again. It is a very stout test of golf on a beautiful piece of land. With a second course alongside it is now a destination for golfers seeking great golf – 8.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The view after 14 is breathtaking. But before you even tee it up, step outside of the clubhouse and check out the scenery and breathe. You would never know you were mere minutes from downtown Victoria.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – At the risk of overstating it, I’d make the 19th hole the 15th! That and I’d like to have an office in Victoria so I could play here from November to March, affording the chance to golf year round!

Just So You Know – The addition of the new Valley Course provides a great complement to this course and makes the Stay and Play options for this Westin Hotel resort course even more attractive.

Playing Partner Notes – When you play with a member who is a retired golf professional you get some unique insight. My first experience playing with Brian D. was special. It was a damp, foggy December morning and we got off early. After the round he stated he was pleased with his score considering he was seeking to hit close to the cart path to avoid walking far to get to his ball. He demanded I keep my bag on the cart as we played another round in the afternoon as the fog burned off. He was insistent I see this course in all its natural beauty, and wow, what a thrill that was!