Known as the Garden City, Victoria is the capital city of the province of British Columbia on the Pacific coast of Canada. Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is 100 km from the mainland and Vancouver, the largest city in western Canada.
Vancouver Island is the only area of Canada that offers year round golf. December and January are typically rainy and the coldest months of the year, nonetheless most courses remain open for the diehards. The most comfortable stretch to play is March thru October as daytime highs average 20C and the region receives less than 25 mm of rain monthly.
Head north along the east coast of the island and in approximately one hour you will descend into the scenic Comox Valley and the par 72 treasure that is Crown Isle. This Graham Cooke offering was opened in 1992 and is a spectacular example of Vancouver Island Golf. The architect was presented with a property containing eleven lakes and he incorporated them into a menagerie of picturesque vistas to distract your eye and challenge your shots. Several tees are elevated and not only set up their respective holes, they also provide stunning views of the Comox Glacier and the nearby Beaufort mountain range.
At 7025 yards from the back tees, Crown Isle is a study in ball placement and course management. The best illustration of the target golf model would be the third hole, a 425 yard par 4 dogleg left that forces you to work a tee shot between fairway bunkers at the the apex of the corner. If successful, the player then faces a long iron or hybrid approach to a well bunkered green that sits at an angle to the fairway and has contoured aprons to expel any errant shots. The precision demanding par 3 sixteenth is a 183 yard carry over water to a green with your only bailout to the left, as there is a bunker in front as well as one behind, plus another pond to the right. The resort course has a superb practice area for warm-up or to iron out the kinks after you’ve completed the 18 hole test.
In 1994 as a member of Western High School, an 18 year old Eldrick “Tiger” Woods had the privilege of playing Olympic View Golf Club. Woods won the individual title in that two day event, although he did confess to hitting four balls in the water over the 36 holes. This Bill Robinson design will inevitably have you rinsing some Titleists of your own, as there are no less than twelve lakes incorporated into the layout. The views of the Olympic Mountains in nearby Washington State serve two purposes, obviously the naming of the track as well as providing some spectacular views from different elevation points on the property.
The golf course itself is wonderful, naturally contoured fairways defined by rock outcrops and groves of redwood trees, marshy water hazards with reeds and bulrushes, undulating greens that are receptive and pure to the roll and five sets of tees to allow all level of players to feel comfortable. The iconic seventeenth hole features a 40 foot waterfall that is your target from the tee some 455 yards away. As you journey down the fairway of this difficult par 4, you pass several rock shelves and ledges as well as an elegant Japanese garden. With such tranquil beauty, score is almost irrelevant on this postcard worthy route. Prior to leaving for your 20 minute drive back to Victoria, stop in the spectacular circular clubhouse for apres-golf and reminisce about a round you won’t soon forget.
One of the newest additions to the Vancouver Island Golf Trail is the mountain style Highland Pacific Golf Club located only 15 minutes from downtown. Built under the watchful eye of architect Chris Young, the Pacific Nine opened in 2008 with the Highland Nine starting play in 2010. Stretching out to 6603 yards from the pro tees, you are treated to incredible views of the Olympic Mountain range, Thetis Lake and the Juan de Fuca Straits in the Pacific Ocean. Try not to be distracted by the views if you’re trying to score well however, as this layout can be a true test of your ability.
As you stand on the first tee your initial impression is that there are no flat landing areas to play towards. You’re best to accept this realization as the rolling terrain will force you to understand that in mountain golf your target from the tee is often not where you would like your ball to come to rest. Working shots off the slopes or laying up before downhill or uphill grades is the prescription for success here, as virtually every hole involves both ascents and descents in their design. The putting surfaces follow the natural contours of the acreage and roll as purely as any greens you will ever play. The postcard like view from the eighth tee on the Highland loop includes the Juan de Fuca Straits set behind the skyline of the the city of Victoria, and then a horizon of water that extends to infinity. This 385 yard par 4 requires a real commitment to your target from the tee, where driver is not required, and realistically not recommended. Once you’ve reached the fairway, you’re faced with a downhill approach to a multi contoured green where finding the right hollow the hole is located in is paramount to three putt avoidance. As with many of the holes on this fascinating property, score is often secondary to the cerebral satisfaction the vistas provide as your adventure progresses.
One name associated with greatness in golf is Jack Nicklaus and as the only golf complex in Canada to host two of his 18 hole projects on the same property, Bear Mountain is a must play when in the Victoria area. Whether your first choice is the Mountain Course or the Valley Course, shortly after you’ve played one track you will be wanting to tee it up on the other. Set atop an 1100 foot mountain elevation, the Mountain Course is a par 70 that plays to 6900 yards from the tips. The rugged routing is highlighted by dramatic elevation changes often including semi-blind tee balls or approaches. The large receptive greens are sedate and fair, holding approach shots well and rolling true. The opening nine takes you from the clubhouse up through the forest of large evergreens and you continue to climb to the mountain summit where you then encounter the fourteenth, perhaps one of the most picturesque and unforgiving downhill 165 yards you’ll ever face. With no bailout offered, your only salvation is that the hole is short enough to allow for a short iron or wedge in your hands. It is all downhill to the clubhouse from the fourteenth tee in what is one of the friendliest finishing stretches you will experience on a Golden Bear designed golf course.
When playing the 6800 yard, par 71 Valley track, you will immediately recognize the differences from its higher elevation sister. While your long game won’t be as severely tested, the greens are far more undulating and will challenge first your ability to read greens and next your skill at executing the required stroke. With wider fairways and better sightlines than its bunkmate, the Valley routing is no less scenic. Native grasses and marshlands are complemented by natural outcroppings that help to aesthetically contour the holes to fit the players eye, exactly as Jack intended. The par 5 eighteenth is the perfectly suited wrap up to this examination of your skills as you play a rolling fairway downhill to a receptive green that offers you a chance to finish with a possible birdie or even better.
As an accompaniment to the fantastic pair of championship courses is the Westin luxury hotel with outdoor pool, spa services and fine dining available to satisfy your stay and play desires. Only minutes from the Harbour in downtown Victoria, Bear Mountain is host to the Pacific Links PGA Champions Tour event held every September.
The people who inhabit Vancouver Island are nationally recognized as having the best lifestyle and least stress of any Canadians. Surely the weather and pace of living attribute to their collective wellness, however you can’t underestimate the value of having some of the finest golf experiences in Canada if not the world right in their very backyard.