Golfers, writers and other pundits like to say Victoria Golf Club on Vancouver Island share similarities to Pebble Beach. Yes, I can see some of these attributes after having played Pebble a few years ago and immensely enjoying this experience. I played scenic Ardglass in Northern Ireland and this gem is marketed as the Pebble Beach of Northern Ireland. Yes, I see some of these connections. Perhaps however, Pebble Beach and Ardglass should say they share similarities with Victoria Golf Club. After all, this magnificent golf course on Vancouver Island is the oldest one in Canada still on it’s existing grounds and older than the other two beauties.
My friend Alistair who is a member at the private Victoria Golf Club treated my wife and me to a round. From the full parking lot where you could look up to see a large bald eagle’s nest residing on a tall tree beside the historical clubhouse, to the initial beautiful views of the ocean and manicured confines you knew you were entering somewhere special. Its own history and stories did not need to be relegated to the back seat to anyone.
A caddie program is still used at this course and this is very much a walker’s venue. I have only come across Hamilton Golf and Country Club as the other Canadian club still offering golfers this wonderful caddying experience. I actually didn’t see an electric cart throughout the round and I found this enlightening. As a golfing traditionalist I like the option of walking.
We chose the big wheeled push carts and the walk was not onerous. This comfortable stroll at Victoria Golf Club heightens your senses. The impressive sights of the sparkling ocean and the feel of the tickling breeze on those holes creeping closely to the cliffs on the coast were highlights. The fairways were beautiful and the fine greens sometimes offered tricky undulations.
This is not a course for what I term, “Master Blaster” golf. The scorecard shows a shorter course in the 6200 yard range but don’t let that number fool you. The course plays longer and it is the crosswind that is its potent weapon, especially against those feeling cocky at the outset of their round.
Numbers 3 and 4 share a partial fairway to allow for some maneuvering and made me smile. It was like my first experience playing links golf at Crail in Scotland where one pondered wearing a helmet to protect one’s skull. Here, players knew the etiquette and waited patiently for each group to hit without a cranium knock. There was civility and people sported wide grins as golfers passed with friendly hellos.
There are certainly holes you can attack if conditions are right. Elevation changes throughout the course are not overwhelming and there are well-defined places you want to land your shots. I like to summarize this course as a thinking man’s course where wind comes at you in different directions. Alistair offered great guidance on how to play shots and such tips were most welcome. Often club selection was one more than your brain calculated because of the challenging winds. The holes shift in direction, sometimes subtly so. He knew spots where you did not want to be on the wrong side of the hole since the greens run quickly. And the temperature can drop a few degrees suddenly on holes close by the water. This gives you a quick prompt to stare into the ocean.
Following No. 6 when you hit a blind tee shot and another approach shot that can be blind, make sure you appreciate number 7 from the tee. Your line is at a bullseye in the distance to the right hand side but your heart says to cut closer to the left corner, on what you believe is fairway. In fact, after I hit what I thought was a good drive I did not hear good drive but rather an ominous silence. “That may be over the cliff” Alistair stated matter-of-factly. Hmmmm…I wandered down the fairway and viewed boats crashing through waves to show tourists gigantic whales. The beautiful mountains in Washington State were just over yonder and then I looked down to see my ball resting comfortably in the rough by a sand trap and the cliff not five yards away marked by vivid red stakes. Now only a wedge. Certainly not my intention if I was sane!
Back to back par 3’s on No. 8 and No. 9 are treats. The first one is a shorter one with the ocean at your back and a swirling wind. No. 9 also has the ocean beckoning in the back but you have to strike a long iron and play the left to right slant into this 200 yarder. Both come at different angles so the wind can be in your face or like links golf, and this is links style golf, the ball can be pushed sideways. A treat to play such “technician golf”.
The back nine start has the ocean at the rear. Take a moment to admire this special view and forget about your score for a moment as you will head inland towards the clubhouse. A strategic par 4, it is positioning into this green from the left side that is important with a tree lingering to the right. The back nine may not have the great views of the ocean but it is longer, has some tree-lined fairways to force accurate shots, and sometimes is more demanding than the front.
After crossing another hole’s fairway we cross the road that peculiarly winds itself through the course and where windshields have been smacked. Legend says that the ghost of the slain Doris Charnock Thomson Gravlin wanders the course and lasers drivers with her wicked stare. Sounds like a hazard to be driving a motored vehicle! Alistair has us stand by the snack shack on No. 11 and educates us in saying he can see almost a piece of each hole but two from that viewpoint. No. 11 is the longest par 4 and brute force is needed to get home in two. Also, as you traverse the back nine golfers can still glimpse parts of the ocean outside of perhaps number 15, a wicked dogleg left and challenging positional tee shot. There are even back to back par 3’s on the back. I thought Ballybunion was unique by offering a short par 3 and then a beastly difficult long par 3 on the back nine consecutively but this must be a first to have this par 3 combination on both nines.
The final three holes are a mix of a strategic par 4, a shorter par 5 and a good finishing par 4 with a dogleg left approach. Fantastic and neatly tidy golf is needed at Victoria Golf Club. A drink in the warm confines clubhouse oozing tradition following the round was very enjoyable and a fine reward for a job well done. I can see why being a member at this club is a privilege and with the mild temperatures of Vancouver Island many can play all year round. Lucky chaps I say!
As you leave the club check out the 120 foot flagpole with the massive Canadian flag. This is a friendly wave to the Washingtonians across the water. And then ask, “when does the bald eagle come out to play?”. For more information on Victoria Golf Club please go to http://www.victoriagolf.com/club