Travel – Northern Majesty
Golf in the target-rich environment of Canada is known for spectacular views, lots of on-course wildlife and famous course layouts by famous designers. As the saying applies here, though, it’s a great season, but a short season.
Translated, Canada, known as the Great White North for a reason, is under a blanket of snow and ice for much of the year, with great golf conditions usually from late May to mid-October.
But what if there was a place that featured the same great golf courses, with little snow and full-year golf with equally full-time Canadian hospitality and drinks? That would be awesome, eh?
Welcome to Victoria, British Columbia, where there is plenty of great golf outlets … but its Southern BC location, next to the Salish Sea and surrounded by various mountain ranges, prohibits it from getting the heavy snow and ice that hammers most of the country part of the year.
“We only have two seasons here,” said Randy Frank, general manager of the aptly named Olympic View Golf Club. “We have golf season and a few weeks of rain and mud season, but very little snow, and the courses are almost always open.”
So, the same great courses, the charm of the Victoria Harbor highlighted by the large, historic Empress Hotel, the boutique Oswego, the massive BC Provincial Capital building and nearly full-time golf, plus more bars and eateries per capita than any place in Canada.
It’s a Canadian golf surprise well worth discovering in the springtime, where value-price golf and wide-open fairways add to the charm, or for a summer trip once the rest of the country opens for business.
There are more than 300 golf courses in the British Columbia providence itself, including famous layouts in Whistler, Jasper Park Lodge and many others, but most of them are blanketed by the aforementioned snow and ice much of the winter and spring. Just travel 90 minutes north of Vancouver, and in the upper regions of BC you should find all the skiing you desire for months of a time.
For golf, however, the dozen courses in the Victoria Island area, especially those closer to the city of Victoria, are operable on a nearly year-round basis.
Olympic View Golf Club is a prime example. Ringed by the Olympic Range Mountains, the course offers stunning views at a variety of places, including the new Table Nineteen outdoor eatery that overlooks the par-5 uphill 18th hole at the par-72 layout.
The par-4 17th is a stunner all to itself, playing 457 yards from the back tees, with a 40-foot waterfall backing the green. The tee shot is a narrow fairway, with water just to the left of the green and the waterfall behind. In total, there are 12 holes where water – mainly man-made lakes – come into play, including hole Nos. 1-2, which should get you ready for your Olympic experience. You can play the course all the way back from 6,600 yards or closer in, depending on your golf abilities.
“We have great scenery, great service, great food and good times,” said Frank, who has been with the course nearly a decade.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Tiger Woods made his first appearance in in British Columbia at Olympic View in 1994, at a Canadian Amateur tournament.
There is also a 12-acre practice facility that features large grass decks and comprehensive short game areas. The multi-story clubhouse features indoor and outdoor dining and inside conference rooms.
The largest and one of the finest year-round resorts in the area is the Bear Mountain Community. Not surprisingly for its name, it’s the only 36-hole Jack Nicklaus course in Canada and one of the few in North America.
There are two courses here, the Valley and the Mountain.
The Valley course opened in 2009, as well as the Mountain. In contrast to the Mountain Course, the par-71 Valley Course measures 6,807 yards from the back, Golden Bear tees, around 400 yards shorter than its sibling. Factor in elevated tee boxes, more generous fairway widths, fewer bunkers and larger greens, and the Valley course will likely be considered a “friendlier” version of the original.
There is still a full view of the outstanding scenery in the area, 25 minutes north of downtown Vancouver. There also is more of a chance to score on the course while taking advantage of the course conditions, which rise and fall 300 to 500 feet above the course terrain.
The Mountain Course, by far the more dramatic of the two, was the site of two PGA TOUR Champions event for the 50-and-over set in 2017 and 2018, along with a World Skins Game match. It’s likely the most familiar BC course to Canadians and those who have seen it on TV.
After a tightly wooded opening holes, the first par 3 is a front-nine course stunner. Playing at 184 yards from the back tees, it’s a very tough and tight uphill one-shooter to the green. It’s not easy to see the pin flag from the tee box, but you can see plenty of rocky danger for a tee shot that comes up short. Bunkers are on both sides of the green and more trouble behind the pin.
Take your par here and run, don’t walk, to the next tee, knowing you survived one of the best opening challenges.
After an outdoor grill at the nine-hole turn, serving up fresh and hot hamburgers, hot dogs and other delicious treats, you begin the back nine with an island green par 3.
Do your best to wipe the food off your hands before you try this tee shot. Or make a true pro move … order your food, then hit your tee shot, and come back and consume before you head to the green. There is water on every side, so any miss-hit will be punished to start the back nine.
Holes 12-16 are the most scenic on the course, or all of Victoria for that matter. The par-3 14th hole is stunning, as you can see the entire skyline of downtown from the tee box. The hole itself goes sharply downhill, meaning a tee shot too short will fall into the gully in front of the small green and one too long will fall into the back bunker.
This is not a course for walkers, for sure, as every hole seems to be routed into the mountain with steep angles either up or down. The par-3 16th hole is sharply downhill, but you must hit the target green as there are plenty of chances to lose a ball here.
When golf is done for the day (there is a 36-hole Valley/Mountain package offered if you want lots of golf), there is a large 19th hole with signed flags from the PGA TOUR professionals who have played here, as well as plenty of Canadian drinks, whiskey and other varieties to salute or bemoan your round.
Adjacent to the courses is the Fairway Hotel on the Mountain, which allows you to walk from your room to the first tee and back again when you get finished. The large, multi-story hotel mainly wraps around the front nine of the Mountain course, but allows Bear Mountain to be a true destination resort at any time of the year.
Highland Pacific Golf is another year-round course, with more great scenery and plenty of challenge, as well. The par-72 course plays 6,603 yards from the back tees, but like many in the area, can be sloped uphill or downhill to make the hole feel longer or shorter than its listed length.
After a downhill par 4 to start your round here, then you swing around on the next hole to another downhill par 3. Once again, a tee shot too short can be lost or buried in one of the bunkers on either side of the green.
The back nine offers more mountain scenery, especially holes 11-16. While not quite as dramatic as Bear Mountain, outstanding views of the Olympic Mountains surround the area.
If practice is more your thing, Highland Pacific features a two-tiered tee line of 44 covered and heated stalls, professional golf instruction, long- and short-game natural turf practice areas, lights for evening practice, and real terrain targets, including a water hazard to avoid – or aim for – whatever your preference! After opening in 2007, the practice range at Highland Pacific Golf was very quickly designated into the Top 100 Ranges in North America.
Of course, all that golf can make a person awfully hungry and thirsty, and less than an hour from any of the courses is Victoria Island Harbour. The seaplanes can transport directly from Vancouver or even Seattle, as can the ferries. In season, the yellow pickle boats can take you in harbor to a delightful and buzzy pub crawl.
When you’re ready for a nightcap, there may be no better place than your own private balcony at the Oswego boutique hotel. If you book an upper-floor room, you see the harbor, the huge capital and the lights that line the buildings after sunset
Drink to your Canadian golf conquest here – Macaloney’s Island Distillery is nearby – and toast your good fortune for finishing the only full-time golf destination in Canada.
For more information, go to www.golfvancouverisland.ca.