Course Review: Royal Colwood GC
Designer: AV Macan, 1913
Spent the morning at Royal Colwood, arguably the best course in Victoria. With its massive trees, rolling fairways, and smart, subtle greens, Colwood lives up to its billing.
It isn’t an overwhelming golf course — it doesn’t have the mind-blowing elevation changes of Bear Mountain or the great seaside views of Victoria GC. What it does have is a rock solid design that has held up well for damned near 100 years, and a great selection of holes.
The course opens with a series of holes that are representative of the course as a hole. Par fours typically range from 370 to 400 yards, with a few notable exceptions (including the terrific final hole at 445 yard with a slight dogleg left). The third hole, with its green perched to the right of the fairway across a stream, is indicative of the need to move the ball around the course, often requiring smart placement over blasting away. That said, there’s lots of room at Colwood, and lost balls are infrequent.
I don’t know a great deal about the club history or how many greens have been significantly altered over time. As it is now, there are plenty of on-grade greens where the ball can be rolled up. The bunkering is plain and understated, and one wonders if some life could be forced into the layout by revisiting the bunkers. However, I don’t know enough about the bunker style of course designer AV Macan to determine what that style would be. The other thing that struck me were some oddly placed new trees, like the ones growing in front of the tee of the par three 7th that block the view of a lot of the hole.
The back nine struck me as the stronger grouping of holes, including the 16, known as “The Cathedral” for its ring of 500 year-old trees that surround the green. The following hole requires a draw off the tee to another on-grade green with understated, but well-placed bunkers.
Ultimately I’d bet Colwood will leave people a touch flat their first time around. The strengths are many, but they don’t jump out at you. The best holes have to be played from the back tees — like the strong 12th and 13th, both great fours, and the closer — and many people won’t see them from there.
In many ways, Colwood struck me as similar to Macan’s Shaughnessy, one of his last courses designed, created nearly five decades later. Both courses are on land that has rolls, but not dramatic elevation changes, and both rely on smart greens with substantial contour in many instances to defend par. Both are places I’d like to play on a regular basis.
Does it warrant its position in Score’s Top 100, where it currently ranks 27th? Certainly there are plenty of more spectacular courses ahead of it (the Pulpit, Copper Creek, Rocky Crest), but it would be hard to conclude any of these are actually better golf courses that offer a better shot selection and playability. Truthfully it is likely placed about where it should be among Canada’s courses — smart, with interesting shots required and timeless. That’s a pretty good mix.