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Course Review: Royal Colwood GC

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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.

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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.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I have had the pleasure of playing golf at Royal Colwood for 41 years, and I agree with this review. It does have much in common with Shaughnessy, another of my favourites.

    The trees in front of the 7th tee have recently been removed and the tee raised, in order to improve the view of the green.

    Only 2 greens, the 2nd and the 11th, have been significantly altered while I have been a member. Both were moved and new greens built because the old ones had sunk in spots and were no longer practicable. I am disappointed with both these greens as they are both larger and flatter than the originals, and therefore out of character with the others. The 11th hole now requires a tee shot from the back tee that flies 240 yards against a prevailing wind to clear the front bunkers. That is okay for those who hit the ball long and high, but does not allow players with less power or who hit the ball low to put their tee shot on the green. Where people get the gall to alter the design of a renowned architect is beyond me. Many of the greens have grown in size over time, some as much as 50 %. This was largely the result of incorporating temporary winter greens into the original greens. The larger greens reduce the value of shot making, and increase the value of putting, which alters the original design and is inappropriate for a course that is short by todays standards.

    The bunkers do need to be revisited. Some have been altered to make them less penal or to facilitate maintenance. And many have been filled up with sand, so that they have lost their depth and are less penal. The result is that many of the bunkers have lost their teeth.

    Royal Colwood is a wonderful members course. It is an easy walk, and is not so penal that you get crushed on a bad day. The difficulties are subtle, particularly on the greens, and you have to play here a few times to appreciate how demanding the course can be. It is a very fair course that usually rewards good shots and punishes bad ones. Every hole is different, so I never tire of playing here. This is a great golf course designed by a renowned architect. I hope that the members have the wisdom to preserve that design.

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