6674 YARDS (PAR 70)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 72.3/127
COURSE ARCHITECT: A. Vernon Macan (1913)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://royalcolwood.org/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: August 9, 2009.
LOW SCORE: 82 (+12)
– Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2017: #30
– Golfweek Best Classic Courses Canada 2019: #20
– Top100GolfCourses.com Canada’s Top 100 2019: #35
– ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #27
“Royal Colwood is truly one of the most architecturally significant courses in North America.”
– Dale Jackson, Royal Colwood GC historian
They accept limited public play at Colwood but got even luckier when a member of the club reached out to me and offered to host my father and myself while on Vancouver Island. A nice bonus that would cut our green fee by about 70% and give us playing companions as well.
However, that member had other engagements on the Sunday that we could get out there but still was nice enough to arrange for us to play as unaccompanied guests for the same discounted rate.
We were set!
The club was about a ten to fifteen minute drive from the inner harbour in Victoria but bad directions from Google Maps almost doubled that. We arrived at the club shortly before our tee time and were paired with a married couple for our round.
My father and the other gentleman played the white tees while I went back to play the blues.
The first hole (seen below) is a short par four that doglegs slightly to the right. I hit four-iron off the tee to the left side of the fairway then hit a very nice 7-iron approach to about 15 feet. I had a tricky putt, as the green falls sharply right to left but I was able to get down in two to nab an opening par.
The second hole is pretty uninspiring and wouldn’t look out of place at Beechwood or Rockway Glen, two of my least favourite courses in Niagara. Just a flat, boring short par four with bunkers that don’t really come into play, a fescue-laden hillside on the right and a standard two-tiered green. That all said, this hole got me, as I hit my second shot into the hillside and couldn’t find my ball, making an ugly double. I’ve heard after the fact that this green is not an original and now I understand why it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the course.
The course finally starts revealing itself on the third (shown below), a mid-length par four that plays relatively straightaway off the tee. However, a creek runs parallel to the fairway down the right side and the green site is perched on the other side, with all of the slope tilting toward the water. I drove through the fairway here and hit a 7-iron approach that hit the left side of the green and bounced way left onto the slope, barely staying dry. I was unable to coax home a very delicate 10 footer down the hill and ended up making bogey. Solid hole.
One of my favourite stories on the day was told here by our hosts for the day. Len Barrie, former NHL player and current part-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has a house right off the third green. After taking ownership, he cut down a bunch of huge trees to get a better view of the golf course. He was a member at Colwood at the time but got KICKED OUT after cutting down the trees!<
His response was to build Bear Mountain Golf Club, a course I was scheduled to play the next day! Not much love lost between Barrie and the members at Colwood from what I understand! Great story!
The fourth, shown below, is a short par three with an elevated tee and plays over a natural pond. I thought the shot from the back tee was directly over the water while shots played from the other tees allowed players a running shot with the water off to the right. I hit a shot right over the stick here but missed my 12 footer for birdie, settling for par. Pretty hole.
The fifth is the first par five of the day, one that doglegs to the right off the tee. You are forced to hit a cut shot here or else mess with trees through the fairway, as balls bounce hard left. Other than a tough tee shot for players who hit right to left ball flights, it’s a relatively straightforward hole with some nice subtle movement at the green. I barely missed my birdie effort here as well.
Simply put, the par four sixth hole shown below is a tremendous two-shotter. Kind of a mirror image of the 3rd hole – the drive is relatively straightaway and you have no visual of the green from the tee. Upon reaching your drive, you finally see the green offset from the fairway on a hillside on the left with a cross bunker well in front for protection. The play is to aim well left of the green and the ball will bounce right toward the putting surface. I hit a mediocre drive in long rough but hit a heroic approach that bounded to the back of the green, where I’d make a great two-putt par. +3 through six holes at this point.
The seventh hole (below) is a little drop shot par three with a long, narrow green, very similar to a hole I’ve played at Cedar Brae in Scarborough. Pretty wild putting surface and one that nabbed me, as I three-whacked from about 25 feet for bogey.
The straightaway par four 8th hole has trees up the right hand side that swallowed up my tee shot. Relatively big green but a non-descript hole in my opinion, especially with the driving range nets in the distance.
The ninth hole (shown below) is a tough par four with trees all the way up the right side. You need to hug that line somewhat for the best approach into a slightly elevated green protected by a bunker in front but if you don’t hit it far enough off the tee (like me), you’re forced to pitch out. As you can see in the third picture below, I had a few new friends in the way of my third shot. The deer out here couldn’t care less about the golfers and just go about their business without fear.
I’d actually hit that third shot close but miss a five footer, making a third consecutive bogey for a disappointing 41 (+6) on the front.
The start of the back nine is pretty routine but calls for a cut off the tee, not my strong suit. I’d somehow hit my best tee shot of the day here and have a simple wedge into the large, open fronted green. Made the two putt par.
The 11th hole is a lovely and long par three that plays uphill slightly with a two-tiered green and a large tree protecting the left side. Larry, my host on the day, calls it Colwood’s ‘Augusta Hole’ and it’s definitely pretty. The pin was just on the top tier and my putt from below came back toward my feet. A three putt bogey and I’m now +7 on the day.
The 12th hole, shown below, is absolutely terrifying from the tee. It’s completely blind, up a large hill and there are towering trees on both sides of the fairway. Claustrophobic types will have a fit here! Told to aim for the slight opening in the trees in the distance, I proceeded to hit a huge push way into the trees. I’d reload just in case and I’m glad I did, as I couldn’t find my first ball and ended up doing well just to double the hole. The greensite is quite deadly here as well, with the green heavily sloped from back to front and left to right. What a tough hole!
The par four 13th offers a bit of a break off the tee, with lots of fairway width and the hole also tumbles downhill. However, you face a shot over a pond to a huge green with tremendous movement. How much movement you ask? Well, I hit my approach to about 30 feet above the hole to the left. My putt went past the hole and rolled another 30 feet right back off the green. I’d end up FOUR PUTTING this green for a devastating double bogey six, my second double in a row.
So I’m now +11 through 13 holes and not exactly feeling well about this turn of events! The 14th (shown below) is a reachable par five with out of bounds all down the right hand side. I’d spray my tee shot here but I must have nailed a tree, as I was just off the fairway when I went to inspect my position. I’d punch out to the fairway, mishit my wedge just left of the green and almost hole a very treacherous putt from the left fringe, settling for par instead.
The par three 15th is uphill to a large green. It used to be a longer hole back in the day but the club was forced to sell some land and subsequently moved the tee up to about 155 yards or so. I’d three whack AGAIN here, giving me three of them on my round plus a four putt. Just brutal!
The 16th hole is a long par four named ‘Cathedral’. The story goes that the old Prince of Wales played the course back in the day and said that the light shining through the towering Firs lining the fairway made the hole look like a Cathedral. It was this hole that helped Colwood gain its royal designation. It’s a very strong two-shotter, one I was fortunate to par.
The downhill par four 17th doglegs slightly to the left and definitely rewards the draw off the tee. A solid drive leaves only a wedge second and I was able to take advantage, barely missing my 12 footer for birdie. Really undulating green here in front.
The long, uphill par four 18th, shown below, is a very strong closing hole. Your drive needs to get to the top of the hill on this dogleg left to open up the second shot, which is played to one of the flatter greens on the course. The drive definitely makes the hole but overall, it’s a worthy finisher to a top-100 course.
I hit a good tee shot here, hit my second over the green and did very well to get up and down for par, shooting 82 overall on the day.
So in the end, what did I think of the course and the experience?
You can free wheel a bit out here but there are a number of holes where proper ball placement on fairways and greens is necessary. Playability is definitely the strongest aspect of Royal Colwood – a very enjoyable member’s course regardless of handicap. Lots of fun options for all talent levels.
This isn’t an overly hard golf course. It is quite short by modern standards and scratch players who are in the groove will likely score quite well out here. Still, it’s no pushover – there is a lot of subtlety at Colwood and it will pose problems for some, as it did me! Other than a few holes, notably the 6th, 12th and 18th, there is very little movement in the land and the course plays pretty flat. Macan did very well with what he had, mixes the doglegs well but the lack of length hurts a bit, with no truly long par threes, fours or fives. There is enough variety out here to make most of the holes stand out yet the cohesion between the individual parts works as well.
The trees out here are just incredible! The strongest feature at the club and they are cherished there – each tree has been marked and loaded into a database for future monitoring from what I was told. Conditioning was a bit off – we played on the final day of club championships and I was a bit surprised at how shaggy the tees and greens were. Even my host was grumbling about it. Still, the fairways were fine and the greens, for the most part, rolled slow but true.
Royal Colwood is a lovely walk in the park and a great member’s course by the looks of it. No pretension whatsoever. With only a couple of big slopes, Royal Colwood makes for an easy and pleasurable walk.
Royal Colwood is a tad overrated in my opinion. I definitely think it’s a top 100 in Canada but I don’t think the land, the features or even the design warrants a top 20 ranking in the country. It reminds me a lot of Walter Travis’ Cherry Hill in Fort Erie, another flat golf course with a relatively strong design.
That said, I’ve heard that the course requires multiple plays to truly understand appreciate the nuances and subtlety of the design. I hope I get the chance to see it again, especially if the club undergoes their planned restoration program.
I enjoyed my time at the club immensely and I’m definitely glad I got the chance to experience such a historic golf club.