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I am pursuing the ultimate golf experience. In doing so, I am playing the top 100 courses in Canada (initial goal), as well as the top 100 in America and top 100 in the world. Please email me or leave a comment to join me on my journey, and help me reach my goals! Thank you for being a part of my great quest! Luke, The Golfing Canuck

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Royal Colwood Golf Club

The Royal Colwood Golf Club is among western Canada's most noteworthy classic courses. It was the first solo design by legendary architect A.V. Macan, who later designed the likes of Shaughnessy, Marine Drive and nearby Victoria Golf Club. Americans are likely more familiar with the Cal Club of San Francisco, of which Macan provided the routing (and is credited with the original design). The loyal Canadian (actually born in Ireland) served his country in WWI , losing part of his leg in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. While he is most well known for his contributions to the world of golf, his service to his country should not be forgotten. Amazingly, Macan continued to play golf at a high level even after losing part of his left leg. But lets step back a few years...

Before volunteering for service in the 1st World War, Macan completed Royal Colwood. The old gem of a course is charming from start to finish. Its easy to see why so many people enjoy it so much here. Macan's clever routing is still evident, making use of the gently rolling terrain that covers most of the back 9.

Despite all of the great classic features of the course, it is not without fault. The most glaring are the bunkers, which (as of my last visit a few years ago) are in need of a restoration/renovation. This past summer I had the privilege of seeing the recent restoration work at Macan's nearby Victoria GC; if Royal Colwood had a similar bunker restoration, the course would be much more visually appealing and would play more true to the way I believe it was designed to play.

The first example of this is at the par 4 second hole. This beautiful 2-shot hole plays over the road that brings you into the club, and is guarded by bunkers down either side of the fairway. I believe these bunkers are supposed to prevent players from having a clear shot to the green, although they no longer present such a challenge.

Approaching the 2nd green.
The second green location is one of my favorite on the course, subtly built into the hillside. If you look closely, you can see the dramatic drop off the left side of the green, which is visually obstructed by the bunker to the left.

Holes 3 and 4 are flat, with greens guarded by a fronting stream. Many talk about them as though they are difficult holes, although I didn't find either to be overly challenging. The last of the flat holes is the par 5 5th, with a nice green complex. The round really gets going on the approach to the 6th hole. The uphill approach requires a carry over bunkers if you don't get your drive far down the fairway. The further your drive, the more the green opens up, and the easier the angle gets. Its a well designed hole which I think would benefit greatly from some bunker work.

Uphill approach to #6 after a mid-length drive
The short 7th is a pretty little downhill hole. The boomerang green is gentle, and generous in size, but guarded on all sides by hills and bunkers. The view is somewhat obstructed from the tee, but this is what you see:

The nice little 7th
Hole 8 can nearly be driven by longer hitters, but has one of the most well-guarded greens on the course. Its a really good hole as-is, but would benefit greater from some restored bunker faces on the green-side traps (see a recurring theme?). The front side ends on a strong par 4 with an uphill approach that takes you back close to the clubhouse.

The 10th is, in my opinion, the most bland hole on the course, offering no memorable characteristics. The large net protecting the course from the driving range on the right also takes away from the appeal of the 10th, although it is necessary to prevent fatalities from stray range balls.

While there is little elevation in play on the par 3 11th, the hillside behind frames the hole and sets the stage for the rest of the back 9. This hillside must be carried from the 12th tee, likely one of the most picturesque spots on the course (thanks to the majestically mature trees lining the hole).

Disorienting height of trees on 12th tee
#13 falls back down this hill, with an approach over water to a deceptive green. The 13th green is one of the most pictured areas of the course, although pictures never do justice to the severity of the green and intricacy of its contours. I was greatly surprised by how challenging it is.

Challenging 13th green (I'll try to capture it better when I return)
The short par 5 14th (under 500 yards) could be easily be written off by those fail to appreciate it's timeless charm. A solid drive will leave a straight-forward approach, but a shorter tee shot will leave an uphill shot with an obstructed view. The genius of the hole is in the layup, although modern equipment allows many to attack in 2, thereby preventing them from considering the aspects of the hole that Macan intended the golfer to consider. I quite enjoy the course's resistance to modernization/lengthening, even though it makes some golfers overlook the design of holes like #14.

2nd shot to the par 5 14th - modern equipment allows an easy attack, but consider the intended layup options!
At the cost of beating a dead horse, I must reiterate that gentle bunker restorations would correct this issue - the green-side bunkers on the 14th no longer present much of a threat, encouraging anyone in range to gun for the green in two. With stronger bunkers, the golfer would be forced to consider laying up, thus restoring the intended strategy of the hole. Mr. Mingay, please give this hole the same work you gave to #12 at Victoria GC!

From the furthest point on the course, the 15th starts the trek back to the clubhouse. Following this short par 3, the par 4 16th brings you back into one of the most beautifully wooded places on the course. Though quite short at 370 yds, I found the distances to be deceiving on this hole, likely due to the massive trees lining the fairway and surrounding the green. The setting makes you feel as small as an ant. In my opinion, one of the more underrated holes on the course!

Deceiving approach to the short 16th
Hole 17 makes great use of the land, tumbling down the hill to a generous green. A bunker roughly 40 yds short-right of the green is likely intended to obstruct the view of a golfer who bails out to the right off of the tee (to the more open side of the fairway), but no longer does so. A good hole if given a gentle face-lift.

The closing tee shot is one of the most memorable on the course, and is a mirror image of the famous 18th at Riviera. From a lower level, the tee shot must carry to a raised fairway running gently to the left (whereas Riviera's 18th bends right). Worth noting: Royal Colwood celebrated it's 100 year anniversary in 2013, shortly before I played, making it 13 years older than Riviera - perhaps George C. Thomas took inspiration from this hole? Having played both, I can't argue with the fact that the American rendition is superior. I found the approach to be flat and lacking interest, which is a slightly disappointing way to end a fun round.

Riviera-like tee shot on #18
Walking off of the 18th I reflected upon my overall impression of the course. Would I consider it among Canada's elite courses? No. As it sits, a really good layout? Of course. With gentle restoration, among the better courses in BC? I believe so. But I stress that it needs some work to get there. While some of the course's visual appeal has faded with time, so too has the utility of many of it's features. I wouldn't argue with anyone who thought playing corridors are a little bit too narrow in places, given the immense tree growth. However, I feel as though a few tight fairways are fair so long as the club is resistant to any notion of lengthening - which I believe it should be.

Having played all three of Macan's highly rated layouts in British Columbia, I've felt as though his courses have grown on me. With such experience I would offer this advice to anyone who may feel underwhelmed after playing a Macan course for the first time: try to play a second one; then play a third. Try to see more of his work. In doing so, pay close attention to how he incorporates the natural features of the land. As with other successful architects of the early 20th century, Macan created a lot of memorable holes without moving much earth. Many of those holes can be found at his first design.


'Til next time, keep your stick on the ice!

The Golfing Canuck

Sunday, 11 September 2016

SCOREGolf Top 100 - 2016

Since starting this blog a few years ago I have stuck with the SCOREGolf top 100 list from 2012. I considered switching to the 2014 list at the time of its release, but chose to pursue a fixed target rather than a moving one. In addition to pursuing a fixed goal, I was also persuaded by, what I perceived to be, a weak 2014 list with many inaccuracies. While no list is ever perfect, I wanted to chase the most accurate top 100 list.

The 2016 list is, in my opinion, the best top 100 list to date.

For this reason, I will be switching my blog to the 2016 list. It is not without fault, but no list ever will be. There are some deserving additions (Royal Mayfair, Tower Ranch, etc) since the 2012 list, and very few exclusions. With time, many courses have found a more deserving place on the list (Bear Mountain - Mountain down significantly to #72; meanwhile Victoria GC has crept up to #23).

An unfortunate exclusion in 2012, Tower Ranch climbs to #45 in 2016
Puzzlingly left off of consecutive lists, the classic Royal Mayfair is back at #59

Since pursuing the most accurate top 100 is my ultimate goal, it would seem ludicrous to use a list that doesn't include both Cabot courses. This has contributed to my decision to update the list, and also points to a need to update again in the future.Why? In a word: Sagebrush

While it seems strange to use a list without Cabot, it also seems unusual to exclude Sagebrush. With the recent ownership changes and zoning issues Sagebrush has not been open long enough to get the required number of rounds to get rated. This will surely change as soon as the course opens its doors again. I plan to update my list when Sagebrush reclaims it's place high on the list.

I expect Sagebrush to be back for 2018, but we will not see the Kananaskis courses back until at least 2020. After the devastating floods of 2013, restoration efforts began this summer with completion expected in 2018. One, if not both of the Kananaskis courses will almost certainly be back on the list shortly after reopening. Dundarave has fallen out of the top 100 for similar reasons - record snowfalls the winter before last killed much of the grass on the course. Like Kananaskis, expect Dundarave to sneak back into the top 100 in the future, when conditions recover.

Washed away in the 2013 floods, Kananaskis has an anticipated 2018 reopen

I do intend on solidifying a top 100 list as my fixed goal, but will continue to update my blog as new/restored courses find their way back into the top 100. Since I intend on completing the top 100 before a 2022 list is released, I will likely end up ultimately using the 2020. Until that time, I will use the most accurate list to date, which is the current (2016) list.

As I enter the 4th year of my bachelor's degree and prepare for national/licensing exams, my blog progress will likely slow. I plan to chip away at posts, but will not have significant writing time until the semester nears an end. Thank you for continued support and interest in my adventures. Stay posted for what's to come!


'Til next time, keep your stick on the ice!

The Golfing Canuck