Capilano Golf & Country Club is set most dramatically, protected to the north and east by the mountains of British Columbia. It’s a glorious setting with views across Vancouver Harbour to Mount Baker beyond. Capilano opened for play in 1937 after a gargantuan engineering effort by Canadian born architect Stanley Thompson, who became one of Canada’s best-known course designers.
The course was literally blasted from a hillside of fir trees and rocks. The large firs which now flank the sloping fairways make many of the holes appear tight and narrow, so accuracy is certainly the order of the day at Capilano.
Thompson’s original 1937 course remains pretty much intact, one of only a few Thompson courses that has not been drastically remodelled. The bunkering at Capilano is astute and the par threes are truly fascinating, two of which cross stretches of water after which they have been named.
Capilano is perched on high ground close to the mountains. Naturally the weather can be changeable, so don’t forget your waterproofs. But, no matter the weather, we doubt that you will leave Capilano without being impressed, very impressed.
Carrick Design has been providing design services to the club since 1993 and the firm oversaw the construction of a new green on the 14th hole at the end of 2017. The green had been re-built in the 1980s following a severe washout caused by flooding in a nearby stream and it was recreated to better capture the character of the original Thompson design.
Stanley Thompson made the journey out to British Columbia and yet again left us with a commendable golf course where outstanding greensites were discovered throughout this inspiring routing. Standing on the first tee, you can see how the fairway just plunges away from you before your eyes. The land picks up pace as you head downhill adding a heightened sense of urgency to land your ball in the best possible place as you’ll inevitably need to allow for a funny bounce. The severely sloping property was a difficult undertaking for Thompson, but you rarely feel out of breath.
Most of the front nine plays downhill and takes you a few hundred feet below the clubhouse at the furthest point, but upon reaching the par 3 9th, the reality of playing back uphill is a rude awakening – 200 yards uphill to a small narrow green with vicious undulation. Although penal, it’s a welcome change of variety as the other nearby par 3s play a similar shorter length with the same essential water feature guarding the front of the green. Strong longer holes play uphill and ultimately bring you to the fabulous 13th hole which plays to a plateau dogleg fairway and wonderful elevated green-site up on a bluff. Huge demand on accuracy to keep the ball on this green and not fall down into the surrounding valley.
The 14th hole is an epic downhill par 3 which just had a new green laid down and significant tree clearance bringing the nearby stream into play and offering an exciting tee shot. We’ve seen this shot before, but it certainly gets your attention. The finishing stretch from the 13th onwards is gruelling in many ways, despite the severe undulation. Capilano’s best asset are its par 4s, and the 15th might be the best of the lot. The reverse camber fairway does everything it can to kick your ball in the wrong direction before approaching a long narrow contoured green protected with deep bunkers. Just when you think the par 3s were lacking variety, you’re greeted with the 16th, which at first glance looks like an exciting short par 4. Sadly, it’s a 250-yard par 3 fraught with bunkers. If you’re playing matchplay, you’ll do everything you can to finish the match early! It’s a bear of a hole.
From the panoramic elevated 17th tee right beside the clubhouse terrace, you’ll face a very long (approx. 490-yard) par 4 that proves very difficult to hit in regulation. The 18th is a reachable par 5, which is relatively short by today’s standards, but the second shot is blind and the elevated green is a small target which will make this a 3-shot hole for even the longest players. Thompson wants to see how good you are with your wedges before getting a well-deserved pint! After all, the golf course is built within an estate developed by Ireland’s Guinness Brewery family!
Capilano Golf Club or “Cap,” as members and locals affectionately call it, is rightly placed at the top of the list of BC’s golf courses. Located a brief drive across the Lion’s Gate Bridge and up into the North Shore Mountains, Cap’s perch overlooking Vancouver (a spectacular view best seen from the tee box on the downhill par-four sixth) is befitting of a golf course located on arguably Canada’s most expensive property, a full-play initiation reportedly in excess of $90,000, and a waiting list several years long.
Cap is a Stanley Thompson design. Thompson, for those who may not know, is generally considered Canada’s contribution to golf course architecture. His golf courses, including Banff Springs and Highland Links, are courses of the highest regard and distinctly Canadian in their flavour. Often cut out of pristine surroundings, the courses retain their natural precondition while offering excellent golf shots and views alike. The courses are true monuments and absolute treats to play and walk. Capilano is no different. Indeed, despite the location to a major metropolis and its location on a mountain, Cap is both a walk-able course and one amongst the trees, creeks, and mountains that dominate much of BC.
Capilano is not a terribly challenging golf experience. Much of the front nine involves a descent down the mountain and features a short par five to start and several short par-fours. The back nine though, specifically the final three holes, present a challenge for any golfer. From a golfing standpoint, Capilano likely trails the test that Shaughnessy presents from the tips, but Capilano is much more about the experience of the round. Take your tee shot on seventeen. After making your par on the 247-yard par three sixteenth you ascend up the grassy steps some sixty-to-seventy feet to the seventeenth tee on the 490-yard par four located next to the spectacular clubhouse (more on this later). Here you’ll do well to avoid clipping one of the male members in your backswing who have just finished their round and are drinking from the open keg in the men’s locker-room nearby. After you hit, and provided you’re not too far left or right, you’ll have ample time to engage in conversation as your drive will seem to hang forever against the backdrop of the North Shore Mountains as it descends the some hundred feet or so onto the fairway below.
The course, of course, is in immaculate condition. Unlike some of the “private’s” it has its own water supply and thus is unaffected by the water shortages that have plagued summers in recent times in the Lower Mainland. The practice facility is excellent, but too likely trails that of Shaughnessy where a full grass range is available and driver can be hit with ease. The clubhouse at Capilano, however, is perhaps the highlight of any visit. The men’s locker room is stunning and the dining options fantastic. In fact, most locals will know Cap from the wedding they likely attended at the clubhouse. Find yourself a member-friend as Cap is best done as a full day event—breakfast, golf, and beer on the patio followed a meal in the clubhouse. However, fear not the lowly municipal golf course player looking to play a prestigious, highly private golf course. Cap, as a Stanley Thompson design, is accessible to members of the Stanley Thompson Society. Membership reportedly affords you an opportunity to play select Thompson courses, of which Cap is one.