Royal Colwood Golf Club is one of only five clubs in Canada to have the “Royal” title in their name (the others being Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec and Regina) and this honour was bestowed on the club by King George V in 1931. Royal connections continue to the modern day and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, opened the present clubhouse in 1993.
The Royal Colwood course is set in 135 acres of parkland in Victoria, British Columbia and was established by Joseph Sayward and James Dunmuir in 1911 who were then members of the nearby Victoria golf club. They commissioned Arthur Vernon Macan to design a championship course and route its 18 holes through centuries old Garry Oak and Douglas Fir trees.
Macan was a Dubliner who emigrated to the Pacific coast of Canada in 1908 and made a name for himself as a top amateur player before turning to golf course design. His main design philosophies were “all par fours should require two well planned and played shots to the green” and “greens should not be flat but hogbacks, undulations and crowns should be incorporated to defy the backspin players.” Needless to say, Royal Colwood has more than its fair share of strong par fours and contoured greens.
There are only two par fives at Royal Colwood, one on the front nine and one on the inward half. The 5th measures 540 yards and doglegs to the right with trees tight on the right of the fairway, requiring a long left to right shaped tee shot. If not, a large oak tree on the left of the landing area could block the approach to a well-guarded green. The 491-yard 14th has out of bounds to the right off the tee box with trees to the left of the landing area on the fairway. Big hitters can reach the green in two blows but it will need laser-like accuracy as well as power to get there.
Royal Colwood played host to the 1967 and 1976 Canadian Amateur Championships, the RCGA Seniors Championship in 1995 and the CLGA Ladies Amateur in 1997.
Visitors are welcomed, provided at least 48 hours notice is given. As the club states “Royal Colwood invite you to visit our website, and to learn more about our fine Club. However, if you have a chance, the best way to experience Royal Colwood is to bring your clubs and play A.V. Macan's masterpiece” – now that’s a refreshing attitude towards visitors from a top-notch golf club.
I had known for a couple of years that I would be making the cross-country trip to beautiful Victoria, British Columbia for a business and social convention and was intent on playing Royal Colwood, one of the top ranked courses in Canada.
They accept limited reciprocal play at Colwood but got even luckier when a member of the club reached out to me and offered to host my father and I while on Vancouver Island.
Highlights include the mid-length par four 3rd, a hole 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 a significant slope tilting toward the water.
The par four 6th hole is a tremendous two-shotter. Kind of a mirror image of the 3rd hole - the drive is relatively straight-away 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.
The seventh hole is a lovely little drop shot par three with a long, narrow green, very similar to a hole I've played at Cedar Brae in Scarborough. It also has a pretty wild putting surface, ramping up the difficulty.
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 12th hole 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! 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.
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 long, uphill par four 18th 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.
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.
Colwood 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. 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 towering trees are the most prominent 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 pretention 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 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, something the course sorely needs.
I enjoyed my time at the club immensely and I'm definitely glad I got the chance to experience such a historic golf club.
My full Royal Colwood course profile and pictorial can be found here at Now on the Tee: http://nowonthetee.blogspot.com/2009/08/royal-colw...
Truly wonderful course. Course maintenance is about as good as it gets and the layout and challenge are First Class. Top notch facility with great staff, clubhouse food and scenery. Not to be missed if you're in the area of Victoria!
Royal Colwood Golf Club was founded in 1913 and designed by architect Vernon Macan who's famous around the Pacific Northwest for designing some truly amazing golf courses. The course received its Royal designation in 1931 after King George played. The trees around Colwood are over 100 years old and the trees are a factor on the majority of holes. If you have played or seen or played Sahalee, Royal Colwood is very similar in design. Colwood consistently ranks in the top 100 of Canada because of its history and amazing layout. Victoria in general is blessed with some very fine layouts that date back to the golden age of golf. I have played Colwood several times but always find the greens to be the biggest challenge. In celebration of their 100 year Royal Colwood co-hosted the Canadian amateur