Sri Lankan golf dates back to the end of the nineteenth century with the formation of the Royal Colombo Golf Club in the capital city and the establishment of the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club at the foot of Mount Pidurutalagala in the heart of the nation’s tea country.
Victoria Golf and Country Resort took shape at the end of the 1990s and it’s situated around 45 minutes driving time from the royal and ancient city of Kandy, a 517-acre property laid out within a former coconut plantation in the spectacularly scenic Kandyan mountain range.
Part of an extensive residential development that also includes a swimming pool, tennis courts and equestrian centre, the Victoria course is laid out over hilly terrain with many changes in elevation experienced during a round here. The 6th is the pick of the holes on the course and it’s played from an elevated tee position more than 100 feet above the fairway – probably the most spectacular par four in the whole country.
Donald Steel, commented as follows:
Victoria's greatest attribute is its stunningly beautiful setting – as fine as any in the golfing world. However, it was, without doubt, the most intriguing and unusual professional venture in which I have been involved.
It was built the way golf architects built their courses in the 1920s and 1930s with more emphasis on manpower (and womanpower) than machinery. Altogether, the construction cost (with full irrigation) was less than US$1 million but you would never know. Standards were exemplary and its condition superb. Opened in 1998, it was Sri Lanka's third course.
The following article was written by Martin Ebert:
Victoria takes its name from the Victoria Reservoir by which it sits. This enormous water body provides electricity and irrigation for the country and wondrous views for the golf course. Coupled with the majestic backdrop of hills in all directions, the setting for golf has to be one of the finest in the world.
All that was required was to build a course to take advantage of that setting and also the beautiful undulations of the land. That was easier said than done, as there is a large elevation across the site. The front nine takes on a climb which is over once the 4th tee is reached and from where the golfers can marvel at the view down onto the reservoir. With focus on the game once more, the golfer is confronted by one of the best and the shortest hole on the course. A little over 100 yards, the 4th is also one of the most dangerous with rocks protruding from all areas of the green surrounds. Miss the green and a four can be a good score. Along with the 2nd, 3rd and 5th, the 4th has no bunkers. The holes do not need them such is the character of the land and the majesty of the trees. In fact the course has just 12 bunkers. To add any more would be completely unnecessary.
Following the driveable 5th, the long par 4 6th is a hole to fear despite its dramatic drop for the tee shot. This is the one point from which the Victoria Dam can be seen.
The back nine is easier to walk and stimulating to play, routed through tropical woodland to begin with and then through coconuts which frame the holes perfectly. Another different but equally stunning view comes at the 14th and 15th holes with the reservoir so close and the swinging par five 15th requires a second shot across the water when the reservoir reaches full supply level. Even when the level is lower the hazard must be carried. The view when standing on the green is like a three-dimensional landscape painting on the grandest scale.
The 17th is a down and up long par four demanding two perfectly struck shots and the 18th a friendly par five to guide the golfers back to the wonderful haven of the clubhouse. There can be no better clubhouse terrace upon which to sit to reflect on a truly remarkable golfing experience.
Sam Sakocius, President of Qualitas Project Control writes:
“Victoria GC in Sri Lanka was designed by Donald Steel and Martin Ebert and had a reputation of being quite a good test. Unfortunately, the course fell into disrepair due to lack of pretty much everything. There was just no money to properly maintain a golf course in the tropics.
One of the ideas was that maybe an Asian Tour event would work. And this is how I became involved. I am a friend and business associate of the then chairman of the Asian Tour and was asked to see if it had any potential. We started with a US$5.0 million to bring the course up to international standards which was subsequently cut to US$1.2 million.
When you take away new equipment, golf carts, clubhouse refurbishment, cart facility and pump houses, we stretched US$1.2 million amazingly far. It was clear we would have to prioritize, and painfully so.
The grass, other than what was on the contaminated greens, was essentially non-existent. Golfers played on weeds mostly, green in the monsoon and brown in the dry season. The grass was gone and we would have to find something that was disease and insect-resistant, and could survive on minimal fertiliser and water.
I went back to my early days with auto irrigation in Texas and resurrected all the old tricks I could remember. While maybe not the perfectly consistent coverage of today’s elite, we came up with a sporty little system that allows spacious landing zones, and good greens and tees, all for a fraction of the typical venture.
There was no budget to regrade the putting surfaces so the only solution was to rearrange the bunkers, sometimes splitting them in two, sometimes eliminating them altogether and using grading techniques to replace one challenge for another. We were able to maintain the integrity of the design while building something that would last and be maintainable.”
Sri Lanka isn’t generally a country that anyone would associate with great golf courses. There are only a handful of golf clubs in the country and Victoria Golf and Country Club is for sure the most revered. Nestled in jungle surroundings and nearby mountains, the course has a unique atmosphere and ambiance I’ve not experienced before. Many unusual jungle sounds and the cry of peacocks can be heard as you navigate your way around the ever-changing landscape and beautiful terrain. As expected, the landscape is different from any European or even North American location, so the grasses and turf take a little getting used. You will find yourself playing off of many different varieties of grass, even from the fairways. I played just after the monsoon season, so it was extremely lush and green. Even despite recent torrential rain, the conditioning of the course is of a very high standard, and the tees, greens, and bunkers are very well looked after, as are the fairways and green surrounds. Caddies are compulsory here, which is certainly a good thing as there are quite extreme elevation changes throughout the course. For a course constructed in what is basically jungle terrain the design is very well routed and meanders seamlessly through the forest and around the natural lakes. The course requires precision with many holes being reachable with a 3 wood or long iron from the tee and a mid or short-iron approach. There are a couple of stand-out tee shots, the view from the 6th tee is truly sensational as the backdrop consists of a view of the large lake and mountains beyond from an elevated teeing position. The par 5, 15th was another stand-out hole. At 550 yards, a good drive down the right can leave you with a look at the green but a long approach is thwarted with danger as the green is tucked behind a cluster of palm trees with water behind. The scenery once on the green is quite stunning with one of the most natural and picturesque backdrops imaginable. You truly feel like you are playing golf as close to nature as humanly possible. The course finishes with 17 and 18 both close to the clubhouse and the views continue to impress until the final approach. Victoria is truly a unique experience and for any discerning golfer visiting this part of the world, it’s a must-see venue with a wonderful hotel onsite and a genuine Sri Lankan welcome.
Victoria Golf & Country Resort is set in Sri Lanka’s central mountains right on the shores of the Victoria Reservoir. It blends into a splendid landscape of rolling terrain and undulating hillsides with a beautiful backdrop of the Victoria Reservoir. Natural outcrops of rocks punctuate vistas of palms and stately trees. The impressive natural outcrops of rocks are a distinctive feature and indeed a hazard on the course. It is a challenging and unforgiving course featuring narrow fairways with lots of thick rough and trees. When you’re in the rough, recovery shots are tough. You must drive the fairways in order to hit the greens in regulation. It is the second newest of the four golf courses in Sri Lanka. Completed in 1999, it was the first to be built in 100 years. The course is set 550 meters (1,800 ft.) above sea level, so the weather is little cooler than Colombo.
The long par 4 473-yard 6th is a slight dogleg to the left, which is a challenging as well as exhilarating signature hole on this course. The tee shot is monstrously downhill. The landing area off the tee is limited as trees on both sides hang over the narrow fairway, requiring both accuracy and distance. A creek crosses the fairway 300 – 330 yards from the tee. It is downhill to the creek and slightly uphill beyond it. The second shot is demanding as well. One needs to aim at the green around 200 yards away while hitting from a downhill lie. The downhill par 4 393-yard 14th is a dogleg to the left. From the tee, combined views of the green, the Victoria Reservoir & Mountains behind the green create a very beautiful picture. To read more about Victoria Golf & Country Resort, click here to visit my website.