We sat down on the patio adjacent to the first tee for a post-round beer, and I excitedly scurried to choose a few photos to post on social media. When it came to describing what I thought about Victoria Golf Club after our maiden voyage, I just went with my gut — if Pebble Beach and Pasatiempo had a baby and shipped it up to Canada, it would be Victoria Golf Club. Bold, perhaps, but after having some more time to chew on it, I generally stand by my statement.
Victoria Golf Club was founded in 1893, which makes it the oldest golf club in Canada still in its original location, and the second oldest in North America. There have been several different layouts, with the one played today finalized in the mid-1920s.
The par 70, 6200-yard layout designed by A.V. Macan is situated on a piece of land under 100 acres on the southeastern point of Vancouver Island, in the community of Oak Bay. In case you’re wondering, 100 acres isn’t a lot for an 18-hole golf course, but it’s part of what makes Victoria Golf Club fun and cool and quirky.
The most recent work to the golf course has been led by Canadian golf course architect, Jeff Mingay. Working on VGC was Jeff’s first solo project as a golf course architect after his 10-year stint working with Rod Whitman. Jeff created a master plan for VGC in 2008 while completing work at Cabot Links, and his work on VGC got started in 2009. Over the past 10 years, Jeff has remodelled the bunkers, adjusted/widened/melded fairways, expanded/restored green surfaces, added tees, and undertook some sensitive tree work.
The opening par-5 sets the tone for a fun round and is merely a tease for what you’re about to embark on. Before you’re distracted by the ocean, the 1st hole gives you your first chance to appreciate the beautiful bunker work by Mingay.
By the time I was standing on par-3 2nd tee box, just steps away from the 1st green, I knew it was going to be a special day. The layered view of the 2nd green, 11th green, 4th green and the Pacific Ocean felt surreal. I was giddy through two holes.
The biggest “defence” of the golf course is probably the challenging green complexes. No better example of that than the par-4 3rd hole. While not quite as dramatic as, say, the 16th at Pasatiempo, it’s not far off. The photo below doesn’t do the severity of the slope justice, but I was about 4 feet above the hole to the pin location shown below and putted it off the green! I didn’t even test out the upper tier, which I’ll leave for next time.
I always find it humorous when I hear “good views” almost used as a knock against a course. A person may claim that if you were to transplant a certain course inland or “shut the views off,” that the course alone wouldn’t stack up to some other course that doesn’t have the views. This is often used as a hot take by Pebble Beach critics. Perhaps it’s fortunate that an ocean-side course has views to their advantage, but how those views are utilized in the layout is part of the architecture. At Victoria Golf Club, they utilize their fortunate location next to the Pacific Ocean very well.
Part of Mingay’s work included tree and brush removal to open up the dramatic ocean views, perhaps most notably behind the 6th green, along the 7th hole, and around the 8th and 9th tee boxes. This has also exposed the beautiful rock outcroppings, which make this part of the island so unique.
The 7th through 9th holes make up a three-hole stretch out on a point where it feels like it’s just you and the sea. The par-4 7th hole shown below can be anything from a long iron to a driver from the tee, depending on how aggressive you want to be. A driver may take the ocean out of play for your second shot, while laying back from the tee could leave yourself with a shot that kind of looks like this, to a very challenging green complex.
Another thing that makes Victoria Golf Club great is how the layout prioritizes good golf holes over conforming to some odd standard of spreading out the par 3’s or par 5’s. You’re treated to back-to-back par 3’s at the 8th and 9th holes, and it happens again on the 13th and 14th holes. It can be a pleasant surprise to walk off a fun par-3 only to realize that you’re about to play another.
Another cool architectural feature Mingay has worked on is the widening and melding of fairways, separating several by beautiful bunker complexes rather than rows of trees. My ball found the bunkers separating the 11th and 12th fairways (for reconnaissance purposes only, of course), and it was somehow fun playing from them.
While the ocean holes at Victoria may be the most memorable, ocean vibes are ever-present throughout the rest of the golf course. The variety of holes, unique layout, and amazing green complexes kept my interest from the first to last hole.
The par-4 18th is a delightful way to finish. You can bail almost as far right as you want but will be left with an unfavourable angle and view to the elevated green. Down the left is the play, but you’ll bring the bunker complex separating the 1st and 18th fairways into play.
I reached out to Jeff Mingay while writing this article to get some more details about his work, and was particularly intrigued by the history of the trees.
“The tree history at VGC is very interesting. Like at most clubs, it’s a sensitive topic these days. The proliferation of Austrian pines at VGC didn’t happen until the late 1960s. You can see all of the existing pines as tiny, knee-high saplings in footage of the Knudson/Geiberger match there during the late 1960s. Prior to that the property was very much wide open and spectacular. We’ve done some key removal over the past 10 years. For example, you could barely see the ocean behind 6 green a few years ago. We removed trees and brush to restore that incredible view. Head-high brush was also cleared all the way down the cliffside of the 7th fairway and around 8 and 9 tees to expose views and beautiful rock outcroppings. This was a very positive, dramatic change. We’ve also done some important planting to replace declining Austrian pine with more appropriate species in key areas where trees are required for safety etc.“, Mingay explained.
While I did not have a chance to play the course before Jeff’s work, I can attest to the fact that the results of his work are remarkable. In his decade working on the course, he has preserved the essence of Macan’s layout, while giving it a solid polish and letting it free to spread its wings.
He added, “It’s been a really fun project; and, I consider myself very privileged to be the club’s consulting architect going on a decade now.”
Our round was a good reminder that golf courses don’t need to be big or long to be incredibly awesome. Victoria Golf Club is a cozy, quirky, fun, and challenging 6200-yard layout I could walk for the rest of my life and never tire of.
Golf isn't just a game, it's a lifestyle.