Review: Victoria Golf Club

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-1920’s.

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 remodeled the bunkers, adjusted/widened/melded fairways, expanded/restored green surfaces, added tees, and undertook some sensitive tree work.

Victoria Golf Club 1st hole
The fairway bunker complexes between the 1st and 18th fairways

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.

Victoria Golf Club 1st hole
Looking back from alongside the par 5 1st green

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 Pacific Ocean felt surreal. I was giddy through two holes.

Victoria Golf Club 2nd hole
The par-3 2nd green, with the 11th and 4th greens in the background

The biggest “defense” 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.

Victoria Golf Club 3rd hole
A view of the huge tier in the incredible par-4 3rd green

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.

Victoria Golf Club 4th green
Beautiful ocean view from the right green-side bunker on the par-4 4th hole
Victoria Golf Club 5th hole
The par-4 5th tee shot

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 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.

Victoria golf club 7th hole
The par-4 7th hole wrapping around the coastline, with the 8th tee box behind and to the left
Victoria golf club 7th green
The rad but tough 7th green with the 8th tee in the background

Another thing that makes Victoria Golf Club great is the way in which 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.

Victoria Golf CLub 8th hole
The front green-side bunker on the short and super fun par-3 8th hole
Victoria golf club 9th green
Overlooking the par-3 9th green, with the 7th green and 8th tee box in the background

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.

Victoria golf club 11th and 12th bunkers
Bunker complex separating the 11th and 12th holes

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 an inviting way to finish. You can bail almost as far right as you want, but will be left with an unfavorable 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.

Victoria Golf Club 18th hole
A view down the finishing hole with the bunker complexes that separates it from the 1st fairway
Victoria Golf Club 18th green
The 18th green with the beautiful clubhouse in the background

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 prior to 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.

-Josh


 

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8 thoughts on “Review: Victoria Golf Club

  1. I have two private courses I want to play more than any other. First is Cypress Point for obvious reasons. The second is VGC. From everything I have read and seen, including your awesome summary, this is the course for me.

    I have a dream about moving to Victoria but I would only do so if I could be a member of this club. I think it is the most underrated course in North America and while I have yet to play it, I feel like I have through your great review!

    1. Appreciate the kind words and glad you enjoyed the review. Moving to Victoria to be a member of VGC is something we dream and talk about too!

      Cheers
      Josh

  2. Josh,
    Fabulous review. Like yourself, I was fortunate to play VGC in February of this year and can’t recall a more serene and captivating golf experience. You mention the fact the course is siutated on less than 100 acres and that still amazes me in its efficiency, as it never felt too tight so as to make me feel uncomfortable. Reaching out to Jeff Mingay provided some excellent insight, as during my visit he was overseeing some bunker restoration work and based on holes already completed, it was impressive to see his vision around restoration efforts. Play it every day? Oh my, yes. For the membership, many of whom I had a chance to meet (playing part of Men’s Day) they understand very well the special place they have and respect the course and its history. It was a golf experience I will never forget and your review took me back. I am glad your experience was just as positive, thanks for this great post!
    Cheers, Mike

    1. Hey Mike,

      I recall reading your great piece on VGC which elevated my desire to play it. I knew it was great and saw many photos but it still managed to exceed my expectations. It’s good to know that the members know how fortunate they are!

      Cheers
      Josh

  3. Josh,

    This is probably the best course review you have ever written! Excellent content. I loved the part about transplanting a seaside course inland and seeing if the holes would still stand up, you answered this perfectly. Designing the holes with the view/ocean landscape IS part of the golf course architecture. I’ve played some seaside holes in Asia where I came off the green and thought to myself, “wow really? they had this land to work with and this is what they came up with?” It’s easy to think, of yeah its by the ocean so naturally its going to be a great hole. Not at all! If anything its harder to design these holes as you need to frame the holes perfectly to make it work. Glad we finally have a course in common that we have both played! I absolutely loved VGC, an extremely fun time on a golf course. Fun factor has to be 10/10 for this place.

    PS. I’m all about great course logos and VGC is my fav Canadian course logo yet! Pure Royalty!

    1. Hey Cyrus,

      Thanks for the kind words my friend! And you’re right, there are courses that don’t take advantage of what they have, doing that is an important part of the architecture and influences the experience and sense of place a lot. And yes, the logo is mint too which helps!

      Cheers
      Josh

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