Steve and Jack Nicklaus were provided a very interesting and unique piece of land to work with in developing the original course of a two-course resort layout in Victoria, BC. I’ve had the pleasure of playing this course on two separate occasions and was very impressed with the quality of the course and the natural beauty of the area. This is a course which is worthy of a place on Top 100 lists and should be on the bucket list of Canadian golfers who are seeking exciting, diverse and quality golf experiences. And make no mistake, if and when I return to Victoria I will seek this course out again to play, perhaps as a 36 a day loop with their newer Valley course which I have yet to play. But as much as I liked this course, I can’t bring myself to love it.
There is much to like mind you. There are holes, such as 11 and 14, which are simply spectacular. The optical illusion of 14 is amazing, with a feeling that the uphill approach shot will hold the green or the ball will fall into the harbour. On sunny days you can see Victoria and Port Angeles and are likely able to see Mt. Baker in the distance. Do take time after the hole to admire the view; it’s one of the best I’ve experienced. The conditioning of the course is superb, as one would expect. Greens roll true and quick yet fair. Bunkers are very well maintained and provide a healthy challenge for the player and as a result approach shots demand accuracy. Landing areas off the tee for a mountain course are relatively generous. There are a few holes which require a target approach, and local knowledge is helpful. Hole 15, for example, is deceptive in the landing area and does require a very precise tee shot to remain in play. The par 3 11th hole utilizes the elevation change wonderfully, as opposed to the 4th hole which while extremely scenic is a challenging shot to hold on the green as it’s a slightly uphill tee shot.
The only area in which housing and development comes into play is the first hole. A gentle dogleg right to left on the opening par 5 invites wayward tee shots to the left to approach the resort complex. Once you’re past the first hole, however, this is no longer an issue.
The oddest feature which is unique, exciting and stunning as well as curious, disappointing and detracting is that the best hole on the course is not part of the rotation of 18. Nicklaus saw an opportunity to build a short par 3 after the 14th hole which overlooks the harbour. It’s a visually stunning golf hole which requires a precise shot to a very short par 3. Bear Mountain markets this as their 19th hole but I would like the chance to play this hole as part of the overall layout. To me, this is a serious design flaw and left me wanting.
Playing with a member on both occasions, I can see the pride that members have in this majestic and well-conditioned course. It is a challenging layout but a golf experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and only hope I can experience once again. Look around and take in the marvelous scenery, even look back, for some holes offer an incredible view behind you as well as ahead! My pictures paled in comparison to the pictures available on their website.
Aura – 8 out of 10 – This is a special course with views of Victoria and Washington State which are stunning. The golf course is of a quality that complements the scenery.
Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10. Not the value track that others can boast in Victoria, but there is a quality to Bear Mountain which makes playing here worth the expense, it is a wonderful golf experience.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – I would love to rate this higher, and it is worthy of a higher rank save for the failure to incorporate the best hole into the 18. To me, it’s a missed opportunity. – 7.5 out of 10
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Having played there twice, I really enjoyed it and would welcome a chance to come back and play it again. It is a very stout test of golf on a beautiful piece of land. With a second course alongside it is now a destination for golfers seeking great golf – 8.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The view after 14 is breathtaking. But before you even tee it up, step outside of the clubhouse and check out the scenery and breathe. You would never know you were mere minutes from downtown Victoria.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – At the risk of overstating it, I’d make the 19th hole the 15th! That and I’d like to have an office in Victoria so I could play here from November to March, affording the chance to golf year round!
Playing Partner Notes – When you play with a member who is a retired golf professional you get some unique insight. My first experience playing with Brian D. was special. It was a damp, foggy December morning and we got off early. After the round he stated he was pleased with his score considering he was seeking to hit close to the cart path to avoid walking far to get to his ball. He demanded I keep my bag on the cart as we played another round in the afternoon as the fog burned off. He was insistent I see this course in all its natural beauty, and wow, what a thrill that was!