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Cordova Bay Golf Course still has its natural creeks, formations and vegetation in most areas.
Cordova Bay Golf Course still has its natural creeks, formations and vegetation in most areas. (Courtesy of cordovabaygolf.com)

Cordova Bay Golf Course Offers Subtle Character

By Michael Leung,

VICTORIA, B.C. - It's not often that you find a golf course with character. It's even less common to laugh out loud just after you triple bogeyed a 209-yard Par 3.

Welcome to Cordova Bay Golf Course, located in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. For those of you unfamiliar with Canada, Victoria is located on Vancouver Island, itself surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the United States and mainland Canada. Victoria also features a marina and seafood less than a few days old out of the ocean.

The course itself is located 20 minutes north of downtown Victoria and touches the Straight of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland (well, just about).

Cordova Bay offers 18 undulating holes with gentle inclines and slopes. At black tee ratings of 6,668 yards, a slope of 122 and a rating of 72.0, the course is among the longest public courses in Victoria but probably not the hardest. The course was established in 1991 and designed by Course Architect Bill Robinson. So what did I mean about character?

Character is subtle. Character is something defined by a uniqueness; something that will get the attention of everyday golfers; something that permeates a place. Cordova Bay possesses that quality and characteristic in its people and its course.

For instance, as you approach the clubhouse, a small, unobtrusive sign Greets you with the message: "In order to enjoy our turbulent and west coast climate to its fullest potential... we recommend a good 'slicker' and a strong 'bumbershoot.' Just like life... we offer no rainchecks (slicker being a good windbreaker and bumbershoot an umbrella).

The sign also bears today's course condition report on a dry-erase board, claiming: "The course conditions can now be described as falling somewhere between 'Pretty Darn Good' and 'Perfect.' You decide." As you shake your head at their brashness, someone squawks at you: "I'm okay!! Okay!?!" and makes an "Ahem!" sound. Your jaw is now hanging open at Cordova Bay's talking myna bird as it stares back at you curiously.

Once heading into the proshop, $48 dollar green fee in hand (Canadian dollar, remember), you are greeted by resident pro Jim Goddard. Jim even works at the proshop sometimes, helping customers, friends and visitors alike, greeting everybody by name.

Cordova Bay also sports a small, 24-page blue book for those unfamiliar with the course. In my experience, I've never seen one of these things before, only rarely heard of them. Basically, the blue book is packed with strategy information about the course.

Depicted, in full colour, are scale illustrations of every hole with yardage markers from all four tee boxes and distances-to the yard-of major landmarks on each hole (say, the distance from the blues to this grassy mound or that looming creek. The cheat book also has depictions of the greens with their formations (i.e. their elevations and depressions) and instead of using dark green blobs where the trees and shrubs are, they have trees illustrated by type (e.g. Poplar, Coniferous, even Sequoia trees).

Finally, authors spared little in describing Cordova's character. Take for example, the etiquette tip given with every hole. Hole #15 tip: "If you jingle your change while your playing partners are putting, we give them permission to permanently change your jingle." Or, Hole #9 tip: "If you fall into a pond while trying to retrieve a ball... boy, we will laugh at you!"

Enough with the bells and whistles. If you golf like I do, then the Strategy stuff in the blue book isn't that useful because you have no strategy (although it does make your day a little easier via humour and good fun). Cordova Bay GC is still a beautiful place to play.

Bill Robinson (the course architect) kept certain themes in mind when he constructed the course. Instead of radically modifying the landscape, he worked with the terrain as opposed to against it. Cordova still has its natural creeks, formations and vegetation in most areas; areas that appear wild within the course look wild because it is the native vegetation. The course has no radical changes in elevation, as well as wide, forgiving fairways, and is easily walkable.

While the course is outwardly naturalistic, it is kept in pristine order by the maintenance staff. This is evidenced by uniform greens and fairways, and very well defined areas of rough and heavy rough. The greeting sign was not lying.

The course is also very noisy: Boisterous crows, bald eagles, high-pitched starlings and 32 white-tailed deer (the deer are quiet, however) Ocean views and the Coastal Mountains across the straight provide a sensory smorgasbord.

Your game starts out with a pleasant greeting from Al, the starter, who'll remind you metal spikes are not allowed at Cordova Bay, but will offer you free (borrowed) shoes instead.

Once you reach the 6th hole, a 230-yard par 3 (black tees-horseshoe tee markers, no less), the blue book advises using a cannon-yes, a cannon-for its slightly elevated green. Just when you think you've hit it well, your ball plunks into one of the six sandtraps surrounding the 28 yard-long green-wide, but certainly not a lot of room from front to back. Make that an accurate cannon. With a high loft angle. And a bible. A look to the east provides a stunning view of Mount Baker, a sort of ominous sentry to your desperate attempt at the green.

Treacherous Gauntlet. These are two words that describe the 420-yard, par 4, 10th hole (black tees). First, a sign at the halfway house advises you not to leave your hotdog unattended because bandit crows at the 10th hole will snag it up in an instant. Second, after you make a 200-yard plus drive over a small lake, your second shot must also carry 130 of the last 150 yards to avoid Burnham Creek.

Finally, any mishaps sending you to the left side of the hole results in a watery reception. The cheat book advises taking another hotdog for the road ahead as you run the gauntlet that is the 10th hole.

The 15th teebox is visually impressive with its ocean backdrop meeting the land (almost). When it's a nice day, airy clouds meet the sky, the ocean and the surrounding landscape with breathtaking splendor. A decent drive on the 361-yard par 4 hole, missing two monster mounds on the left side of the fairway, will hopefully line you up for a perfect shot onto the green. Temptation to knock it into the ocean can become too great.

What makes Cordova Bay GC a worthwhile place to play is its atmosphere, evident in the blue book and the folks around the course. The course is in great shape and well maintained (save for a low level lake that appeared more like a drainage ditch), making the game a test of skill rather than a test of patience.

A few other courses in the Victoria area were making maintenance changes at the time that I played (late May), making other courses not as enjoyable as Cordova Bay while simultaneously charging more money (aeration made other greens look like war zones, victims of carpet bombing). The course is on the inside of Vancouver Island, making it less prone to the winds gusting in from the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, the course is naturalistic in its formation and outward appearance, compensating for its young age and awkward proximity to residential areas. Coupled with a trip to elegant Victoria, Cordova Bay Golf Course is definitely a place to visit.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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