Golf in Wine Country – Arbutus Ridge

I’ve heard of the wineries in this part of the Island and – I’ll admit to looking it up – there are 9 of them within easy driving distance from this golf course, but I haven’t heard that much about the golf courses. That’s about to change with Arbutus Ridge, about 40 minutes drive up over the Malahat from downtown Victoria.

View from the clubhouse over the 18th green

We walk into the clubhouse perched on top of a hill and sit down for a tasty breakfast in front of the huge windows overlooking the 18th green and beyond to the ocean and the islands. A relaxing start to the day.

Standing on the first tee, it’s all downhill to the green, but pull it too much and you’re in someone’s back yard and push it a bit and you’re over the fence and gone and out of bounds. It’s a good idea to have hit a couple of practice balls first just to loosen up because this could be quite intimidating as the first shot of the day. Anyway, feeling pretty good and full of bacon and egg sandwich I manage to hit it down the middle and have a short shot in to the green and a solid two-putt for a par. Always nice to start like that.

The second and third are pretty open tee shots, with the third being particularly inviting as mounds on either side give it a funnel shape, and the fourth is a short three to a large green. With two more pars and a dropped shot due to a poor second, I’m enjoying this course after 4.

The tee shot on the fifth over the first water of the day is OK and as I watch my second fly dead straight towards the flag I’m thinking this is going to be my day until it thunks down 20 feet short in a bunker – serious misjudgement. Splash out and three putts later brings me back to reality.

Another couple of pars and another couple of bogeys and I’m out in 5-over 40. That’s OK. The course is playing quite short. It is November and the tees are pushed to the front of the boxes in many cases, but that’s often negated by the fact that it is November and we’re getting virtually no run at all. The fairways are damp due to the thawing of the morning frost, but I’m not getting a bad lie and they’re easy to play off. The rough can be dark and heavy in places, but it’s always still playable. The trees come into play on a few of the holes, but they are never intrusive. I’ve been under a couple, but that was due to wayward tee shots not dubious tree placements.

Oh, and this is an out and back course. Don’t think that if you’ve left something in your car you’re going to pick it up after 9 holes. The 9th green is as far from the clubhouse as you get and once you leave the building at the first tee you don’t see it again until you approach the 18th.

Looking back from the 11th green

The hopes of a 39 on the back side and breaking 80 are gone with my tee shot off the 10th where I watch it sail right over the fence and gone. Played solidly poorly with my second ball and it’s a triple bogey 8. Good stuff. The 11th is a tough hole, a long dog-leg to an elevated green which – as I discovered when I thought I’d hit my 5-wood approach over – has one of the largest greens I’ve ever seen. It’s massive. I was at the back left and the pin was front right and luckily it was a downhill putt. I hit it to about 15 feet and my partner said “good shot”, and I was quite happy with it. Missed the return putt though.

Not so happy after taking another double at the 12th – hit it in the water short and left, but that’s OK. I’d been told there were a lot of houses bordering this course, but I’m not getting that at all. Sure. They are there in places, but they’re not intrusive and I got the feeling of openness more than anything else. The trees are there, but they are set back. The scenery is great – who doesn’t like playing golf looking out at the ocean? – and the day is crisp but bright.

I manage 3 pars and a drop on the 14th over the next four holes. The dropped shot was due to playing safe and pushing the “safe” iron tee shot to within a foot of a tree where I had to chip out sideways – don’t you hate it when that happens? Would have been safer to take the driver.

The 17th green

Anyway, here we are at the 17th. I’ve read about this one – “knee-rattling 214 yard carry to an island green”. OK, so it’s playing a bit shorter from our tees, maybe 160 yds, but the water’s still there. We both hit solid shots to about 20 feet and I manage to sink mine for a birdie – way to tame the signature hole.

Didn’t tame the last though. This was all uphill from the tee with a large lake up to the left of the green. A tough hole where a par is very good and I wasn’t up to it and took a solid 5 for an 82. OK, not too bad.

Enjoyed the course. It’s open and fair with a few tougher tee shots and approaches thrown in just to test you. The greens were hard, but still held the ball well if hit in solidly. Picturesque and not daunting – well worth another round. Maybe I’ll finish off the day with a glass of wine – wine in golf country.