Unparalleled Urban Forest: The Royal Colwood Golf Course

Towering trees line the Royal Colwood Golf Course, photo from RCGCC website
(Click on photos to see larger version)

The Royal Colwood Golf Course was designed and cut out of the old growth forest in 1913. Today, according to the Victoria Horticultural Society, it has "the most magnificent natural stands of Douglas-fir and Garry oaks of all ages in an urban area". The golf course is a designated Heritage Tree Area which signifies its importance to the surrounding community, as well as to the deer, herons and bald eagles that live there.

Here the giant Douglas-fir and twisted Garry oak may be barely noticed by folks letting their game detract attention from the walk through the outstanding ancient forest. I have been wondering for a while now, "How does the tree enthusiast get to see the wonders of this semi-private club without chasing a little white ball around?"

Historical photo of golfers dwarfed by the big trees that are even bigger today
From: RCGCC website

I started with the wonders of the Internet. It provided an interesting start in my quest to get "on the course" (without getting hit on the head by a fast moving ball, or chased by some angry guy in a golf cart). I searched for 'Royal Colwood Golf Club' which came up with interesting links that gave me a sneak peek at this amazing, exclusive forest.

450 year old Douglas-fir at 'Cathedral Hole' (16th hole)
Photo credit: Matt

First there was Matt from St. Catharines, Ontario who is an avid golfer and blogger. When he was on Vancouver Island in the summer of 2009 he visited the Royal Colwood, and was one golfer that did notice the forest. His blog can be found here and features many excellent photos of the course and the trees, including the photo above. He summed up his experience on the course by saying, "The trees out here are just incredible! They are the strongest feature at the club..."

Matt also points out that the 16th hole was named 'Cathedral Hole' after the old Prince of Wales played at the course back in the day. The prince, who knew quality when he saw it, felt that the light filtering through the surrounding Douglas-firs at the 16th was like that coming into a cathedral. This moving forest experience would later lead to the golf course getting its 'Royal' designation from King George V in 1931. The next notable historical event at the golf club 68 years later was not as tree-friendly.

Huge branches of ancient Douglas-fir on 16th hole, from RCGCC website

In 1999 Len Barrie, failed Bear Mountain developer, had a run-in with the Royal Colwood over an infamous illegal tree removal incident. The ex NHL player lived in a house that backed onto the golf course. He hired a contractor to cut down 28 trees—Douglas firs, an arbutus and a few wild cherries—that ran between his property and the green. He was trying to 'improve' his view.

Some of the trees were as much as 16 metres beyond Barrie's property line. The Royal Colwood sued Barrie for $18,500 and, after several appeals, he settled for $14,700. The golf club revoked Barrie's membership, which caused him to throw a tantrum and cut more trees over on Bear Mountain in order to build his very own golf course. This misguided development was placed under court protection from creditors in March of 2010 after running into financial troubles.

Another online resource for good tree shots was the Royal Colwood Golf Club website. It has many beautiful pictures of the trees in this park-like setting. The golf course keeps very close tabs on the impressive collection of ancient sentinels, with lists documenting all significant trees. And there are many significant trees.

Big Garry oak, from: RCGCC website

Some of the oldest Douglas-firs are 61m high with up to 221cm diameter trunks. The oldest trees are up to 500 years old. Other native trees to be found here are Black cottonwood, Quaking aspen, and Grand fir. There are also many introduced species represented on the grounds, such as non-native oaks.

To complete my research I had my big tree assistant give the Royal Colwood a phone call on the off chance that they gave tree tours to the ordinary non-golfing public. The call went through to the pro shop, and the person contacted was very friendly and accommodating. He was also noticeably proud of the trees on the course. So much so, that he offered a personal tour of the place. Success!

What began online I am looking forward to completing in person with an eagerly anticipated field trip. Afterwards I will be posting pictures here. It will be interesting to see where the call of "Fore!" has prevented the yell of "Timber!", resulting in this unparalleled urban forest.

1 comment:

  1. WOW, these look like truly amazing trees. In quite the setting as well. I've actually done a good bit of tree work on golf coarses here on Cape Cod, but none to match this level of grandeur. The tree species here on Cape Cod are a little less impressive, but beautiful in there own way.
    It's to bad that Len Barrie could not recognize the spectacular view he had of the trees themselves.


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