Gorge Vale was among the first Canadian golf courses to be built by a resident Canadian golf architect but our roots go right back to 18th century Irish links golf. Our designer, A.V. 'Mac' Macan, had immigrated to Victoria in 1910 from Ireland. Born in Dublin in 1892, he became a golfer and student of course architecture during the golden age of golf in Ireland, when from 1892- 1915 more than 200 courses opened.
He arrived on the west coast to almost single-handedly begin a similar golden age of golf course expansion in the Pacific Northwest. Armed with tireless energy and modern course design principles developed from the original Irish masters, Macan set the standard for golf course architecture for the next forty years.
He is remembered as a genius who used his artistic talents let the earth shape many of the greatest golf courses in the Northwest. 'Mac' was very impressed with the 143 acres of mature trees and undulating lands which was to become Gorge Vale."...in the ground possessed by the Gorge Vale Golf Club there exists the possibility of a really magnificent course that should rank second to none in the Northwest. He achieved his vision. The Victoria Daily Columnist reported in 1930 that 'the links today as designed by A Vernon Macan, one of the best known golf architects on the continent, are rated with the best on the Pacific slope, if not in North America?.
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Gorge Vale's ideal topography combined with Macan's vision created a course a little more difficult than most. He noted that "The par for the course works out exceptionally high for its total length although this I do not regard as significant. It is due to the large number of holes over 450 yards I have designed. In modern course design, I regard at least four or five such holes as essential if a course is to rank amongst the best as a test of the game."
In fact Gorge Vale comes very close to meeting Macan's vision for the perfect layout. To begin with he started with very close to his ideal total acreage (150) for an 18-hole course.
"My 'perfect course', not designed for exclusively for holding one Championship every five years, would consist of something like six holes of 420-475 yards; 5 drive and iron holes 360-410; 3 drive and pitch holes 320-350; 4 'one shotters', 140-220 with a total length of 6,200 yards or so. As a test of golf such a course could be made the equal of anything on earth, if so desired." As it turns out, this comes very close to describing GV's Blue/White tee combination.
'Mac' advocated the construction of par three's for beginners and designed some 'pitch and putt' courses for families and children. He set aside a huge - more than six acre - practice area at Gorge Vale which now has a 300-yard range, two pitching greens, three practice bunkers, and two putting/chipping greens. Gorge Vale has built upon 'Mac's vison with a first class JUNIOR PROGRAM.
A.V. Macan was ahead of his time in other ways which have influenced Gorge Vale. He believed that skilled player should be challenged and rewarded by successful execution in the face of risk but also that golf was for everyone - that the middle and high handicapper must be encouraged to go out and have an enjoyable day. He wanted us to think our way around his links but also to have fun. "It is in designing courses that are fine test and at the same time are full of character and originality, to say nothing of possessing the qualities that make them breed fun and enjoyment, that the art of modern course architecture reaches its highest point."
Macan designed Gorge Vale with generous fairways and opportunities for enjoyment by the average golfer, even - as he called them - 'the dubs.' "The architect should design a course that while being a fine test of the game for highly skilled players must at the same time provide a satisfactory test and full measure of enjoyment for the less skilled. My idea is to design a course that while being a fine test of the game and call for all the skill of the Hagens, Sarazens and Barnes would at the same time provide a satisfactory test and full measure of enjoyment for the less skilled ...yes even for the dubs."
The flowing grace of Gorge Vale's natural terrain combined with Macan's brilliance, have resulted in 18 truly unique signature holes. Above all Macan designed a 'gorge'ous 'walk in a park' with imaginative and often subtle playing options which play differently every day. He wanted us to think. He wanted us to have fun.
He stated that "character is an essential element in a well-designed course. An architect must have an eye for the country, sufficient imagination and a thorough understanding of the game to make the course attractive and to best utilize the natural features."
Most often Macan forces our better players to think in two or three shot sequences. "The best holes present to the player a problem the solution of which must be thought-out before the ball is hit from the tee. Before striking the ball the player must determine his own ability, select the line suitable to his ability and hit the ball on the selected line."
"May I say that a good two-shot hole is not composed of two individual shots but a combination of two shots the comparative ease or difficulty of the second being dependent on the accuracy placement of the tee shot." He also believed that accuracy should be more important than length. "Courses should be designed so that accuracy in placement of tee shots receives its proper reward. Length must always have its advantage, but we should not make a god of it." Among the design principles Macan espoused was that the greens and tees should be close together and that there should be a short walk to each tee.
Seventy five years later the game of golf had changed dramatically especially the putting surface. Gorge Vale took a bold leap to become one of the few courses on the west coast which now combines a classic Macan links design with modern greens. Sixteen greens were redesigned to USGA specifications by Les Furber, a prolific Canadian course designer, architect and construction consultant. The renovation completed in 2003 brought five water hazards, additional teeing grounds, and enhancements to the drainage system and improved fairway contouring for greater year-round playability.
Macan's attention to detail even covered the placement of the clubhouse. "The eighteenth fairway and green on which matches will be constantly finishing at the tea hour should if possible, be visible from the lounge or verandah where we consume that sociable beverage." GV followed his great advice and we now have a magnificent panoramic view of the 9th and 18th greens and fairways.
In 2011, the United States Golf Association completed an on-site review of Gorge Vale in 2011 and recommended a number of maintenance 'playability' initiatives which have been adopted such as trimming lower branches, shorter grass in the rough and wider entrances to greens. The USGA also recommended that we encourage both fun and pace of play by promoting the 'Play It Forward' policy (move to the next - or appropriate - tee). Their report stated that "many golfers are playing tees far too long for their length and this is certainly true at Gorge Vale." The USGA recommends a course length of (up to) 5400 yards for players who drive the ball 200 yards. Our green tees - 5400 yards - are among the longest forward tees of any course on the island and have the highest slope rating. Most higher handicap golfers have swing speeds of less than 75mph, and driving distances of less than 175 yards. The USGA recommends a course length of 4,400 - 4,600 yards for this golfer profile.
Most players agree with A.V. Macan that Gorge Vale has been successfully designed to be a good test of their game. For everyone's enjoyment there are 6 sets of tees and one combination so you can choose the set most suited to your level of play. The latest addition are yellow tees (forward tees) which are now rated. For an even more enjoyable round try 'play it forward' (move up one tee), especially for your first round at Gorge Vale!