Highland Pacific Comes In Under Radar
Over the past decade, Highland Pacific has been an almost silent blip flashing on the edge of Vancouver Island golf radar screen.
But little did almost anyone know that it would turn out to be a supersonic Stealth fighter.
The Plasterer family had owned a piece of property only minutes from downtown Victoria since the early 1960s that patriarch, Herb Plasterer had long envisaged as a golf facility.
Starting 13 years ago, they began planning and working on developing the 190 acre property that lies in both Saanich and View Royal.
The first blip on the radar was a practice facility that after opening in 2007 immediately set the standard for the Victoria region.
It featured a two-tiered tee line of 44 stalls (22 covered and heated), long and short game practice areas, lights for evening practice and real terrain targets.
300 yards deep, this is a place where you can definitely let the big dog eat.
What really sets it apart however, are a couple of water hazards, one short, one long that more than come into play. It is hard to imagine a better place for a golfer to get over a fear of hitting over water.
For those who are more comfortable about clearing the H2O, the range lays out almost like a series of holes that allows players to emulate on-course situations.
Testament to its quality, the combination aquatic range, practice facility and clubhouse at Highland Pacific Golf quickly earned a 2008 ranking among the Top 100 Ranges in North America as selected by Golf Range Magazine, an honour it has repeated in both 2009 and 2010.
Planning for the golf course component of the development had been ongoing through this process.
With a piece of land that rises almost 300 feet, finding a routing that would take full advantage of the superb sight lines was key.
They began by building a 3-hole loop near the range clubhouse in 2007 and had a completed nine open by October of 2008.
Called the "Pacific Nine", it was a par 35 that measured 3,167 yards from the back tees.
Golfers who checked out the routing that played along the lower half of the property that borders both Thetis Lake Park and Francis/King Park were more than pleasantly surprised.
There was a good mix of interesting holes where wide, sweeping, bent grass fairways were defined by tree lines and rock faces; players were faced with demanding elevation changes and fast but fair greens.
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One big reason for the quality of the layout was the smart decision to bring in well-regarded shaper Chris Young who has worked on many of BC's better designs.
Chris was intimately involved with the construction of the first nine and impressed the owners so much that they gave him full control over the second nine, appropriately called the "Highland."
The Highland is a par 36 and is the longer of the nines measuring 3449 yards.
The shaping the second nine's holes, laying irrigation and drainage infrastructure, sand capping and seeding was all completed in the fall of 2009.
The grow-in since has been superb due in no small part to the fact that Victoria enjoyed the driest January on record followed by the sunniest and warmest February.
Director of Golf and GM, Doug Hastie actually sees Chris Young's role in Highland Pacific as the birth of a new course designer.
"We call this Chris's first design, the first of many we believe he will undertake as an architect," says Hastie.
If the layout at Highland Pacific is any indication, Hastie is likely right.
This is a dramatic yet thoughtful design that takes advantage of a picture postcard setting.
The site here could be considered as three separate plateaus.
The clubhouse, practice facility and starting holes for both nines are all located on the middle one.
The Highland nine then climbs approximately 150 feet to a plateau on top of a mountain while the Pacific drops down around 100 feet before circling around back up.
And when playing a round here, you may be starting on either nine; there are no plans to make one the front and one the back.
Still as the one currently open, the Pacific will likely be seen at least initially as the front and it begins gently enough with a shortish par 359 yard four that goes downhill to a green that is only 26 steps deep.
This is followed by a dramatic downhill 159 yard par three with a large pond fronting the green.
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It's on the third tee, the lowest point on the course that you notice that the back (blue) tees are significantly further back than the whites... around 40 yards.
Add in a drive that must travel significantly uphill to reach the optimal landing area and you realize that this nine while not long, is technically demanding and plays much differently from one set of tees to the next.
Doug Hastie responds,"This really is two different courses from the regular and back tees. It is pretty straight forward from the whites but the positioning of the blue tee boxes make it more of a technical challenge."
A review of the scorecard affirms this.
The blue yardage, while only 3,167 yards plays more in the range of 3400 yards with the number of demanding uphill shots. A rating/slope of 35.5/120 just reinforces that if you are not a solid mid-handicapper, the slightly more humble 2738 yard white tees with a rating/slope of 33.3/115 would a more enjoyable choice.
Something unexpected is the solitude. There is clear separation between the holes provided by rocky outcroppings dotted with red barked Arbutus and Garry Oak trees. Also with the course backing onto two parks, huge Firs provide dominating backdrops.
Two holes on the Pacific are personal favourites.
The 353 yard dogleg right par-four sixth plays uphill to a sloping green that is nestled on a hillside while the 221 yard par-three eighth plays again from an elevated tee with views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in Washington State. It is this view that gives you an hint of what vistas are to follow on the Highland Nine.
The Highland starts out at near the same elevation as the Pacific but its first hole, a 360 yard, par-four has an uphill approach that rises more than 50 feet to a smallish elevated green that gets you up to the level of the uppermost plateau.
The holes that follow are a dream.
A longish par four with views of Victoria's skyline precedes a demanding par three where you could end up with putts that leave the 250 area code.
Then you walk over to a semi-island tee box to start a sequence of four holes that may be among the most memorable on Vancouver Island.
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Play a tightish looking, uphill par-five well and you will now be headed back south toward the Olympic Mountains playing a 370 yard par four with a green that adjoins a huge rock face.
This is followed by a the course's most demanding hole, a 450 yard par four that ends with a green backed by a drop off hundreds of feet high.
It's on this green and on the next tee for the par five seventh that you will be presented with of the best vistas in BC golf.
Do a 360 degree turn and you can see Mt, Finlayson, Mt. Douglas, the city of Victoria, View Royal and the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
In a word, stunning.
When you walk off that last green, whichever #9 it may be, it's time to relax in the cozy Range Cafe in the Clubhouse.
The same clubhouse is also home to a golf shop that is the largest on-course retail site on Vancouver Island.
Doug Hastie is justifiably proud of what they can offer in the golf shop.
"We have the full custom fitting systems for Nike and Callaway" but it's clear that he is proud of more than that.
"Golfers tell us that they love our course.
Our service is friendly and welcoming, our food is great and we have the best practice facility on the island.
We appreciate the overwhelming support of the golf community in our growing years."
Speaking of growing, the location of the 19th hole and Golf Shop could be changing in the foreseeable future.
Plans call for a new clubhouse to be built between the first holes of both nines that will part of a 100-unit resort development.
While that may be as far as five years away, the Highland Nine is set to open in early June but with some more good weather that date might move up.
Doug mentioned one way to be among the first to play the new nine, "We are thinking of letting members of the HP Club play the May Long Weekend."
The HP Club is Highland Pacific's loyalty program and it's a good one.
An HP Club membership for just $99 gets you great green fee discounts, advance booking privileges and over $120 worth of gifts.
The gifts include:
- two 9 hole rounds (redeemable anytime)
- an HP Practice Pass loaded with 7 regular buckets
- an Exclusive HP logo'd gift
- Discounts: 10% on green fees, 15% discount on power carts and 15% on pull carts
The 2010 HP Passes go on sale March 1, 2010
For more information about Highland Pacific, click HERE