- West Vancouver, British Columbia
- Stanley Thompson (1937)
- 9th in Canada (ScoreGolf)
Stanley Thompson has five, and some will argue six world class golf courses in Canada. Four of those come on all-world properties that could rival any site from the golden age era: Banff in Alberta, sandwiched between two mountain ranges and the Bow River, Jasper, also in Alberta, up in the rolling hills at the base of Rocky Mountains, Highlands Links in Nova Scotia, situated in Cape Breton Highlands Links National Park, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The final world class site comes in a much more urban setting, just north of downtown Vancouver in West Vancouver.
Capilano is regarded as one of the world’s best routings because of the massive elevation change within the course, yet it’s completely walkable. The first six holes plummet down the side of a mountain some 300 feet, and then works its way back up until 14. Outside of 9, which plays straight uphill as a mid length 3, it never truly feels like you’re going up the slope by more than a degree or two in grade.
Capilano starts with a used-to-be-5 turned into a slightly longer par 4. At 445 yards, this hole works down the mountain towards Downtown Vancouver. It’s a fairly generous tee shot, but with the massive old school style clubhouse and the psychology behind a massive tee shot, you still have to pay attention here.
You can tell that this is one of Thompson’s ‘half par’ holes originally. Fairly generous, and let’s the golfer get off to a gentle start. The hole originally played 484, but the back tee was turned into a practice putting green (it’s still used for tournaments).
The approach in is fairly gentle as well, but there’s enough interest here to keep the golfer interested. From a downhill lie, the greens difficult to hold, but allows room to run it up. A little short of the pin allows the ball to hop up and get it close.
The second hole is a really awkward tee shot. Not because it’s bad or because the architecture is awkward, but I felt uncomfortable on the tee because I wasn’t exactly sure which way the hole went. The bunkers on the right in the driving zone are way right, and I felt like the hole had to dogleg to the left, but it’s almost dead straight. This is a mentally tough tee shot.
The approach at the 2nd is spectacular. A bunker left, and a natural fall off to the right, the player feels like left is a worse option because of the bunker and the green contours sloping away, when in reality right is death and left is safe.
This approach felt quite similar, to me, to Pasatiempo‘s 17th, which is a similar style hole and green complex.
The 481 yard par 5 3rd features an up-and-over, bending to the right tee shot around the outskirts of hole 2, working it’s way back to the first green. The hole plays slightly uphill, but nothing crazy. The actual yardage is likely around 500 yards. There is a bunker on the inside corner of the dogleg that is in play from the tee.
The green here is awesome, featuring contours akin to an upside down bowl, the highest point in the green is in the middle–luckily, that’s where the pin was cut the day we played.
The fourth is the first of five par 3’s at Cap, and is a good one. 161 yards, playing over Hadden Creek that comes into play on six holes, the green slopes heavily from the back to the front edge, and then falls off pretty heavily towards the water.
Turning down and to the left after the 4th, the 5th goes straight downhill towards downtown Vancouver. This hole in particular messed with my depth perception, as the water off the tee doesn’t seem that far to carry, but it’s in fact 240 yards.
The approach down plays significantly downhill too, but the green complex is crazy. We were there about a week and a half after aeration, so the course played really firm–I’m not sure 99% of golfers could hold this green with a long iron or wood.
It’s tough to capture the scale of this green, but it features a saddle-like design and falls off on both sides, with the fairway flowing into the green’s contours front left.
The 6th features some of the best views on the course, with an even better look of Downtown Vancouver and the harbour.
The 6th plays 422 yards on the card, but it plays a lot shorter than the yardage indicates. It also plays a lot wider than it looks!
The green, yet again, is accessible with a running shot. One of Capilano’s best features is never making the golfer do anything. The creative player here shines with an abundance of options and different shots.
After the first 6 fall down the mountainside, 7 starts the journey back up. This might be my personal favorite hole here, playing 440 yards swinging to the right.
The fairway is never flat, so be prepared to hit a few skanky approach shots here.
The green is quite long and skinny, and from the fairway looks bigger than it is. A bunker right and a very harsh run off collection area to the left make this a very demanding mid iron.
The 8th feels exactly like Banff Springs, another Thompson design. Doglegging ever-so-slightly to the left around some towering trees, This shorter, 375 yard par 4 is fairly straightforward.
The bunkering here is quite fantastic, and a big pine tree on the left side frames this approach shot. The entire green complex slopes to the front left, so anything missed short right, right where you’d think the ‘bail out area’ is with how many bunkers surround the green, is death and almost impossible to get it close on fast greens for the average golfer.
The 9th is the only hole that feels like it plays directly up the hill. That’s because it does, going due north back up the mountain. It’s a mid length 3 at 175 yards, but might play up to a club and a half more depending on where the pin is on the green.
The 10th is another one of my favorite holes here. 436 yards on the card, playing up and to the left around some big fir trees, this is the second long par 4 (like the 1st) that’s been converted to a par 4.
The bunker out there in the distance messes with your depth perception on this hole. It feels like you have to hit a rope draw to hit the fairway, when in fact if you hit it at the right edge of the bunker you’ll be safe. Spoilers, the bunker is some 340 yards (sea level) off the tee.
As you turn the corner, you can tell this used to be a 5 back in the day because of the two bunkers about 100 yards out cut into the upslope.
The green at the 10th is also quite good, heavily sloping to the right side with a lot of movement throughout. Truly one of Capilano’s best holes (in a slew of many).
The 11th, named “Wishing Well,” feels like a Stanley Thompson hole. I’ve yet to make it to Westmount in Kitchener (hopefully this fall), but the third hole there looks similar to this. And then of course there’s Devil’s Cauldron at Banff Springs, which feels like Wishing Well’s big brother. Regardless of how similar this looks or feels to another hole, the 161 yard 11th has enough going on that it’s special in its own right.
The green is framed by four bunkers, and the back right pin is quite difficult. The green almost features a double plateau feature.
The 12th continues up the hill, but at only 370 yards, it’s one of the shorter par 4’s. It’s named “the burn,” and no, not because it’s uphill like my dad quipped mid round here, but because of Hadden Creek running through the hole at about 285 yards off the tee.
The player is enticed into hitting driver because of this bunker, above, which looms over the golfer off the tee. However, driver can (or almost can) get you into the creek, and this bunker is only some 200 yards off the tee.
Once you get past that bunker, you’ve got a similar approach to the par 3, 4th, with everything sloping to the front and with a harsh run off at the front, guarded by two bunkers short left and right.
The 13th is one of the handful of all-world holes at Capilano. 400 yards on the card, playing a degree or two uphill, this hole looks fairly simple with no flashy, signature Thompson bunkering, but what Thompson was also spectacular at was designing a hole using the natural contours, without bunkering.
Hadden Creek guards the right, and then the short left of the green complex (although I’d argue short left of the green isn’t really in play). Out of Bounds left and Hadden Creek down the right side of the hole are the main challenges you first have to address. On a wide tee shot, the player has to try and hug Hadden Creek as much as he can otherwise he’s faced with both a longer and significantly harder approach shot to this perched green. For the player who’s confident in his iron game and not as much in his driving, left isn’t quite bad, but for the person who can place their ball off the tee, right is ideal as it gives you a look straight up the green complex.
The land here is quite spectacular, and to design a hole as well-suited to both high handicaps and low handicaps 90 years after the course opened is world class.
The 14th is a little drop shot par 3, playing over the entry road that goes to the clubhouse. I know it’s a small feature, but classic courses playing across the entry road is really quaint and feels really cool.
The 151 yard 3 sees Hadden Creek cover the left side, but with a short iron/wedge in your hand, it shouldn’t cause too much issues. The green moves off the right bunker, but isn’t too crazy. Overall, it’s a beautiful hole and a great use of the land given to add variety.
The 15th is another mid length par 4 at 427 yards, moving slightly to the left. Two bunkers on the outside corner are in the driving zone if you’re Rory McIlroy, but for most people they’re a good aiming line.
The green here is very severe. A ridge runs through the middle, and with the fast greens we played that day, anything above that ridge to the pin on the front portion would run off the green completely. Club selection into this green is key!
Turning back towards the clubhouse, the 247 yard par 3, 16th starts a world class finish. Usually, a long par 3 is a slog, and a really boring hole that no one wants to play. The 16th here, however, is not that. A bunker short right some 50 yards back, with Hadden Creek on the right, and bunkering wrapping around the back and left side of this hole are the main defences to the eye. But the upside down bowl green (again) makes this hole play more difficult than you think. The running shot here is the best call as there’s lots of room short to play the shot given.
Thompson was really quite good at making the long par 3 feel not so annoying.
After the 16th, you walk up to the clubhouse for the 490 yard, par 4 17th. Whether or not this is the original tee (it’s not) doesn’t matter to me. It feels like it should’ve been there, and makes one of the most picturesque tee shots I’ve seen.
The huge bunker on the right is in play at about 330 yards or so, and from an elevated tee it’s possible to get it there. The fairway is quite undulated again, making for a shot you need to pay attention to. The green slopes off the left.
The 18th works back up the hill 17 came down, and is one of Canada’s great finishing holes. 574 yards on the card, If it’s firm enough it has some nice risk-reward elements. But for most people, it’s likely a three shot hole, especially when you see what’s green side. But first things first, the tee shot is uphill with four bunkers ready to spoil a good round (if you’re in one it’s almost a certain bogey). You definitely want to finish on a good drive here!
If you hit it far enough, the approach shot is open, but it’s semi-blind from the usual landing spot. Once you get on top of the hill, you’ll see four bunkers starting at 100 yards out cut into the hillside, creating a duel fairway running into the green.
Neither side is wrong for a layup, but the left is easier on the second shot and harder on the third going up and over the bunkers. The second shot is harder going up to the right but looks straight into the green unobstructed. Below is a view from below, left, and above, right. A fantastic finishing hole!
Capilano is one of the world’s best, and at 9th in Canada, it’s actually underrated. This is a course that you could play every day, and never get bored. There’s that many options and interesting holes out here. Stanley made a walkable course with enough elevation change to be mistaken with some of mountain courses in Colorado (there’s that much elevation change here). This is one of my absolute favorite rounds of golf I’ve yet to play, and with so much going for it, it’s a must play for anyone who likes beautiful golf courses and/or golf architecture.