Review: Marine Drive Golf Club
Reading Time: 13 minutes On 92 acres, A.V. Macan finds 18 good golf holes on the bluffs of the Fraser River
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- AV Macan (1922)
When you think of Vancouver, a ‘golf mecca’ doesn’t really spring to mind in 2019, but back in the 30’s and 40’s when the three major clubs were established: Capilano, Shaughnessy Heights (now Shaughnessy) and Marine Drive, plus a few public options from AV Macan like Langara and UBC Golf Course and you might’ve thought different.
One of the top clubs in Vancouver comes from Macan, right on the Fraser River in the southern part of Vancouver (not greater Vancouver, the actual city). This is an absolute top 100 golf course in Canada even in its current state, and with a little tree management from consulting architect Jim Urbina (one of Tom Doak’s guys), it could be a lot higher than barely cracking the list.
Marine starts out with a short, gentle dogleg right par 4, measuring 322 or so yards. Fairly strategic off the start, it’s 228 to the corner to get an unobstructed view of the green. The farther left you go gives you a better view as well, but the fairway cuts in.
Anything with driver has a bunker about 285 off the tee, but the green is certainly reachable off the tee if you want to give it a go off the first hole. Avoiding the bunker short is the key.
The best part of Marine Drive is the green complexes and the surrounding area. Anyone who’s played an authentic AV Macan golf course knows he has some of the best greens in the golden age, and Marine Drive is the best example of that from what I’ve seen so far (I am missing Victoria and Royal Colwood on the island, and obviously some of his big courses in Washington & then California Golf Club of San Francisco). A great example is the joint run off/collection area with 15 behind the 1st green.
The 2nd is a par 5 a couple yards short of 500, and is one of the few holes I felt was a little too tight off the tee.
Not to say it’s a bad hole, because I think it’s still a decent par 5 with a good green yet again, but the trees on the left force the player to hit a draw if he’s anywhere but right centre or right rough off the tee (but if you’re right rough then you’re likely pitching it out). Marine Drive’s claim is that they’re the “player club” of British Columbia, so it does make sense for them to keep the left trees in to force the player to work a fade off the tee, and then draw it into the green or layup, but for the best architecture and most “fair” golf course Urbina should remove them.
And then of course, another cool green complex with a bunker 30 yards short to catch poorly struck shots coming in.
The third gets the first glimpse of the Fraser River on the right, but the river never actually comes into play on this golf course. It’s more a backdrop or a nice view off certain tees. The hole plays a modest 386 yards from the back deck.
I think I heard Urbina wants to cut this tree out, the big one straight ahead, but I’m not so sure it’s worth it. Yes, you provide more options off the tee, but it also opens up driver for most players because they’re more comfortable shaping it the way they want. The tree there isn’t really in play because it just acts as sort of a road map, showing that the best play is hitting it short of the bunker in the distance at about 265 yards off the tee. If the player wants to hit driver, they can, and they should, there’s still enough room, but you either hit a big draw, high driver over, or a nice fade.
There is a little creek that runs up the right side as well from about 270 off the tee to the right of the green, and what I thought was interesting is the right side slopes off enough that if you miss just right it will kick it into the hazard–er, penalty area, my bad.
The fourth plays against the Fraser River again, using some of the natural topography to produce a green complex that feels like it’s tucked away. Pretty cool hole, and when they want to tip it out at 177 it would be quite hard. This green features some wicked undulations in the front portion, and it’s almost impossible to keep it below the hole.
The 5th is another hole that uses trees as strategy, but off the tee, there’s nothing but a few bunkers. Starting at 265 and ending at about 295, The player can bust driver over the hill and past the bunkers, or layup short. The farther left you go off the tee (closer to the bunkers) and shorter, the flatter your lie is for the layup. If you hit driver you have to hit it down the right side to get a flat lie but that’s closer to O.B. up the right.
It’s hard to see how much the land actually effects your lie in photos, but hopefully below it can at least illustrate it. The 5th plays 528 yards as a 5, so it’s completely go-able if you hit driver, but it’s a tough hole to get home in two.
The genius in this hole is that ridge in the landing zone. For a layup off the tee, anything right you get an upslope hook lie, where you have to layup to the right side to have an unobstructed view of the green free of trees (below). Anything left towards the bunkers is flatter, but now you have a blind approach up and over the hill with OB right.
If the player hits driver and hits it closer to the bunker, he gets a downhill fade lie when you have to hit a draw around the tree, whereas if you hit it up the right you get a flatter lie and a way better angle but you have to challenge O.B.
Could this be achieved with bunkering instead of a tree? Potentially, I think with the right shaping and a fairly substantial bunker complex you could achieve the same feel on the layup, and likely without the tree it would feel somewhat close, but this is one of the few instances where I didn’t mind a tree encroaching on the fairway, and actually felt like it served a purpose. It’s not like the tree is low hanging either, with room to pitch it under and still get it on the surface. Controversial perhaps but I felt like it worked.
The 6th is the longest par 3 on the golf course by about 30 yards at 194. It’s even scarier when you think about how small the green complex is, about 20 paces wide and 40 long, with a run off area short and left and then a bunker back left. I won’t show the view from the tee, but below is the green complex walking up to give you an idea of the green site.
The 7th is one of five par 4’s over 400 yards, measuring a single yard over that mark. Two bunkers on the right at where a driver would land are in play, pinching the landing zone. Lots of room behind it, so I felt like the play here was to layup behind the bunkers.
I felt the green here was another one that was quite strong, with the complex falling off everywhere but the front, allowing for the low, running shot in. Bunkers left and right are the main defence here, with another undulated surface awaiting.
The 8th to me was one of the more boring holes on the golf course. A bunker right in the middle of the fairway at about 230 off the tee awaits, and only 245 or so to carry. The hole plays quite short at 322, but unless you have a 130 foot apex with the driver it’s not drivable.
The green complex here (below) is of course good, and well guarded, but I feel like the best option here is to remove almost all the trees up the left and join the fairway with hole 3. The double fairway wouldn’t serve any purpose on 3 because it’s too far back, but it would open up the 8th hole significantly. Put a bunker at about 280 off the tee directly in the line one would hit driver and make it 290 to carry, and another one a little more right of that at about 175 off the tee. You would achieve the same hole style but it would be more playable and deliver more options.
That is quite the overhaul and potentially not very true to the original Macan design, so the membership may never go for it, but that’s my two cents!
The 9th is an absolute monster for a 6361 yard golf course at 433 yards, and for what it’s worth, one of the best holes in the province.
There’s a lot more room than the picture above shows, as right it opens up, but the player is forced to hit a draw if he wants to get over the hill and with a shorter club than a 6 iron. You can hit a few huge drives here and get wedge in with the right landing as it goes up and over the slope you can see above (the same ridge running through hole 5’s landing area as well, I believe). For the fade player, laying up with a club that’s 260 or less isn’t a bad call at all as there’s no trouble in front of the green, allowing a longer iron shot.
The only issue I had with this hole is that the maintenance road runs right on top of the hill, so if you fly it on top you could kick off the road and get unlucky, or even get a huge bounce and end up in the bunker in the picture (above) at 300 off the tee. Kind of weird to put a road there.
The back nine starts off with a 377 yard par 4 that’s fairly boring. Not much is going on here off the tee.
This is one of the few holes they could open up significantly up the right and extend the fairway more to make the course as a whole feel less claustrophobic. In certain places the course feels almost akin to Sahalee.
One again, though, the green complex saves the hole here, with a short left tongue kicking out and run off areas to the right around the bunker. The use of short grass around the greens at Marine Drive is splendid.
For the 11th we head back up at the Fraser River to a joint teeing area with the par 4, 3rd, going West towards the ocean instead of East towards Richmond. At 167 yards, this hole plays deceptively shorter than the card suggests, and even more-so when you realize the green slopes from front left to back right at an angle.
The 12th tee shot plays up against the O.B. line, with the city-owned McCleery Golf Course (said to have also been worked on my Macan at some point) on the other side. At 496 yards, it’s gettable, and the tee shot isn’t that tight. It does move slightly to the left, promoting a draw, which is a scary shot to hit with O.B. on your left.
After you navigate the tee shot, you’ll likely have a long to mid iron in. O.B. comes more into play on the green, and a bunker right is also scary. A slight dip in the fairway short is unpredictable and takes the option to run the ball in with any confidence, so fly it in with whatever club you have. If not, layup, as I’ve seen balls kick off the slope in the fairway out of play.
The 13th is the second of back-to-back par 5’s, playing shorter than the 12th at 458 yards. This is a pretty boring hole until the green complex, and could probably be a par 4 for today’s length’s. The same O.B. on 12 runs up the left side of 13 as well, but there is enough room for the player to be comfortable.
A bunker about 70 yards from the green where the ideal angle is awaits the player who hit a poor drive, and then the green is fronted by a massive bunker short left. Over the back left portion there is a run off area as well which is quite tough, and if you quack hook it O.B. is still in play.
14 is probably my favorite par 3, just because it’s really beautiful and I think it’s well designed. Architecturally speaking, the 16th is the best, then maybe the 4th, but the 146 yard par 3, 14th caught my eye.
Three bunkers on the left and one short right, as well as a collection area looping around the entire back side of this green made it feel like “do or die”, although if you miss it in the short fairway it’s not that bad. The entire green slopes towards the right side as well, so the bunkers left are not ideal.
The 15th starts a difficult four hole closing stretch. At 424 yards downhill, no bunkering in the fairway, it’s not like 15 is your traditional hard, but the angle the fairway slopes in is quite weird and visually tough.
Even for a fade player like myself, I found it hard to pick my line and commit. The green here is big and receptive to all sorts of shots. A bunker back left and a bunker short right are the main defences to navigate, as well as that shared chipping area I mentioned at hole 1 over the back of this green.
The 16th is an awesome par 3 with a bleh pond that for whatever reason the club thought it was a good idea to add. Not a fan, and thank goodness it doesn’t come into play to ruin this amazing par 3.
A bunker short, and back right look like the main defence, but this is truly a wild green complex. Run offs with short grass are everywhere, and even running into a bunker on the left side a bit off the green complex.
Yard for yard, the 165 yard, par 3, 16th is one of the most demanding irons I’ve ever hit.
Speaking of demanding holes, the 17th is a beast, and is the only hole here that I would dare call “world class.” A benign looking tee shot, the player is either going to pull out driver and hit a fade, or hit it straight with slightly less yardage. At 438 yards, I would recommend hitting a fade if you can, and even more-so when I show the green complex.
After turning the corner, you’re looking straight up the hill 13 green, 14 tee, 15 tee all played on. Except this time, its a lot more severe, to a green complex on top with two bunkers down at the bottom.
If you manage to hit it in one of the left bunkers, well… Good Luck Charlie.
The 18th concludes from an elevated tee shot from the hill you just climbed up 17 green for. At 421 yards, it’s one of the longer par 4’s, and with two bunkers pinching the landing area at about 270, it’s no walk in the park home.
Once you safely navigate the tee shot, you’re greeted with a nice view of the beautiful clubhouse (surely one of the best in Canada) and another great green complex. This one is probably the most difficult to read in my opinion, as there’s lots of subtle movement.
Overall, Marine Drive is good, and could be a great course. I have faith in Jim Urbina that he’ll make it even better, but as of right now, I still think it’s not 100 in Canada. Out of the current and former top 100’s I’ve played, Marine is better than: Glencoe Golf & Country Club (Forest), Stewart Creek, Riverside in Saskatchewan, Kananaskis County Mount Lorette, Wolf Creek’s Old Course, Windermere, Dakota Dunes, Wildstone, Predator Ridge’s Predator course, Salmon Arm, Northern Bear, Heritage Pointe (Desert/Heritage) and Gallagher’s Canyon (Canyon). That’s 13 major Canadian courses ranked in the top 100 in the past 2 rankings that I think Marine are better than. I think currently it’s probably in the 65-80 range, but with some good work from Urbina and the clubs willingness to get better I could see it 40-50. It’s a tough site with not a ton of room left, but I think with a bit more tree removal the greens will shine even more.
One thing I will say is I mentioned Sahalee twice (well, now three times) in this review and how Marine has some similarities. If you’ve played Sahalee or read mine/anyone else’s review, you know Sahalee gets dogged on fairly hard for how overgrown it is and too tight. I think Marine borders on that line, but one advantage is that it’s 6300 yards. Sahalee is 7000 at sea level, forcing you to hit driver a lot and you have to hit it on a rope. Marine at 6300 yards gives you a lot of options. Anything from 3 iron to driver is acceptable on almost every tee because you won’t have more than 200 in (other than maybe 9 and 17). Both are good golf courses, but I think Marine shines a bit more in the ‘playability’ factor.
Next time you get the opportunity to play Marine Drive, I suggest you do. You won’t be disappointed!