Montreal and Quebec City
August 23-26, 2013
THE WILLIE PARK JR. ADVENTURE - A SUMMARY
What was intended to become a tournament and walk through the history of early golf in French Canada in the end became a memorable golf trip for 10 avid hickory golf historians. Guided by locals Claude Gravel and Jocelyn Vachon and Denzil Palmer, General Secretary of Royal Montreal Golf Club we spent four days exploring and playing the Cradle of Golf in North America.
WILLIE PARK JR.
Willie Park came to America for the second time in 1916 to escape the Great War in Europe. He spent most of the last nine years of his life creating and renovating more than 40 courses in North America, nine of which were in Quebec. Two of the courses we played were untouched Willie Jr. designs, Mount Bruno and Royal Quebec. Also at Dixie a previous location of Royal Montreal he had designed a course for Royal Montreal simply called Montreal Golf Club,this being before the club gained it's Royal designation.
THE ROYAL MONTREAL GOLF CLUB
At the invitation of Denzil Palmer we met on Thursday Aug. 22 at Royal Montreal G.C. on the Isle Bizard in West Montreal. We stayed for two nights in the very comfortable rooms in the huge clubhouse and had all our meals downstairs in the large golf lounge.
There are 45 holes at RMGC, The Red, Blue and Dixie 9 hole layout. The Blue is the Championship Course, the Red the Member course. All three courses were laid out in the late fifties by Dick Wilson. This was the third site of this 1873 Club as the club outgrew previous locations in Montreal.
We played the Red Course on Friday morning, and then after lunch had a clubhouse tour with Denzil to see the priceless collection of art, golf collectables and trophies throughout the building. Later a few of us took a cart tour of the Blue Course. It was having routine maitenance done, but was way too tough and unsuitable for hickory golf. The 2007 Presidents Cup was played here and though the Americans won, in Canada we took pride in Mike Weir's singles victory over Tiger Woods.
Comments - some of our members remember the tour Denzil took us on in 2008 so you have a idea of the scope and size of the collection in this building. I have seen other great clubhouse collections - the Bobby Jones collection at Augusta Country Club comes to mind, but this one is much larger. And older, I include a picture of Denzil showing us a 1790 long nose club recently donated.
the Red course is a really good track and very playable with hickories. The Blue course is considerably more challenging and some of us took a cart tour to look at the back nine. A beautiful setting with outstanding green sites it will be a real challenge for players in next years Canadian Open.
MOUNT BRUNO GOLF CLUB
On Saturday morning we took a 40 minute trip across town to the Mount Bruno Golf Club in the east end of Montreal. An ultra private club the entrance is only marked with a small numbered address sign - no club identification. This was Willies first commission in 1916 and he spent a good amount of time on the site till it was done at the end of 1917. After that he set up an office here and agreed to become the first " Golf Master " of the Club staying for a year until he became too busy and passed on the job to his nephew Frank Glass.
We had a nice lunch there and started out at one p.m. in three groups having picked up some locals including our host Jocelyn Vachon. It proved to be a rigorous test with great green sites and very subtle putting surfaces that gave us fits on the greens. The front nine over rolling open land leads to a wooded back nine with great holes through beautiful green settings between the large mature trees.
After golf we had tour of the artifacts in the clubhouse followed by a great dinner with Jocelyn then giving us some local facts on Willie and his adventures at Mount Bruno. This was followed by some back and forth repartee from our very relaxed group that capped off the evening.
Comments - The clubhouse at Mount Bruno is very large and sprawling and most of it dates to when the club was founded. It is less grand than Royal Montreal and more rustic and that is the way the folks at the Club want it to be. It is still quite large, sprawling over a large area mostly just on one floor. It was hard to get it all in in a picture.
There was quite a lot of early artifacts and pictures of the club including a set of wood shafts that Willie used while he was there. The clubs were quite long and heavy when picked up and I realized that Willie,like his father, was a big man and quite strong obviously.
One of the guests who joined us was Andre Maltais longtime teaching pro, now at a club where he is a renowned teacher. Once Head Professional at Laval Sur de Lac the foremost francophone club in Montreal he was a fine player and a renowned teacher. He told us some stories of Willie garnered from his associates at the Laval Club also designed by Willie. In fact Willie did the design and supervision of the building of the Club for free - demonstrating that Scots and Francophones could get along just fine.
We arrived at Royal Quebec at 11.00 the next morning after staying overnight at the St. Hyacinthe Holiday Inn Express just outside Montreal. We were now in the heart of French Canada. After a great lunch enabled by Claude Gravel interpreting our orders for the waitress we were off to play the Quebec Wilie Park Course
Very old fashioned and tree lined it was finished in late 1924 after Willie returned to Scotland. It was his last work in North America and Willie died the next spring from Graves disease that took him prematurely at age 61.
The Course plays beautifully with hickories and is tree lined throughout. Again the green sites and greens are quite challenging but a very pretty walk through the parkland setting.
We finished off with a great meal and then moved on to the Clarendon Hotel in the heart of historic Old Quebec.
Comments - The Golf course we played is a timeless trip through a Willie Park Jr. design. The holes are memorable and pretty with the interesting greensites that modern golf architects so admire about his work. Jay Harris said after several holes that this course had pretty benign greens compared to Mount Bruno. Several holes later he took it all back after three putting for the third time trying to read the subtle breaks.
Club de Golf - St. Petronille Parish - Ile d'Orleans
Monday, led by Claude Gravel, we took the 30 minute trip up the river to the Ile d'Orleans a large island in the center of the mighty St. Lawrence. There are seven Parishes on this island all but one dating from the 1790's. The exception is St. Petronille which is an enclave of more affluent Quebecers who retired here in the middle 1800's. Here they built very substantial cottage homes and spent their summers along the banks of the St. Lawrence. Also in this Parish they built a very pretty 9 hole golf course which is very clearly documented as opening in 1868. This would make it the oldest golf course in North America still on the original site predating Niagara on the Lake by seven years. We did not play it but walked several holes and unanimously agreed that it would be a great hickory course. It has undulations like Norfolk CC in Simcoe and a length of about 5700 yds. Next time we will make it a priority. The real charm of Ile d'Orleans is the tour of the island and its homes that date to the 1700's. Each of the Parishes has a church and most are open to visitors to see the glorius interiors and statuary. Pictures do not do justice to the beautiful interiors but I tried to include a picture anyway.
A four day adventure trip like this merely skips across the amazing topography of French Canada. Even the time spent at each golf course only gives a small taste of each amazing track we played. Someday maybe we return for a closer look at this special part of Canada. I know that Marg and I certainly expect to do a more relaxed look around next time. Claude has made us promise to return!