Quick Fire Review: The Top 20 Course (next to) No One’s Played

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It was about this time two years ago when Andrew asked me if I had played, or even heard of, the Walter Travis and C.H. Alison collaboration near Shawinigan called Grand Mere. I considered saying yes, that I had, but I figured that the situation didn’t require sunglasses at night, so, much to my chagrin and embarrassment, I admitted I hadn’t. How could I not have?

Turns out pretty much no one had played it. I was in exalted company, which included even the most well-travelled of Canadian golfers. Andrew journeyed up the following spring, an almost seven hour trek from Toronto. He reported, in real time, his jubilant reaction to what he’d found, an untouched, nearly perfectly preserved golden age gem. 

Although I live only about three hours away, I never mustered the desire to do so—twice I had planned to but the weather didn’t cooperate. Finally, during the short end of year trip I am currently on – which also includes Ekwanok, Hooper, and Glens Falls – I got to experience it for myself, and I was just as enthralled by it as Andrew was and still is after multiple plays.

It’s startlingly good and, perhaps as surprisingly, intact. Having been essentially untouched since Alison left in 1922, there’s really nothing “wrong” or miss-managed or miss-advised, unlike so many of the other classic courses in the province. The trees and tree-lines are well-managed. The mowing lines are expansive and in accordance with the original intentions. The greens-surfaces haven’t shrunk much, if at all. The bunker faces are well-maintained and still feature their distinct shapes – and despite the rather unsightly look of the sand in them, fine to play from. Frankly, if the club was to hire an architect to oversee a renovation (hint-hint), he/she wouldn’t have a ton of work to do—just some minor fixes and a few tweaks. 

So how good is it? It’s significantly better than it’s ranked on Beyond The Contour‘s Top 100 (61st). Andrew thinks it’s around 20th in Canada, and I agree. My initial gut feeling, which is admittedly still raw having played it just yesterday, is that it’s around 16th in Canada. It’s the best Travis in the country (it’s better than Ekwanok and neck and neck with Cape Arundel). It’s better than Coppinwood, better than Beacon Hall, and the National, all of which I have played and we have ranked around that range. 

The only thing keeping it from being on the cusp of the very elite in Canada is that, at times, it does feel the product of two architects, especially on the greens. Travis’ greens here are a jewel to behold—if there were 18 of them, a full set, rather than merely 6, they’d probably be the best set in Canada. To an astute observer, the difference is obvious, with those that Allison built being far more subdued in terms of internal movement and smaller in size. Obviously, this might seem nitpicky, and it probably is, but Grand-Mere is good enough to merit such close criticism.

To read a detailed review of Grand-Mere, click here.


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