Review: Club de Golf Grand-Mére

Information:

  • Shawinigan, Québec
  • Public
  • Walter Travis (1917) & C.H. Alison (1922)
  • 61st in Canada (Beyond The Contour)

Grand-Mére is a mystery for most Canadians. In fact, it was an American friend who put me onto a book about Colt & Alison which had information on this collaboration between two of the greatest golf architects. Winter of 2020, I purchased the book, and off to the races we were.

The prospect of a Charles Hugh Alison in Canada was very exciting. I was under the impression that York Downs, his only sole creation (or so I thought at the time) in the country, was in the NLE category of golf (No Longer Exists). Of course, he contributed to Weston’s bunkers, and did some renovation work at Toronto Golf Club (the 13th/14th) and Hamilton (also the 13th oddly). But Grand-Mére was alive and well.

During Ontario’s shutdown of golf in late April into May, I ventured past Montreal to Trois-Rivières for a 36 hole day at Ki-8-Eb (Thompson/Murray) and Grand-Mére. The golf course was playing wonderfully for the time of year in a tough climate.


The golf course jumps in between the remaining Walter Travis holes and Hugh Alison’s creation, but for the first five holes, we see Travis’ golf course. At 504 yards, it is a gentle par 5 playing over a canyon that should not come into play.

Right off the bat, the micro movement in the land is evident, but also the slight tiredness of the layout. The bunkers play fine, but the edges are a bit worn out. Regardless, those going for the green in two have a small, undulating target to hit, but the layup is straightforward.

A look at the green, slightly raised among its surroundings, filled with Travis’ internal movement.

The 2nd is a very strange tee shot, and even more strange, it is original! Essentially, this 370 yard par 4 doglegs at a 90-degree angle. It likely is not more than 5 iron to the corner for long hitters, leaving a demanding second shot. If you think you can hook the golf ball (or a lefty slice), by all means.

What is revealed around the corner, however, are beautiful grounds for golf. Rolling, rumpled terrain unlike other golf courses I’ve seen in Québec. A true thing of beauty on the approach shot, which yet again plays to a perched Travis green complex.

The coolness of Grand-Mére is evident in features such as below.

Not to mention the signature Travis green complexes. For most, Cherry Hill and Lookout Point are unavailable to play given they are members-only. At Grand-Mére, for no more than $50, one can experience some of his genius.

The third is a pretty standard tee shot. At 418 yards, not much is really happening, but there is a bunker up the right.

However, the interest here comes in the green complex, which is so severely canted to the front left that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a green with this much tilt. Honestly, this hole has almost gotten harder as the ball has gone further with a wedge versus a longer club.

A better look at the severity.

The 2nd and 3rd both provide excellent foreplay for what’s to come, but the 4th is the first truly excellent moment of this golf course. At 300 yards, this is one of Canada’s best drivable par 4’s, if not the single best I have seen. A single ridge running at a slightly diagonal at about 200 yards off the tee blocks the view and also complicates the shot for those who want a full wedge or short iron in.

As you can see, the view short of the ridge is completely blind.

For those who get aggressive, or perhaps land it just over the ridge, two bunkers some 25 yards short of the front of the green await. Even for those going for the green, these are absolutely in play.

The green is an absolute work of art with a ton of internal movement. So much fun, and this was when I knew we were onto something special with Grand-Mére.

Following the all-world 4th would be tough for any hole, so the 5th was always bound to be a bit of a letdown. That being said, 135 yards to a good green cut into the hillside is anything but a disappointment.

The 404 yard par 4, 6th is the first introduction to Hugh Alison’s style, and interestingly enough, does not feel like such a juxtaposition as one would expect. What is perhaps most impressive is Alison’s restraint on the 6th, following the pretty crashing start. An open tee shot is inviting, but there is a small stream down the right for those that miss big.

The approach plays slightly uphill to a bunker-less green which is pretty heavily contoured. In general, the biggest difference between Alison & Travis is bigger greens with more intentional slopes, where Travis liked to have small greens that have a ton of wildness in it.

If the pictures are boring, hopefully this photo of an interesting green will convince you this is a good hole. While it’s no 2nd-4th, it is still a solid golf hole and a good introduction to Alison.

The 7th is the shortest par 4 that isn’t drivable on the front side at 359 yards. A small creek runs up the right and back in front of the green.

As mentioned, the golfer will play over the stream, but what really makes this hole is (you guessed it), the insane movement in the green. I mean, really, this place is crazy.

A better look below.

The 8th is a beautiful par 4 at 177 yards, gently uphill. With a steeple in the background and a rock outcropping, one can imagine how stunning this hole was when it freshly opened. Some restorative efforts could have this looking like the signature hole, or at least the front nines visual standout.

The green complex is quite smart also, with a ridge running off the rock outcropping down, dividing the green into two distinct portions.

I absolutely adore the 449 yard par 4, 9th, playing from atop the central rise the 5th/8th plays into and the 6th/9th falls off of. A handful of bunkers up the left-hand side make this tee shot interesting, but the expansiveness of the playing corridors and the way the golf hole interacts with the land is quite admirable.

Tee shots will likely end short of the two left-centre bunkers, and again, we play to a small, heavily-contoured green. After a nice stretch of Alison’s golf, we’re back for Travis.

Those who know Travis’ designs know he was not afraid to build a good Biarritz style green. Well, the 9th is just that.

The 10th is an unbelievable golf hole, playing over a canyon. 411 yards, the golfer plays directly over the gorge before the hole turns uphill and to the right adjacent of the canyon.

As mentioned, the approach is slightly uphill over some fruitful land.

Looking back, you really get the sense of such beautiful land to play over.

Continuing with a pretty impressive stretch of golf that started all the way back at the 7th, the 418 yard par 4, 11th is a blind tee shot. A slightly dogleg right, golfers must be weary of cutting the corner as the Canadian Shield and rock outcroppings await.

After successfully navigating a difficult tee shot, the golfer then plays to a fairly low profile green site.

If there is one criticism of this golf course, it lacks a cohesive vision. Take, for example, the trees to the left of the 355 yard par 4, 12th. The fairway awkwardly pinches in, and the greens really feel out of character.

All good, the approach shot, working its way uphill with a pretty good bunker short left, is great.

Here is my artsy-style photo, showing off the bunker scale and the contours of the green. It heavily slopes to the front. In fact, I saw someone putt off this green, and that pin is in the middle! I did not think it was that bad of a putt, either.

The scale of the golf course, and the ever-continuing crescendo towards the end at Grand-Mére is evident on the 173 yard par 3, 13th. One criticism: this hole is entirely engulfed in trees. I suspect the grounds crew has issues with this green and focuses much more effort here than the rest. When I played, it was clear this was the worst conditioned green here. A shame, as I would argue this has the real potential to be the postcard hole.

The 526 yard three-shot 14th is a fairly interesting little tee shot that works its way to the left. A massive bunker literally risen from the surrounding topography is pretty odd.

While I do believe a less than average architect would come out and find some of the green locations they’ve selected here, I seriously doubt they would find most of them. The 14th is another one that is simply wonderful, sitting in the bottom of a small bowl with a really nice setting.

A better look from where golfers will hit their third shots. It really is quite lovely.

Standing on the tee at the 336 yard 15th, I couldn’t help but feel the Toronto Golf Club influence on this hole. Perhaps it was the way the bunkers effortlessly sat into the landscape, yet forcefully directed strategies, but this is a lovely short par 4.

The green is just beautifully sitting there, waiting to be attacked. A true birdie hole, and one that is needed coming home.

Starting our jaunt back to the clubhouse, the 399 yard par 4, 16th, is truly a wild hole. For most, less than driver is ideal to avoid the gully.

Turning the corner to the right, the reveal is there: the golfer has to carry not one, but two gullies. A demanding hole! In Wayne Morrison’s book on William Flynn, he mentioned Pine Valley’s influence on Flynn at Cherry Hills in Colorado and the separated fairways he built at the time. One wonders if Alison, who also worked on Pine Valley, drew similar inspiration.

Looking back, you really get the sense of the dramatic land you just played over, especially as the sun sets, revealing beautiful grounds for golf.

The 199 yard par 3, 17th sits at the bottom of a small hill, and as a result, balls landing left of the green will kick towards the green. With that being said, the green slopes to the left, so it won’t get too far. A good par 3, though perhaps underwhelming for a penultimate one-shot hole.

To end off, the 448 yard par 4, 18th requires a very big draw, or the restraint to play to the corner of the dogleg.

After a somewhat awkward tee shot, the approach opens to a beautiful closing setting. The low profile green sits so pleasant. Not much else to say!

A better look at the green complex, which is subtle, yet filled with interest.

Look: I get it. I’m not oblivious to the fact that conditioning matters to most. Grand-Mére is no doubt a little tired and old. But the actual substance here is chock-full of great architecture, and almost remains entirely intact. There are few places in the country to experience such satisfying golden age architecture, and with the price, there may not be a better deal in the country.

I was happy to see it debut at 61st in Canada for our inaugural top 100 list, and hopefully, as more go, they will realize the true beauty of such a special place like this. After all, Crystal Downs was lost and then found… why can’t it happen here?

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