Having lived in Ottawa all of my life and played in Golf Quebec events for years (the Ottawa Valley Golf Association plays under the banner of Golf Quebec, for those who don’t know), I’ve driven the highways and byways, slept in the hotels and motels, drank the Labatt 50s and Molson Exports, eaten the poutines and smoke meat sandwiches, and played the country clubs and municipal clubs of La Belle Province. I think that by now I’ve just about played everything of note in the province, apart from Domaine LaForest, Les Boises de Joly, Fairmont Manoir Richelieu, Knowlton, and, most of all, Albert Murray’s Boule Rock. I presume all of these would make the top 25, but, regardless, here’s my ranking:
1. Mount Bruno
Likely possessing the best set of greens in Canada, Mount Bruno’s subtle brilliance reveals itself with subdued flourishes, rather than with histrionic eruptions, at least until one arrives at the astonishing and dizzying putting-surfaces. The tilted property is far more dramatic than I assumed upon arrival, and Park’s routing is consistently engaging as it winds the golfer around it. As of right now, Bruno is the best non “big 8” golf course I’ve played in Canada (although I haven’t yet been to Sagebrush.)
We’ve written plenty about why Grand Mere is a must-play not only in Quebec but in all of Canada. Once Andy Staples’ work is completed at both Grand Mere and Bruno, it’ll be interesting to compare the end results—in their current states, Bruno slightly edges Grand-Mere, but it’s pretty close.
In my opinion, there is not a better place to spend a day in Canada than at this ultra-exclusive retreat south of Magog, overlooking the lake and the mountain range beyond, where nary a speck of dust is visible nor a blade of grass out of place. Although the golf-world has become overly obsessed with seemingly only rating golf courses that are brown and playable with century old hickories used and abused by 14 handicaps, there is more than one genre of golf course that deserves commendation—and in Magog’s case, it is of the unapologetically muscular, clean-cut, large-scale genre. Yet McBroom’s golf course still possesses ample strategy, a tremendous variety of holes (especially among the par 4s), a set of engaging green complexes featuring pronounced waves and feeder slopes, and some subtle odes to the greats of Canadian lore (such as the fairway that mirrors the mountain-range in the distance at the tumbling 6th, a la Stanley Thompson.)
4. Laval-Sur-Le-Lac (Blue)
Here, Ian Andrew produced the best full-scale renovation in Canada, having transformed, what previously was, a very non-descript Howard Watson and Graham Cooke golf course into one featuring some of the most elegant and intellectual architecture to be found in Canada. In particular, both within the holes themselves and within the routing as a whole, few places in golf so effectively use “compress and release” to play with the rhythm of the golfer and golf course.
5. Chateau Montebello
Simply put, if you can’t see and appreciate the remaining traces of what was at one time considered to be Stanley Thompson’s 6th best golf course, then the study and evaluation of golf course architecture just isn’t for you. A real rorschach test of a golf course, if you will.
6. Laval-Sur-Le-Lac (Green)
Especially compared to Mount Bruno, Laval’s second course is a slightly more subdued effort from Willie Park Jr, whose work is prevalent throughout the province. In particular, the green surfaces, themselves, are a tad underwhelming, as most are defined by merely one broad slope, often from back-to-front, with very little internal micro-movement. However, from tee-to-green, the golf course remains consistently engaging and cleverly uses the rolling land throughout the routing, such as on the short par 4, 4th, which features a sunken green set beyond a knoll; on the downhill, sweeping par 5, 10th, where the golfer who successfully peels his ball off of the flanking bunkers to the left of the fairway can be rewarded with forty extra yards of roll; and on the beefy up-and-down par 4, 12th, where the pinched drive must clear the crest that obscures the landing area from the tee.
7. Royal Montreal (Blue)
It is what it is, and what it is simply isn’t my cup of tea – as I said in my ranking of Ottawa’s best golf courses, ultimately this is a ranking of my favorite cups of tea. However, to spend a day at Royal Montreal is an experience that is tough to beat in Canada, even despite Rees Jones’ very Rees Jones work on the Blue course.
Jeff Mingay’s recent work has vaunted the ‘Mead into the best golf course in the nation’s capital. A wonderful club that deserves more national notoriety, not only for its pleasant and engaging and clever golf course, but also for its tremendous and important history.
9. Royal Ottawa
The renovation is fine and all. I just don’t really get the point of spending millions of dollars to go from the 70th to 68th (or so) best golf course in Canada. A little more ambition—and ten thousand more trees taken down—would have gone a long way. As an outsider, this place frustrates me: you were, at one time, not only one of Canada’s best golf courses, but one of North America’s—it’s time to start acting like it.
10. Lachute (Thompson)
Tucked away from Montreal proper, this is a very good golf course that features some unique elements in Thompson’ catalog: these include the double-greened par 3, 9th; the quasi-punchbowl green on the short par 4, 12th; the pinched green on the devilish, uphill par 3, 13th; and the sweeping par 4, 16th, featuring a wonderful reverse-redan-esque green complex that can be utilized to feed long-iron approaches. Ongoing, and badly needed, work to the mowing lines and drainage will continue to improve the product in the coming years.
11. Royal Montreal (Red)
Royal Montreal’s highly popular second course features a very strong front 9, in particular, replete with untouched, half-century vintage Dick Wilson architecture.
Once Jeff Mingay’s ongoing renovation is completed, it will shoot up the list, likely to the cusp, or just inside, the top 5.
This charming golf course badly needs some TLC. But the charm of stepping back in time is still plentily perceptible, with some hints of Harry Colt’s architecture throughout.
14. Le Diable
A golf course fit for the resort town of Mont-Tremblant, which can be played for a very reasonable fee considering its glitzy location. On the whole, Hurdzan and Fry’s mountaineering golf course features ample visual histrionics against a spectacular backdrop, but little actual architectural substance (for fuller review, click here).
The handful of holes that criss-cross the creek are quite good, but, by and large, those away from it lack memorability and interest.
16. L’Ile de Montreal (Ireland)
Once again, Pat Ruddy’s course is not my cup of tea, but it’s got ample flair and vigor and gusto ’til the crows come calling home.
Look for this golf course to vault to the top of the ranking after W.A.C.’s upcoming renovative project is completed, for the land features ample playing interest and variety and the proposed plan is ambitious and inspired.
18. Royal Quebec (Royal)
The remaining Park elements—such as the drop-shot 4th, the nerve-racking 5th, the sharply uphill and left-bending par 4, 6th, and the wonderful green on 17—are worth seeking out, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the golf course unless already in the area, a wonderful area at that.
19. Richelieu Valley
The holes sort of jumble together in my recollection of it—there’s nothing wrong, really, with this former Canadian Open host, but nothing that really stands out, either.
Designed by two of Canada’s best golden-age architects, Stanley Thompson and Albert Murray, some TLC would restore it to a must-see club in Eastern Canada, for its bones are excellent. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, the ever-underrated Murray bettered his more vaunted compatriot here.
An exciting candidate for a potential renovation, but all traces of Willie Park’s original touch have been essentially and unfortunately eviscerated through decades and decades of mismanagement.
22. Lac Carling
An enticing spot for a local game at a very reasonable price.
23. Le Maitre
The dumbest of dumb blondes east of Fox Harb’r and west of….
24. Owl’s Head
A nicely subdued Graham Cooke golf course over a hilly piece of land in a bucolic setting near the border with Vermont.
Its quirky old-world charm has been largely choked out by the excessive tree growth, but this is still a cool spot for a game, where long hitters are castrated and shot shaping is a must.