Devils, Giants, and Beasts: Tremblant Golf

Most people don’t know that the real reason the province of Quebec wants to secede from the rest of Canada is to protect its golf courses.  Perhaps I’m missing some of the political intrigue pitting French speakers against the rest of the nation, but Quebec’s golf destinations are worth trying to keep under wraps.  While Montreal and Quebec City are the most European metropoli on the North American continent, visitors sometimes tire of charming, narrow lanes filled with shops and cafes, castle architecture and rich colonial history, and romantic French accents and eye-rolling waiters.  Which is when many head out to stellar Quebecois golf destinations beyond the walls of these antique cities.  Such as the Tremblant region.

Eighty-five miles from Montreal (400 from Boston and New York) lies the four-season resort of Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains.  Tremblant boasts a year-round Euro ski village with 100 boutiques, restaurants, and a variety of lodgings, but down the road a few minutes awaits a more intriguing option: Le Grand Lodge.  Boasting 275 feet of private beach on Lake Ouimet and giant red cedar log architecture, this four-star cabin features 112 suites with private balconies, many overlooking the water.  Inside, a double-sided 32-foot-high stone fireplace provides the ideal locale for sipping single malt in a leather chair at Le Whiskey Bar, or dining at Chez Borivage on the other side of the flames.  The resort also offers such requisite treats as spa, fitness center, and a dogsled in the dining room.

A pair of cutely named golf courses unfurl at Golf Tremblant, a short cart ride from Le Grand Lodge. The Devil and The Giant are more than the names of characters in a scary children’s book.  The Devil is widely regarded as the more dastardly course.  Designed by Hurzdan/Fry and stretching a punishing, eternal-seeming 7,056 yards from the back tees, this torturous layout has been ranked as the best public course in Quebec and 32nd best course in Canada.  Red sand waste bunkers lick toward long, narrow fairways so that the platforms of green grass seem to float above the sand. Tight pines stand sentry on the edges of the golf holes, which carve through low mountain hardwoods and carry monikers such as “Precision,” and “Oh, Baby.”  Which are better names than “@#%!^!,” for example—and easier to spell.  The first hole hints at what’s to come: it’s a 459-yard par four with a waste area stretching from tee to green along the entire left side.  At least it’s not as long as number seven, a similar par four stretching to 479 yards.  The back nine is equally forgiving: not!

The Giant, designed by Thomas McBroom, is diminutive in comparison— 6,836 yards sculpted into a mountainside.  That “Fee fie fo fum” you hear may be the roar of either of two lakes or any of 52 bunkers.  Elevated tees rated like ski runs from double black diamond to green circles offer tremendous lake views.  The back nine opens with particular aplomb with a 406-yard par four named Flying Mile that plays along rocky plateaus to a green guarded by a lone bunker.  It’s followed by par three Mystique, prettied up with a trio of bunkers languidly tempting from beside the green.  The course entertained a few PGA TOUR giants when it hosted the Skins Game in 1998.

Tremblant is also home to one of the most extensive golf academies anywhere, with moveable coverings for rainy days and even an area to perfect hitting from sidehill, uphill, and downhill lies.  Great packages abound for everything from half-hour lessons to four-day sessions, some including email apprenticeships with instructors.

Around the corner from Le Grand Lodge the 100-year-old Gray Rocks Hotel was Canada’s first inn.  It’s still an atmospheric, luxurious hostelry, and not just because its two golf courses—The Beauty and The Beast— offer a fairy-tale combo.  The Beauty, built 80 years ago, is scenic, relaxed, and forgiving (unlike many beauties we know).  It stretches 6,270 yards through lush valleys and hardwood forests.  Wide fairways, open green entrances, and modest bunkering make for an attractive walk.  The sixth is one of the most beauteous here: 570 yards where tee shots must cross a deep, forested ravine without passing through the fairway into other trees beyond.  The second shot may need to avoid a lone tree in mid-fairway of this double dogleg.

The Beast, Gray Rocks’ championship layout, was designed by Graham Cooke, who crafted a 6,825-yard streamlined track that plays across elevated plateaus proffering mountain and Devil River views.  Blind tee shots, huge waste areas, beastly elevation changes, and tough lies characterize this particular monster.  Interesting holes begin at number two, a 430-yard thrill-ride that plunges several times between hanging platforms that eventually tumble to the water.  Hit 180-200 yards off the tee to leave a long iron down to the receptive bowl of a green.  On the back side, 585-yard number thirteen requests a drive between lakes followed by second and third shots that thread water and sand.  Fourteen plays to an island green formed by an oxbow lake that was once a bend in the river.  The greens here will soothe even the most beastly putters: they generally have one subtle feature and roll true.

The absolute antidote to corporate-style U.S. golf is Royal Laurentien Golf Course, a short drive from Gray Rocks and Le Grande Lodge. This home-made track designed and built by owner Gabriel Manard presents meticulously crafted and walkable golf art set amid lakes, streams, woods, and waterfalls.  It’s as good as most layouts designed by big-name architects, while exuding an intimate feel.  The course has been ranked 65th best layout in Canada.  Particularly stunning in fall, Royal Laurentien began as one green (now the seventeenth) devised by Manard for practicing his short game.  After collecting 300 photos of golf courses he liked, and being prodded by family, he commissioned an aerial photo of his land and routed the course right on it.

Water comes into play on fifteen holes and 90 bunkers exert a magnetic pull.  Highlights include the 380-yard eighth, which plays past a waterfall tumbling down a rock face, and the par three signature seventeenth, which demands a 191-yard carry over water and railroad ties to a green backed by a gentle mound carved with three pot bunkers.  Following golf, retire to one of seventeen four-star cabins built with cedar shingles, pine furniture, and stone fireplaces.

Two other courses fill out the golf menu in the Tremblant region.  Le Manitou presents a 3,355-yard par 58 championship short course designed by Darrel Huxham.  Holes were inspired by places such as Ballybunion and Pinehurst.  Guests of Le Grand Lodge can also test the private ClubLink Le Maitre Course, designed by Fred Couples.

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