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Course Review: Chateau Montebello

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Course Review: Chateau Montebello (Montebello, Que.)

Architect: Stanley Thompson (1931)

It is easy to overlook Montebello as a golf course. When Fairmont’s uber-cool log cabin resort isn’t hosting world leaders, it is simply an intriguing family getaway, part way between Montreal and Ottawa. In some ways its location means it gets little attention. That’s too bad because when Stanley Thompson designed this course it was among his higher profile projects. Today it suffers from some neglect, especially awful cart path work, and the fact it is short at 6,308 yards. But in other ways it is a fascinating link to some of Thompson’s best work, and that makes a trip to see it worthwhile for anyone who wants to understand the development of golf in this country.

Montebello, formerly the Seigniory Club, starts with a hole that demonstrates the architect’s fondness for rough landscapes. The opener is slight — only 320 yards — and partially blind up a rise and over a hill until it levels out. The fairway plunges and rolls like a moonscape, linking this course directly with other naturalistic Thompson work like Highlands Links. Truth be told, this is a rocky site and Thompson, who was working with a budget of $150,000, just did the best with what he had. In the current golf climate of flat fairways and even lies, Montebello is a bit of an anachronism, but that just increases my fascination for it.

The land at Montebello is largely rocky, but also features extreme contours in areas, including the 4th (see photo above), which drops 100 feet to the fairway below. In fact this stretch in the middle of the front nine is as good as it gets and rivals anything Thompson did. The 5th hole, at 448-yards and doglegging to the right over the knoll of a hill, is difficult, but features a green that lies flat on the existing landscape, allowing for a running approach struck by a long iron. This follows through to the fun and sporty drop-shot 6th, and the 7th, a par-5 with an intriguing greensite running just the other side of a small dip.

Unfortunately in some instances renovations to the design have weakened it. The pond in front of the landing area, which I’m told was added by John Watson, the son of former Stanley Thompson associate Major Howard Watson, ruins an otherwise interesting approach shot and largely eliminates any risk/reward from the hole.

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Similarly, the obtrusive cart path on 13 — an otherwise terrific downhill par-3 — is an extreme eyesore and actually comes into play with a slightly pulled tee shot. I also suspect — though I’m uncertain — that many of the greens have been remodeled, as my understanding is that Thompson’s originals were relatively small and were expanded. This can be seen firsthand on the 9th, a par-3 that now features two greens. The one on the right is the original, though the new tee shot — up a rocky rise to a green perched on a plateau — is more interesting visually. Lastly, there is also a mix of bunker styles that can be seen in some of the photos here. There’s plenty of documentation on this course — someone needs to dig through it and come up with a plan to cohesively bring the course together.

There are some more standard Thompson-style holes, including the sweeping 438-yard 11th (below), and the closer, which features a rising fairway that then falls to a green part way down a hill and situated in front of the clubhouse. Montebello was dry when I played it and it brought in a wonderful variety of shots that could be hit into this final green.

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All in all, this course should be a lot better known than it currently is. Fairmont, which controls the course, does little to promote it, which is unfortunate. And perhaps a nice restoration and locating a couple of spots to squeeze 200 or so added yards would lead to some more attention. I think it could be done without too much difficulty, and it would bring some of the bunkers and landing areas into play in the way Thompson envisioned.

This is a gem that has lost its luster. A quick shine and it could be returned to its former stature.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert, you learn something new everyday. Had a chance to play Montebello mid October (front 9 only) and it was a fun trying to figure out what to hit on a number of the holes, having never played there before. Agree totally with the pond in the fairway and thought to myself as soon as I saw it – duh?! When we got to number 9 I had to ask myself whether or not Thompson made a mistake as the hole just didn’t seem like something that Thompson would do. Good to know that the real green is/was off to the right which makes a lot more sense to this golfer.

  • Played for the first time in late September, walked for $35 in the afternoon, great bargain, course was eye candy in autumn, clubhouse is like a trip back to another era.
    Similar feelings to Greg on par 3 #9, I think my playing partner and I were contemplating laying up near the old green, the uphill forced carry to a postage stamp was even intimidating from the whites, scarier than 15 at Cataraqui for me. Played Renfrew the following day, low expectations after Montebello, but was quite impressed.

  • played Montebello first week of October. Excellent value for the price we payed with a cart, and colors of the leaves was incredible. This course is a must play if you are in the area this time of year. Excellent value and a great course.

  • Lost its lustre is definitely what I would say. Played it in late summer 2012. Beautiful landscape for sure, but definitely the worst value for money of any $100 golf course I have ever played, and I have played lots. I have seen better sand traps at par 3 pitch and puts-more like a thin layer of gravel sprinkled over clay than a proper bunker. Its a resort course, where it can be expected that many players are going to be playing for the first time, and will not have chance to play again. In spite of that, and in spite of the fact that many holes have blind or semi-blind tee shots, players get virtually no help figuring out how to approach the course. There are no GPS systems on the carts, no meaningful information on the scorecard, no legible maps, nothing. It make sense to learn that Stanley Thompson had the 9th green in a different spot. As currently configured, the 9th requires a high handicapper to make a once-in-a-lifetime shot-definitely not how classic Thompson courses are designed. If you are in the Ottawa area, and willing to pay $100 to golf, there are an awful lot better choices than this tired, overpriced, under-serviced former gem.

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