Course Preview: Laval Sur-le-lac (Laval, Que.)
Designer: Ian Andrew and Mike Weir
The Scorecard: When Ian Andrew first left Carrick Design seven years ago, Laval was poised to have Rees Jones re-do its blue course, an almost toxic mix of Howard Watson and Graham Cooke that was lack in cohesion, aesthetic appeal, strategy and interest. At the time Laval wanted the exposure of a Jones-led design. Anyway, given the lacklustre way that Royal Montreal’s Jones’ renovation was received, Laval smartly took a different direction and hired Andrew (who has worked for years as the restoration architect for the club’s green course) and his design partner Mike Weir to rework their lesser 18.
I toured the work Andrew and Weir started last fall. At that time the project was largely in rough shaping, and walking around it in the mud was interesting as long as your shoes stayed on your feet. This summer the project is largely finished, with only a couple of holes left to complete. Several of the greens are grassed, and it is easy to see what Andrew and Weir have in mind.
The completed course is subtle, smart and simple. Green sites are punctuated by dramatic bunkers that have collars of blue grass around then, while short grass surrounds abound. Andrew and Weir did utilize many of the same areas where the previous course resided, but this is a complete re-do, one that is already capturing attention from those that have seen it.
- Subtlety: In an area where designers often use bunkers just to jazz up their designs as opposed to having them serve a strategic purpose, Andrew and Weir have cut back the number on their course. That means each one has an important role to play in the strategy of the course. Fairway bunkers are rare — with Andrew using the rolling land to set up the strategies, as opposed to being defined by sandy hazards.
- Greens: One of the best set of greens I’ve seen on a modern course, the goal of the design at Laval was to create something that would work as a member’s course and challenge pros if the RBC Canadian Open comes, as expected, in 2017. I heard someone say the greens are like Pinehurst No. 2. That’s not the case — they aren’t crowned. But Andrew does use some devilish false fronts, and does often raise the putting surfaces. He flashes up corners in other places, giving players the opportunity to be creative if they have enough imagination to envision some alternative approaches.
- Routing: The routing follows some of Watson’s work, but generally ignores the Cooke routing. The result is a very walkable course where holes wander as opposed to being stacked in parallel lines.
- Standout holes include the par three third; the very cool par four fifth, where players can tackle two fairway bunkers to find the ideal position to attack the flag; the short seventh, where I saw Andrew add a fairway bunker to toughen up the landing; the cool 11th hole, with its raised green, the short par three 14th, and the long, difficult closing par four.
- I think Laval’s new course has a chance to be considered among the best in Quebec. However, I also think there are some that will find its lack of fairway bunkers distressing. I’m sure there will be some who find it a bit plain. That’s not my perspective — I think it works — but I wonder if others might find the lack of bunkering means the course lacks some definition.
The final tally:
Laval’s new course (which I suspect will be called the Weir Course) has a chance of giving the club one of the best one-two punches in Canada. Weir was actually quite involved in the project, helping Andrew define strategies and working on the subtle green contours. Those greens, matched with Andrew’s unique bunkering (I haven’t seen anything quite like it in Canada), and some smartly designed holes (especially on the back nine, where the land didn’t exactly fit the mould for great golf), makes Laval stand on its own in Quebec. In creating Laval Andrew has proven that he’s more than just a renovation/restoration designer — he’s developed his own vision, bucking trends and displaying his own take on what makes great golf. Weir, for a pro/designer, actually brings benefits beyond just his name. The pairing works well and the course they’ve developed looks like a hell of a lot of fun to play.