There aren’t many golf courses being built in Canada — let alone those being tipped as potential sites for the RBC Canadian Open even before they are complete. But that’s exactly the situation Ian Andrew and Mike Weir find themselves involved with while they work through the complete redesign of Golf Laval sur le lac’s second course. The club, located outside of Montreal, already has a fine Willie Park design, but the second course, with holes by Graham Cooke and Howard Watson was exceptionally awkward in places and didn’t hold together very well as a cohesive course. Worse still, many members weren’t keen on playing it at all, driving traffic to the original course.
After membership rejected a design by Rees Jones, the club made a decision to have Andrew, who already consulted on the club’s Park course, and his new design partner, Weir, create a concept. The pair found common ground working on a design based largely around the experiences they’d had playing at places like Royal Melbourne, where short grass surrounds are the great equalizer, making the course playable for higher handicaps and a challenge for exceptional players.
I’ll make no secret of my interest in this project, as I was involved in helping IMG establish Weir Golf Design back in 2008. The goal was to create a firm that did a few courses with a lot of attention to detail. Laval is the first (though there’s been lots of talk of a couple of other potential projects) and Weir and Andrew have gone out of their way to make sure all the details on it match their vision.
Last week I flew down to Montreal to walk around the course with Andrew, a friend with whom I’ve traveled with many times in recent years. We walked around the course for about six hours, accompanied by another friend in the business, golf designer Yannick Pilon. While the project is still very much in shaping — 13 greens are now complete and the remaining work will likely be finished in the spring for a projected 2013 opening — it is easy to see how the vision of Andrew and Weir is coming together.
Right out of the gate on the opening par five one gets a sense of the style, aesthetic and strategy of the course. Andrew and Weir have worked to tie in the greens with the strategy presented off the tee, making a cohesive, smart design. In the instance of the first hole, there will be short grass surrounding bunkers, running around the green, meaning there will be multiple options for recovery, from chipping to putting, but also that balls will often roll off the green without blue grass surrounds to stop them.
Much of the front nine utilizes the existing Howard Watson routing, with greens, tees and bunkering all being recrafted with the goal of matching the styles of the two nines and developing a singular approach. Like much of Montreal’s golf — at least in my experience — the land is solid without having a ton of elevation changes. It tumbles down some hills, but everything is relatively subtle. There are a number of ponds on the front nine, something that you wouldn’t expect from Ian, but he’s working with the existing property, which is low lying. There’s lots of additional drainage being put in place to try to firm up fairways.
The front nine has some exceptional holes to my way of thinking, especially the stretch of 6-7-8, while the ninth and 10th are both long par fours that will test anyone.
The back nine, on the other hand, is almost a complete rebuild, with little used from the existing Cooke design. The land is perhaps less interesting on
this part of the property, and so Andrew and Weir have been more aggressive, crafting a par three that has similarities to the 11th at Shinnecock, another short four with some very interesting strategy that follows the conceptual approach of the 10th at Riviera, and some sub-400 par fours that offer options and alternate routes of play. Once again the greens are key, with fall away Redans and deep bunkers with short grass surrounds. The 18th is a monster par four with a green that runs away and to the left.
As for Weir, he’s been heavily involved in this project to a level that would probably surprise members and golf fans used to tour pros mailing in designs and using their names for marketing only. Perhaps due to the fact he’s still recovering from surgery — but also because he’s actually adding real value to the design — Weir has shown up on site numerous times, making adjustments to holes and greens with Andrew. While Andrew is still clearly the lead, holes like 16 have a lot of input from Weir.
In my initial tour, I’d say there could be further tree clearing to add some width to areas and it’ll be interesting to see the grassing lines once the fairways are reseeded. Right now they are pretty tight.
Nonetheless, Laval is going to have a very interesting course when Weir and Andrew are finished. It isn’t going to be one of those picture postcard courses, but a subtle, smart design that looks like it should be fun and intriguing to play. Andrew and Weir have spent a lot of time working on the strategy from the start of the hole to the finish of the green, making sure there are clear links throughout, something I haven’t seen a lot of.