Canadian Open Agenda

By Rick Young (ScoreGolf)-

The PGA Tour is slated to put the finishing touches on some important RBC Canadian Open business Monday morning.

Inside the stone entrance of the opulent Le Club Laval-sur-le-Lac, about 15 minutes from Royal Montreal, a contingent of tour personnel and club officials are expected to sign off on the necessary paperwork for the club’s Blue Course to be named host site for the 2017 RBC Canadian Open. Next year’s RBC Canadian Open is set for Glen Abbey with Uxbridge, Ont.’s Coppinwood apparently in the mix to host 2016 as RBC looks to go with back-to-back Opens in the Greater Toronto Area.

Quebec is a vital regional market for RBC. With Royal Montreal’s interest in hosting Canada’s national open championship seemingly more random than rotational at this stage, Golf Canada and the PGA Tour require a more regular Quebec-based option.

Enter Laval-sur-le-Lac. Three years ago the 36-hole facility commissioned newly minted company Mike Weir Golf Design, comprised of the 2003 Masters champion and his chief associate Ian Andrew, to do a full renovation of its Howard Watson/Graham Cooke Blue Course. The hope was the finished product would add another level of distinction to the club’s facilities while helping attract future high-profile events. During the process both designers were on site routinely. Weir, in fact, was extremely hands on for his first ever design effort as he recovered from an elbow and back injury.

This past Monday was a dress rehearsal. A number of Team RBC members including Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar played the golf course for the bank’s annual corporate function then offered their feedback and observations. Later that same afternoon Laval hosted a Golf Journalist Association of Canada executive meeting in its clubhouse (one of the best anywhere) before setting the media types loose for a late afternoon round. Laval-sur-le-Lac Blue came in 84th on the recent SCOREGolf Top 100 ranking of the best courses in the country, but up until recently few of the rankers have had the chance to play it. As that gets rectified I assure you this golf course will make a big move up the list. My own expectations are for it to slide into a top 20 spot the next time the ratings come out in 2016.

Weir and Andrew are pleased with the product.

“I’m generally very self-critical to my own work and I can find little things out there we might do slightly different but the concepts we employed I know they work, I’ve watched them work,” said Andrew, who came in to Montreal Monday to play, then address the GJAC group following its round. “I noticed today how everyone is using the land for recovery shots and approach shots and everyone seems to be happy about how much fun they had. That’s the word for me. This wasn’t about building the best or building the hardest. For Mike and I this was always about building something where people come in and say, ‘Man, that was fun. I’d love to play it again.’ That to me is the highest compliment in golf design. ‘Let’s go do it again’ is really what you strive for.”

The influences Weir and Andrew used to redo the course are well intentioned. The 7,221-yard par-72 vision extends to design theory in Australia’s Sandbelt region south of Melbourne; Augusta National Golf Club; Riviera; Merion; and Quail Hallow. It personifies a second shot golf course. Fairly generous off the tee, the Blue highlights approach shots into the greens with hilly surrounds, sharp angles and well-positioned bunker surrounds. Pins cut out to the edges invite daring shot-making with recovery being the ultimate challenge. It requires equal parts of great touch, imagination and a fundamental use of the ground. The greens themselves are masterful – subtle but with unique movements throughout.

“When Mike and I set out to do this we had a lot of conversations I took from architect Max Behr which is ‘playing freedoms,'” Andrew said. “Behr talked about the idea of giving you the opportunity to go where you want, do what you want, take on as much challenge as you and essentially set your own agenda for the golf course. When I read that for the first time I was floored. I wondered if it was actually a better version of golf than we create. It’s funny. You look at the golf course and there really aren’t that many bunkers out there. It’s the freedom to know that you can take on as much or as little as you want. But to score really low you have to take on some challenge.”

Andrew and Weir used 12 of the existing corridors on the golf course while completely re-doing the other six holes. The course meanders through a unique undulating parkland setting until the 11th hole where golfers proceed through a tunnel and out into an expansive area that comprises the next six holes. I think the PGA Tour and Golf Canada will have some logistical challenges with gallery movement for any future RBC Canadian Opens but nothing they won’t be able to handle. There will likely be a ceiling put on tickets. But what they will get at Laval-sur-le-Lac is a willing host and a wonderful test of golf for the game’s best players.

“The PGA Tour has been out here six times. Augusta was the playing model we wanted,” said Andrew. “We want lots of excitement and birdies and low scores and we expect them to shoot a low round. The PGA Tour said that’s great. Members like the golf course and that’s more important than any Canadian Open but I think the pros are going to like Laval too.”