samedi 30 juin 2012

“I don’t even know who designed it, but whoever it was did a great job.”

I just love that quote from Jerry Pate!  It was with a bit of apprehension I was waiting for the Champion’s Tour visit to Montreal. It came as a bit of a surprise when they announced last year they were going to hold the tournament on the Verchères Course at the Vallée du Richelieu Golf Club, a course I had the pleasure to redesign and rebuild as part of a three year process while I was still working with Graham Cooke. Surprised, not because I thought the course was not worthy of it, but surprised because I had no idea that the Club was going after that kind of event when we worked on it.

The course was not designed with the pros in mind.  In fact, it should almost never be the case!  It was mostly designed for all the members to enjoy, to present an interesting and varied test, regardless of the players’ abilities.  So I was a bit scared by the reactions of the players, and their scores....

The reaction seemed to finally be very positive.  In fact, I have not read or heard a single negative comment during the entire weekend.  Of course, players are not to vocal in these situations, and they mostly say only good things.  But a few of the comments I have found have really pleased me.
So here are a few of the comments I could gather in the press. (I translated the few last ones myself):

Randy Phillips of The Gazeet started his article with this:
“Russ Cochran knows there’s a ways to go before someone leaves town with the Montreal Championship trophy. But if he was handing out an award on Friday, it would have gone to the golf course. (...)Cochran echoed the sentiments of many in the field who had only good things to say about the 6,894-yard, par-72 layout at the 36-hole private club, which is hosting the tournament for the first time.”

He continues by quoting Cochran:
“It’s really a fun golf course to play,” Cochran said. “You’re always trying to hit the fairway first and then hit the right type shot into some of the pin placements out here. (...) “It’s a really good golf course. It reminds me of something like a Hilton Head or a Harbour Town.”

That’s a pleasant comment to hear.  Harbour Town is, if I am not mistaken, one of the favorite courses of the PGA Tour pros.  One of the best courses designed by Pete Dye, whose reputation is now well established, even here in Quebec!

Cochran continues:
“(Unlike) other courses where you peg it up and say, ‘I’m going to hit it as hard as I can or whatever,’ it’s a little different here. You have to see that if you have a right pin on some holes, and even if some aren’t the longest holes in the world, you want the ball on the left side of the fairway, even in the rough.”

That was the goal when I worked on the course. Each hole had to present pin positions that would require specific shots from golfers.  It’s nice to see that the objective seems to have been met.

Randy Phillips then explains Jerry Pate’s thoughts on the course and architecture in general:
“Beautiful golf course,” said Pate, who won both the U.S. Open and the Canadian Open in 1976. “Well designed. I don’t even know who designed it, but whoever it was did a great job.” Pate, who sprinkled his round with seven birdies and three bogeys, is critical of “famous designers we have in the world of golf today” taking up too much land to build courses with too much grass to maintain, making holes too long and making the game longer to play. “We, as the users of the game, are frustrated for all those reasons,” Pate said. “The sensationalism in golf architecture has gone over the top.”  Pate said the Verchères layout reminded him of “great old golf courses up east” in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

For anyone who knows anything about golf course architecture, this is a nice compliment to hear.  The East coast is literally peppered with classic courses that would make most Quebec golfers envious. He continues:
“This is a very nice golf course and fun to play,” Pate said. “If you hit good shots, you’re rewarded. There are no tricks out there. Everything is right in front of you.”

Canadian player Rod Spittle also had good things to say after trailing the leaders by a few shots after his first round:
“Obviously, when you shoot 68 I think the course is great,” Spittle said. “But I am enjoying the course more and more every day. “It’s just a very pleasant course to walk. The greens are in great shape and are pretty tricky, especially those getting awfully firm on the back nine. But it’s a very good test, in my opinion, a very fair test.”

Michel Marois from La Presse, has also quoted Russ Cochran:
“It’s really a good course for us with a very classic design with no gadgets, but with an obligation to hit each tee shot properly.  (...) The greens are firm and the pin positions force us to hit every shot well.”

Similar comments were also mentioned in Étienne Bouchard’s article in Le Journal de Montréal, which also quotes Jerry Pate:
“The 58 year old golfer (...) has praised the quality of the course presented by the Vallée du Richelieu club.  “Here, it’s simple.  The design is beautiful, and the greens and bunkers are well located.  The course might be too short for the PGAS Tour, but for us it is perfect”.

I really like that comment, even if it mentions the course might be too short for the PGA Tour.  Why want to lengthen a course that would only be used to its full extent only one week per year, anyway, in the best case scenario? Too many courses have, and continue to maintain tees that are practically never used by even the best of golfers.  All of this, most often, to claim that their course is a “Championship Course”.  The length of a course is not a seal of quality for it....  But that could be the object of another blog altogether!

For now, I will limit myself to thank the people at the Vallée du Richelieu Golf course for the trust they have shown towards me throughout the years.  I am proud of the work they have done to organise a tournament that seems to have been appreciated by the golfers and the spectators.  Congratulations also to superintendant André Groulx and his team for showcasing the course in a great light.

Daniel Melançon and Remi Boichard mentioned, during the telecast on the TVA network, that the golfers had preferred this course to the course where the tournament was held for the past two years.  The question now is whether or not the Club will keep presenting the tournament on it, or will they move it to their other course which has just been renovated and on the verge of opening....  It will be interesting to follow.

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