Trip Dispatch: Body language, scenic mountain golf in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec

By Jason DeeganSeptember 10, 2013, 7:42 pm

MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec, Canada – As first tee introductions go, this one was strained, leaving me with the disconcerting feeling that the next four hours might feel much longer.

The starter at Le Diable introduced me to my player partner. I said 'hello', he said 'bon jour' and that was it. Silence.

I’d been in Quebec – Canada’s French-speaking province – for three days before I finally slammed into the language barrier. Here, I was paired with a French-speaking Canadian who didn’t know any English. Off we went without a word on Le Diable, a sand-splashed design by Ohio-based architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry located in the Laurentian Mountains 75 miles northwest of Montreal.

I never did catch his name, nor have any sort of meaningful dialogue during the round. We spoke the language of golf instead. I gave him a thumbs up on a couple of fine shots. He returned the gesture with a golf-clap when I sank a long putt. On the 18th green, we shook hands, friends forever linked in this grand game.

Communication snafus are part of the charm of playing golf in Quebec, which has held onto its original language since its colonial days as a French settlement. I regularly teed it up with non-English-speaking players on my five-day golf journey through the province. Often, there was another golfer who spoke both languages, a middle man who kept each party entertained and engaged with conversation.

For whatever reason, Quebec isn’t highly revered as a golf destination, even though there are plenty of quality choices. The private Royal Montreal Golf Club, the site of the 2007 President’s Cup and the 2014 RBC Canadian Open, remains the province’s most famous venue. It’s the oldest club in North America. The city offers other nice places to play, but Quebec’s best public golf sits tucked in the surrounding mountains.

Six courses showcase the rugged natural beauty of Mont-Tremblant, a ski resort village centered around several pristine lakes. A trio of area courses ranks among the top 100 in Canada by ScoreGolf: Le Maître (no. 37), Le Géant (no. 45) and Le Diable (no. 71). Le Maître, a private ClubLink course that translates in English to ‘the master’, is accessible only through a hotel such as the Fairmont Tremblant where I stayed.  

Le Diable

Le Diable in Mont-Tremblant

Robert Weissbourd of Chicago has been playing golf in the region for 20 years, sometimes for the fun of a team competition pitting Americans versus Canadians called the 'Easy Ryder Cup.' I met him at Le Maître, a gorgeous collaboration by Fred Couples, Graham Cooke, Gene Bates and Darrell Huxham.

'Chicago is great for golf, but you don’t have the mountains or the lake,' he said. 'These are fun courses. You don’t get the elevations like this back home.'

Intrawest runs the strong sister courses of Le Géant (the giant), a rocky adventure by Canadian Thomas McBroom, and Le Diable (the devil). Gray Rocks Golf operates the other 1-2 punch in town with the old school La Belle (the beauty), the region’s original course, and La Bête (the beast), a difficult but scenic track designed by Cooke. Faster, cheaper, slightly easier golf is offered at Manitou, a short course with 14 par-3s and four par-4s.

Don’t spend all your day in a golf cart, though. Wonderful restaurants, shops and tourist excursions are scattered throughout the walkable resort village. The four-star Restaurant La Quintessence & Winebar serves the most decadent meal in town in an intimate setting overlooking Lake Tremblant.  

The Fairmont Tremblant offers free rental bikes. Even the most inexperienced peddler will love the paved trails that skirt the village and head into the forest and along a secluded river.

Speaking of rivers, it’s worth the hour-long drive to discover another fabulous Fairmont, the Fairmont Le Château Montebello, the world's largest log-cabin hotel set along bank of the Ottawa River.

The clubhouse at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello Golf Club was built with the same spectacular brown-stained logs as the hotel. The brilliance of Canadian legend Stanley Thompson lives on at the 6,308-yard course, a 1929 classic that stayed private until 1970.


Fairmont Le Château Montebello Golf Club

Montebello plays much longer than its yardage thanks to breathtaking rises and falls in elevation. It took three feeble attempts that landed in the tangled mess of rocks and trees short of the ninth green before reality set in: It’s a four-club climb to reach this 180-yard par-3. Only one of our foursome made it uphill safely. “The first time you play the course, you won’t appreciate it because you lose so many balls. You have to come back, so you can master it,” said Yves Bellavance, a resident of Terrebonne, Quebec, who drove in for the day with his wife to enjoy a golf-and-dinner special at the Fairmont.

The terrain dips and jumps even more dramatically at the 6,768-yard Heritage Golf Club on the outskirts of town. The tee shots up the ridge at the dangerous par-4 ninth and 18th holes will terrify low-ball hitters and the distance-challenged. The course owners, who built a 34-room addition onto the clubhouse in 2006 for stay-and-plays, celebrated the club’s 20th anniversary this summer.

Club du Golf Heritage

Heritage Golf Club near Montebello

The playing partner I met on the putting green spoke no English. Fortunately for me, his friend, Stephane Giquere of Saint-Constant, Quebec, did.

'In Montreal, there are a lot of flat courses,' he said. 'This is a mountain-type course. The scenery is nice, and it’s got some challenge. They keep it in pretty good shape. There are lots of undulations. You learn to play with the ball lower and the ball higher (in your stance) when the ground is not level.'

My first introduction to the French language, culture and food of Quebec was memorable, just in time for the real thing, the 2018 Ryder Cup in France.

Oh là là.

View tee times in Quebec on GolfNow

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Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

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Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

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'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.

The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.

In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.

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Foley helping Willett (69) emerge from dark times

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 6:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After all of the dark places Danny Willett has occupied over the past 18 months, he wasn’t about to beat himself up Thursday.

“As perfect as we try and be,” he said after a bogey-bogey finish gave him a 2-under 69, putting him three shots off the early lead at The Open, “you should remember the times that were terrible and go, Well, that’s not too bad.”

There have been plenty of terrible times lately for Willett.

Seemingly ever since that 2016 Masters breakthrough he’s been locked in golf purgatory, at times betrayed by his body, his swing and even his own brother.

Willett began to break down not long after he won at Augusta, a tournament, not unlike The Open here in 1999, that’s destined to be remembered more for the player who lost (in this case, Jordan Spieth) than the one who executed all the shots Sunday and triumphed.

Tournaments near and far wanted the Masters champion in their field, and Willett dutifully obliged, putting his slender frame under duress. First his back began to ache, making routine tasks like climbing out of bed and picking up his kids a chore. Then he blew out his shoulder, the pain eventually creeping into his neck. Trying to manage a body that wouldn’t cooperate, he recently told Press Association Sport that he was taking six painkillers a day, to little effect. With his game and body in disarray, his confidence needed a reboot, too, especially after his brother, P.J., posted a poor attempt at satire in the days leading up to the 2016 Ryder Cup. Already showing signs of decline, Willett withered under the spotlight at Hazeltine and needed more than a year to rebuild his self-belief.

How dark were those times?

“Pitch black,” he said. “Not a nice place to be.”

Save for a scare in Italy (knee) and in a practice round here at Carnoustie (shoulder), Willett has mostly been injury-free for the past eight months, allowing him to dive headlong into some much-needed changes. Needing a fresh start, he blew out the entire team around him late last summer, tabbing swing coach Sean Foley to overhaul his swing.

“He was quite battered,” Foley said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But Foley has a history of resurrecting players who have fallen on hard times, most famously Tiger Woods, with whom he began working in 2010, just a few months after his scandal. He’s also helped Sean O’Hair, Stephen Ames and Justin Rose find a swing that alleviates the discomfort in their backs.

Willett’s fall was steeper, and more harrowing, but for Foley the challenge remained the same.

“I guess I enjoy that in a way, because I’ve grown into a mentor as well as a coach,” he said. “They’ve been playing golf their whole life. They got good really quick, and when you get to the summit, there’s no oxygen and it’s really cold. Most climbers die when they go down a mountain instead of up it. These guys have never really struggled before.”

Mentally and physically, on a 0-to-10 scale, Willett was a “0” when Foley first saw him at last year’s PGA.

“When you know how good you can be, and you can’t get back to that point, that’s where they lose their mind,” Foley said. “The range can be a dangerous place to be.”

And so they targeted some of the moves in Willett’s swing that were causing him pain and went to work. Success was slow, but Foley reminded him to celebrate some of the small victories along the way. Even when he missed eight of 10 cuts earlier this year, Willett took time to appreciate that he wasn’t taking painkillers, or that he didn’t need to spend an hour on the physio table, or that he was starting to grow more comfortable in left-to-right wind.

“He’s a very charismatic guy, very upbeat, and I think with where I was, I really needed that,” Willett said. “We often have little jokes about where we were.”

Listening to Willett, the cockiness that fueled his rise to the top 10 in the world is gone. Perhaps that’s what happens when just seven of his 54 rounds played on the European Tour last year were in the 60s.

Even with three top-20s in his past five starts, rising from No. 462 to No. 320 in the world, he remains cautiously optimistic. Asked Thursday if the worst is behind him, he smiled: “You never know. But I’m pretty hopeful we’ll never be in as dark of a place as we were.”

“Regardless of what the golf is and how the golf is,” he said, “it’s a lot better place to be.”