The Royal Ottawa Golf Club Looks To The Future And Past With Course Renovations by Neil Haworth

Royal Ottawa Golf Club, new 3rd hole (Photo courtesy of Neil Haworth)

Flagstick.com took the opportunity to sit down earlier this year with Golf Course Architect Neil Haworth who is in charge of the renovation plans for the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, located in Gatineau, Quebec.

Neil talked about the changes that are underway.

“The Royal Ottawa Golf Club had a couple of goals when they started this whole process.

One was to improve the golf club for the members and we kind of took that and we returned and recreated the tradition of the course and make it more playable for all levels of the membership.

Another goal was to improve the practice facilities. We are going to upgrade the practice facilities, double the size of the range and add a short game practice area. We also want to create a family area for the junior program and for family activities to happen over where the existing range is.

The third goal we have to deal with is the Aylmer Road playability issues. The tee shots on 1 and 2 are extremely difficult given the proximity of the Aylmer Road and natural terrain so we wanted to make the start of the course more fair and friendly.  We are able to achieve this goal by using the additional land that the club owns while at the same honouring the traditional layout of the course.

So, we’ve eliminated the current 2nd hole completely and built a new hole. This is the first new hole in fifty years for the Club. I mean there’s been some work done on the greens on the Royal Nine, but this is the first change for the routing.

The membership was heavily involved in the process. There were three town halls and the members got to give their opinions and the process was very positive and good things came out of it. The membership feel they were involved and now it’s my responsibility to make sure everything comes out okay and the new hole looks like it was part of the original layout back in the early 1900’s.

On the first hole we’re going to improve the tee shot. We’re going to relocate the first tees forward so the existing large trees will have a better effect framing the hole and also it will allow golfers to get up on top of the plateau. Right now their second shots are blind and so we want all the golfers to get up on top.  We’re going to push the first green back about seventy yards and maintain it as a par five and reduce the walk now that we’ve taken out the second hole to the second tee.

As I said, we’re taking out the second hole. You don’t want to walk all the way from the existing green to the existing third tee so we’re pushing the green back seventy yards to the new location of the first green. One of the concepts that came out about the course was that originally there were a lot of magnificent trees and many plateaus.

Whether it’s the 18th green or the first green with its little plateau, the trend was part of the Willie Park Jr. design. The eighth hole is called plateau and I could have gone back further but the whole idea was to maintain those plateaus.

On the new first green, we’re going back along the same plateau to maintain the same green concept with no bunkers, a fall off on the left but pushing it back and keeping a little plateau with more of a fall off but we’re not going down to the bottom of the gulley with the green. It would be kind of out of character.

On the first fairway, we’re going to add a bunker down the left side on the slope and shift the fairway over 7 – 10 yards to the right and maybe take a few unhealthy trees out of the right side strand of trees to give golfers a wider landing area.”

Are the back tees going to be maintained for championship events?

“The current back tees will be kept for the yardage on the card and maintained for the Club Championship and possibly some form of PGA Tour event.

Even last year playing the forward tees for the Canadian Amateur, it proved to be a challenging golf course.”

When you take out the existing second hole, are you moving the current third tee (future # 2) back to the vicinity of the existing green?

“Yes, where the green is now will be the location for the planned second tee. The tee area on # 3 was also dangerous for players with balls coming off the 2nd tee. So we’ve eliminated that issue. That whole tee complex will be rebuilt.”

So the new # 2 hole will become a little longer par 4 hole?

“Yes, we’re going to add about twenty yards or so. I’m interested, because right now with the valley that runs through it, obviously longer hitting golfers get down to the bottom and have a blind shot to the green. With the tee moved back, will they be able to get to the bottom or will they hang up on the down slope, which will make it a really hard shot in. I’m curious to see how it will play for the membership. Will they hit to the gulley or will they lay up to the top of the fairway in order to have a look at the green? It definitely adds some strategy to the hole.”

So you’ve added a par three hole to the left of the existing third green?

“We’re built some tees into the woods where the existing fourth tees are located and we’ve built a green complex into a beautiful setting between the existing third tee and the ninth tee on another natural plateau with beautiful pine trees and a gorgeous sugar maple in place that fits into the natural environment.

The distance on this new par three hole should be 195 yards from the back tee and 110-115 from the forward tee. It will be a good variety. The green has been constructed and has already been seeded.”

You are also making some adjustments of the 4th and 5th holes also?

Royal Ottawa Golf Club, 4th hole, new tee view (Photo courtesy of Neil Haworth)

“The 4th and 5th are the two holes they rebuilt in the mid to late 1960’s. They expanded across the boundary to the new property to the west. So these two holes were not part of the original layout. I think there are two reasons they did it.

On the fourth, they pushed off the boundary so they could lengthen the tees on seven and nine and make those holes more realistic par fours. (Flagstick note – The fourth used to be a straight hole along the old property boundary.)

They used to play the old fifth over the hill and down again so it was a blind shot to the green. They had a bell you had to ring when you got off the green. So they moved the green up to the top and pushed the tees back on the land they had acquired.

These two holes were not part of the original planning, so I didn’t feel any attachment to maintaining them to the original golf course.

For me, the fourth hole was kind of out of character with the trees on the left and the swampy area it kind of feels like you’re on a different course than the Royal Ottawa. And with that little dog leg on the left near the green, while interesting, I found it interesting that someone that hits two good shots could still be blocked to the green.

I didn’t think it was fair to the average golfer.”

(Flagstick note – The tee for the fourth hole are being moved to the left of the new par-3, third hole and  a portion of the trees located near the left front of the green will be removed giving golfers a better view on their approach shots to the green.)

“In the winter, I stood back in the woods behind the existing tees on the fifth hole to see through the underbrush and thought this would make a great par 5 on the fifth hole. I thought if the fourth hole became a long par 4 with the trees cut back near the green, we could make both holes work. On the long par 4, if someone hits a long drive, especially down the right side, you can get rewarded by extra roll because of the firmness of the ground. Right now on the fifth hole if you hit a good drive, the further you go will just plug into the bank, so you don’t get rewarded for a good tee shot on a long par 4. We’re also going to change the bunker in front of the green so you can roll the ball up. This hole is one that you can’t roll the ball up like most of the other holes on the Royal Ottawa Golf Course.

It all came together as part of the Town Hall process.

So there will be a new green on #1; hole 3 will be new; hole 4 will become a par 4 and hole 5 will become a par 5. On the par3, 6th hole called Sandy we are going to revert to a waste area leading up to the green as in the early 1900’s but keep it so the forward tee players don’t have to hit over it but can play beside it. We are going to change the tees on #7 and on #9 we will be raising part of the fairway in the creek area so golfers can at least see the flagstick. For playability, that will be huge for shorter hitters when they get over the ravine and give them something to shoot for.

I think the changes will make a huge improvement to the golf course. The changes on the course should take the course up one notch as far as playability is concerned. I think these changes will be well received once they are done.”

What is your time frame for these changes?

“We’re looking at a five year period for the course improvements. We have to get the new par 3 – 3rd hole open before we can get any work done on #1.  Part of the process is not to interrupt play on the golf course during the core golfing season. So by having that green and hole in play next year, it allows us to do the work on the new #1 green and eliminate the second hole. So, that’s going to be done next year.”

(Flagstick note – In the future and once approval has been given, two holes will eventually be taken out of play on the Royal Nine and two holes will be added on the new land. The plan is to clear them this winter and build them next year and open them the following year. Once those two holes are ready for play, then holes two and three can be closed on the Royal Nine and build a new and enlarged practice range. Once that area is ready, work will begin on a short game area and a short par three course for the juniors on the present practice range.)  

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