Fairmont Chateau Montebello Golf Course

An Illustrious Pedigree

When a national golf publication recently published their Top 100 list of Canadian golf courses, as expected, there was much uproar about the courses included.  And one name left of that list that was heralded by many as notably absent was Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello Golf Club.

Hugging the Ottawa River on the Quebec side, for more than 70 years Montebello has been a vaulted playground for many, undoubtedly leaving the property after their first visit with a sense of awe.

To visit Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello Golf Club today is to touch a part of history.  No modern renovation could peel away the inherent charm developed from such a dense fabric of events that has shaped its story.  From the resort itself all the way to the golf course, there is a palpable tradition here that, to even be a part of for a daily visit, makes you feel that you have been included in of something far greater.  Effusive praise yes, but those who have made the trek to the resort located about an hour from Ottawa and less than two from Montreal know just what I speak of.

Lots of golf courses in the region can claim an interesting past but few tales equate to that of the founding of what people now call Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.

Prior to 1970, for more than four decades, Chateau Montebello was a private retreat from the world.  Until Canadian Pacific Hotels purchased the club and opened it to the public as a resort its pleasures were known to only the privileged and their guests.  The resort came under its current name in 1999 when CP Hotels renamed its resort division.  In the face of name changes the resort has largely remained unchanged (save for a few modern upgrades) since it’s origin in the 1930.  This direct link to the past is the centrepiece of its charm, both at the resort and on the golf course.

While our main interest is the golf course, it is hard to ignore the result itself.  Often billed as the world’s largest “log cabin”, massive chateau was constructed by Harold M. Saddlemire.  He called his project “Lucerne-in-Quebec”, a name similar to a failed project he also developed in the state of Maine in his home country.  Later the Quebec enclave was renamed the Seigniory Club, a name that honoured the land it was built on, part of the seigniory of Louis-Joseph Papineau.  The name would stick and Saddlemire’s vision of a retreat for business and political leaders came to fruition, opening in July of 1930.  Kings, heads of state and all manners of celebrities have been guests.

Of course, to have a world class retreat in 1930 golf could not be ignored and none other than the renowned Stanley Thompson was drafted to create a layout at Le Chateau Montebello.  Brilliantly, Thompson matched the grandeur of the hotel with his work.  It opened to the pleasure of members and guests in 1931.

Although it was given an update by John Watson, the son of Thompson associate Howard Watson, just under 20 years ago, it fortunately remains a testament to Thompson’s brilliance.  Largely underappreciated by many modern golfers due to a length of just over 6300 yards, true fans of golf will recognize its inherent greatness.

Working with a rocky, mountainous terrain Montebello (as most people refer to it) is at times daunting, other times just plain fun, and in the end, a very solid test of golf.

Thompson took full advantage of the terrain he was provided with.  The golf courses tumbles to and fro without being angular, simply twisting to fit the land.  Elevation changes of 100 feet in some spots (the 4th tee is a camera’s best friend) result in gasp-inducing views of the Laurentians, especially captivating in the fall with a brilliant canvas of colours set before you.  Most holes find you void of the company of other fairways.  That is especially pleasing as you may not want any witnesses to your attempts to master the layout.

Your Montebello golf journey begins rather benignly.  A 320-yard par four that is marked by fabled “mounds” (ask and you get various stories – some not suitable for printing) and sets you off with a decent chance at a good score. From there though, you had best bring your full arsenal of skills.

One thing is apparent from the start at the course, even lies are at a premium so you better practice all your side-hill, downhill, and uphill shots before arrival.  Clearly it ensures no two rounds can ever be the same.

After the opener the subsequent hole introduces you to the many rock formations that dot the course.  Errant shots anywhere are not encouraged and especially at Montebello where accuracy is at a premium.  I must say though that a conservative course of play will likely be rewarded with playable shots, it is those who just get too aggressive that will be punished the most.

Holes three through eight are a strong and impressive loop of holes.  You have everything from reachable par fives, to par fours where you can challenge the green, the fear inducing par three holes like the ninth (overall the par three’s are top notch – a Thompson hallmark).  Elevation is a major factor in all.  The fifth hole is a brute of a par four at 448 yards but even wise players will choose to get their ball in play with a three wood over trying to bash a driver.  The 8th hole, at just over 300 yards, is a par four that proves length is often overrated in design.  Off an elevated tee you may be tempted to drive the green but a creek meandering in front of the green, along with other hazards, will keep you honest..  I would hazard a guess that as often as there have been eagles recorded at the hole, that there are multiple times more double bogeys or worse that make it on to the scorecard.

Just as you find on the front nine, the second stanza at Montebello starts rather demurely and then welcomes you into a riddle that you have to work at.   With four beefy par four holes measuring more than 400 yards each, you have to work for everything you get on the back nine.  The 14th will leave you screaming in joyful delight, scratching your head, or just reaching for more golf balls.  The most intriguing hole on the course demands a fine tee shot and then brings water into play for the approach.  Even with a safe journey to the green you will then be tested by its turbulent surface.  The 17th is listed as a par three but makes a great “short par four” for many with 200 yards to traverse and a greedy bunker guarding the putting surface.

At the conclusion of play you will undoubtedly be smiling, even if you play poorly.  It is just that type of golf course – more of an experience that a trial of your skill.  The Château, of course, always waits with open arms and its sight is a comforting one.  Even so, I would guess that most golfers will leave the main building in short order if given the chance to play a few more holes.  It’s an addictive course.

On top of having a fine resort and golf course, the amenities at Le Chateau Montebello are top notch.  Under the guidance of the affable Hugues Fournier, the Director of Golf, the resort offers an extensive practice facility and he is known for his gracious approach to educating golf students, both in one-on-one settings and during weekly guest clinics.   His pro shop is stocked with top quality merchandise and service to match is clearly a priority.

In many ways Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is a throwback to a gilded age.  And for that, I applaud it for the preservation of this grandeur.  From the resort to the golf course, one visit will prove why, in all its forms, it has proven to be a true getaway from the struggles of daily life.

Passing through the cedar log gate as you leave, most often the only thought on guests minds is just when they might be able to return.

Fairway Facts

Ownership

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Head Professional

Hugues Fournier

Superintendent

Jacque Hebert

Designer

Stanley Thompson

Course Record

Chi Chi Rodriguez (64)

Yardage/Rating/Slope (Par 70/71)

Blue Tees – 6308 Yards/70.0/129

White Tees – 5844 Yards/67.9/123

Red Tees – 4988 Yards/69.1/128

Average Hole Lengths (Blue Tees)

Par 3’s – 177 Yards

Par 4’s – 393 Yards

Par 5’s – 499 Yards

Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello Golf Course

300 rue de Chalet,

Montebello, Quebec

J0V 1L0

Tel: 819-423-6341

Tee Times: 819-423-4653

Email: LCM.Golfdl@fairmont.com

www.chateaumontebello.com

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