Quebec City: Cradle of North American Golf

Quebec City port view (Image: Quebec City Tourism)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quebec City is renowned as one of North America’s most beautiful and culturally rich cities. (Image: Quebec City Tourism)

Rich in beauty, culture, history and joie de vie, Quebec City also makes a strong claim as the birthplace of North American golf.

Swinging old-style hickory clubs, golfers celebrated Quebec City’s 400th birthday in 2008 by temporarily reclaiming the Plains of Abraham, the clifftop site of Canada’s most famous battlefield—but also the birthplace of North American golf.

On the same ground where British troops led by General James Wolfe ended France’s dream of a North American empire in 1759, a young Scottish sailor, William Doleman, became the first golfer on this side of the Atlantic (at least the first historians can name) when he came ashore in 1854 to practice his swing.

Covering 267 acres of grassy knolls, monuments and gardens overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the Plains is also the former home of the Royal Quebec Golf Club, founded in 1874 and the second-oldest on the continent. Golfers at what was considered one of the world’s most picturesque and unique courses enjoyed sweeping views of the Laurentian Mountains, the Citadel and, far below, the busy harbour. Hazards included old fort foundations, precipices, bogs and moats.

Aerial view of the Plains of Abraham Quebec (Image: Quebec City Tourism)

A national park since 1908, the Plains of Abraham is Canada’s most famous battlefield. (Image: Quebec City Tourism)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quebec City is renowned as one of North America’s most beautiful and culturally rich cities. It has always been a meeting place between the New and Old Worlds, and, especially, between the customs and pastimes of France and Great Britain.

Some historians believe that Scotsmen serving with British garrison troops played golf on the Plains of Abraham as early as the 1760s, although no definitive evidence has been found. But certainly it was bankers, merchants and other newcomers from Scotland and England who popularized the game locally in the late nineteenth century, when the British Empire was at its height and Quebec City boasted a sizeable English-speaking population.

Today, there are more than two dozen public courses—including a handful that rank among the province’s best—scattered throughout a stunningly diverse landscape that includes Canadian Shield outcroppings, pristine lakes, verdant Laurentian valleys, towering evergreen forests and, of course, the mighty St. Lawrence.

Royal Quebec GC (Image: Royal Quebec Golf Club)

Historic Royal Quebec G.C., founded in 1874. (Image: Royal Quebec Golf Club)

Perhaps no golf course better displays this diversity of terrain than La Tempête Golf Club, a Darrell Huxham-designed beauty near the south shore town of Ste. Helene de Breakeyville, which offers a compelling mix of links-style and parkland holes. Launched in 2005 to rave reviews, the 7,096-yard layout is the sister property of Château Bonne Entente, an upscale hotel in Quebec City’s western suburbs (about a 15-minute drive from the golf course).

About 40 kilometres northeast of the city, at the base of the popular Mont Sainte-Anne ski hill, is Le Grand Vallon, surely one of Eastern Canada’s most scenic courses.

Designed by Howard Watson, who started his career in the 1920s as an apprentice to the great Stanley Thompson, the rolling tree-lined fairways twist around the base of the looming mountain and skirt the shorelines of four small lakes, offering golfers stunning views at every turn.

Having already made the trip to Le Grande Vallon, it’s tempting to drive another 100 kilometres northeast to the ruggedly beautiful Charlevoix tourist region and the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club (Image: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts)

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club in the nearby Charlevoix tourist district. (Image: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts)

Extensively revamped and expanded about a decade ago, the course is spectacularly situated on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence. Nine new holes, several of them affording commanding views of the river, were added to a layout operated by the nearby Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a Normandy chateau-style grand hotel.

The $14-million expansion also saw the restoration of the original 18-hole course, designed by British golf architect Herbert Strong and inaugurated in 1925 by former American president William H. Taft, a frequent summertime visitor. Other additions included an elaborate practice facility and a cliff-top clubhouse, from which golfers can view a resident pod of beluga whales swimming in the water 300 metres below.

But the biggest treat for serious golfers is found just to the east of Quebec City near the Montmorency Falls. Steeped in history and tradition, the two densely wooded parkland courses at Royal Quebec Golf Club offer early-morning and late-afternoon tee times to non-members.

Royal Quebec moved from the Plains of Abraham­­—which became a national park in 1908—to the outskirts of the city in 1915. Quebec society’s golfing elite faithfully followed, including a future prime minister, Louis St. Laurent, who served as club president in the early 1940s.

The club’s oldest course, the Royal, a Willie Park Jr. design, hosted top PGA tour stars including Tommy Bolt, Jimmy Demaret, Gene Littler and a young Arnold Palmer during the 1956 Labatt Open, a PGA Tour event. No less gorgeous is the newer course, the Quebec, a Howard Watson design dating from the early 1960s that demands precision shot-making.

And overlooking the venerable club’s lushly green and bucolic grounds is a stately clubhouse offering commanding views of Île d’Orléans and la belle Quebec City.

 

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