One of two 18-hole courses at the L’Ile de Montreal golf complex, the Ireland course is a very under rated track that its designer, Pat Ruddy, fashioned from the old city rubbish tip by trucking in lorry loads of sandy soil to form the undulating fairways.
With only three par fives on the card at holes 2, 5 and 14, it’s no real surprise to learn that par for the course is set at 71 – what is something of a surprise is the overall yardage for the layout; a testy 6,820 yards from the back tees, with seven of the eleven par four holes playing more than 400 yards in length.
Of course, with four sets of markers at every hole, golfers can choose the set of tees that best suits their ability so there’s no excuse for everybody not enjoying a taste of what it’s like to play an authentic links layouts in old Erin – and, doffing his golfing cap to old-fashioned links golf traditions, the architect routed each nine so that the 9th and 18th holes share the same large double green. Incidentally, there are also double greens at #10 and #14 and #11 and #15.
In Pat Ruddy’s book Holes in my Head: A Lifetime Dreaming Golf Holes, the author writes about how The Ireland course was built in this edited extract:
“I was gobsmacked when introduced to a huge city dump which had just been capped in the shape of a great dome. The site wasn’t readymade for golf but I could see how it could be transformed into a fine golf course. Once an image emerged, I spent a few nights sitting up in the hotel, working with topographical maps which the city had developed as the dump matured, dashing over and back to the all-night copying shops and on the fourth day I presented [developer] Denis Tancred with a proposed routing for his links course.
It got built as in those first drawings and became as lovely as I had imagined. The site already offered strong elevation changes from the flat plains running around the edges to the top of the dome. It looked a bit like a huge Christmas pudding sitting on a wide plate. Now, if we could find a way to add ‘sand hills’ on the plains and up on the sides of the dome and on top of it. Now, here I was looking at a site where there was no question of being allowed to dig to create shapes. The dump had been capped and must not be disturbed.
Surely there were developers keen to get rid of good dry fill and who might not alone deliver and shape but even pay for the privilege. So, for two years we guided the arrival of hundreds of trucks weekly with lovely material to be placed and shaped as I dictated. There were technical problems to be solved. The biggest was to restrain rain water in drains and lagoons to prevent fast run-offs which would contaminate neighbouring waterways and the nearby St. Lawrence River. The city coordinated on technical matters, such as gases and protecting against possible leachate.
The building of our faux dunes produced a beautiful golfscape and helped to guide the play and hide from view any city backgrounds we wished to hide and also deadened traffic noise from Autroute 40 as it exited Montreal. The game climbs up easy valleys in the dunes and offers a delightful range of downhill drives (and) there are three sets of double-greens to give Canada a taste of golf history. The bunkers are deeper by far than the average in North America and are the cause of much debate. It all looks very well and plays even better.”
The Club de Golf de l‘Ile de Montréal, at the northern tip of the city’s island, is full of surprises. The clubhouse is the first one: a modern structure complete with panoramic tower, the architectural style of which may please some people’s sense of aesthetics. Then the large terrace facing an artificial waterfall and huge synthetic, colorful logo built on the slope leading to the first tee of the Irlande course, one of two on the property. The third surprise was, in my view, the greatest one and the best one: the course itself.
At the top of the hill facing the clubhouse, we entered a different world. Instead of the very flat land we had driven across to reach the complex, we were looking at a terrain of rolling dunes, open to all winds and with few trees to shelter from them, a convincing reenactment of an Irish links locale.
Even though the course was far from its top condition at the time we played it (mid-May) due to a warm winter and late cold spat, the experience was exhilarating. It was probably colder than at most times of the year on the Emerald Isle, and the traffic noise from the major highway running along the course could be heard on a good half of the holes. But none of that mattered, because the illusion of a links was almost perfect, wind included. We had to deal with blind shots, bumps all over the narrow fairways, uneven lies pretty much throughout, large greens (some double on the back nine). The greens held their lines very nicely even though they were kind of slow (but this was no doubt a temporary condition).
Quite a few holes stood out: the par four 1st with its uphill tee shot, then a dogleg right and downhill approach; the par five 2nd, with its fairway studded with sort of pot bunkers and a narrow, long green; the long par four 4th, definitely the hardest hole on the course where the landing area for the drive is fraught with bunker hazards, especially on the right; the second par five of the first nine, the 5th hole with its surprising lone tree sticking out of the middle of the big bunker inside the dogleg turn at the top of the slope; the par four 7th and its huge bunker barring the fairway, complete with railroad links; and then the suite of par fours starting the back nine, three long and narrow holes sunk between dunes and bumps. The last par three, the 16th was also probably the nicest, slightly downhill with an elevated green defended by a trio of deep sand traps and a green bunker in the middle.
No wonder this golf club is so popular with golfers, both from Montreal (315 members, a very good number in these parts) and elsewhere (many thousands of green fees yearly despite the short season)! The course type “uniqueness” is excellent, the golf itself is seriously good, so the feeling of “come back” was strong when we reached the 18th green (serving double duty for the 9th hole as well).
Both courses at L'ile de Montréal are stunning but the Ireland (south) course is truly astounding. Pat Ruddy might be an upstart in the ranks of golf course architects but he is a true master and genius. I go every year to Montreal to visit family and to have this course to play is a real treat. I've played it a dozen times, and it just gets better every time. Each hole is not only visually beautiful but cleverly laid out with aggressive options and bail out areas, and bunkered accordingly. The dunes are a terrific threat (go in one and just take another ball from your bag). It is a severe test of your accuracy and mettle, rewarding but punitive if you stray. You won't appreciate the true greatness of this course and it's design unless you are a very good low-handicapper, but everyone will revel in the beauty of the lush fairways, the perfect but very undulating greens, the many options of tees, as well as the friendly staff and nice (but odd) clubhouse. French speakers have an advantage, but turn up alone and you'll always be put into a nice group of players who should be able to speak English. I cannot overstate what an absolute gem of a "links" course this is - and I am from Scotland! Hats off to Mr Pat Ruddy. One small thing detracts - you can sometimes hear the traffic noise form the nearby autoroute 40, but play weekday before 7am and for the $29 (2010 prices; or $35 from 7-9am) green fee you can forget anything. Unbelievable value for a top world class course.
The two courses at Montreal Island came about because of the immense love of the game of its founding promoter Denis Tancred who had a vision for a second great golf course in that lovely city (at the far end of the island from Royal Montreal) and we tried to do everything big and good all the way. It is one of the few modern courses built in "North America" out of love of the game rather than for commercial gain.
The Irish Course is set on top of one of the city's old dumps. La Presse gave us a great and huge headline: Ruddy Transformera La Bloody Dump a la Golf! The city was behind the project as it is a great city for doing things big and the two courses will come into city ownership at the end of a lease. Mr Tancred went with me every step of the way even so far as delaying by a few years the start of the project in order to allow upwards of 1,000 trucks of dry and clean fill to be delivered on site every week and so create possibly the biggest "dunes" built for any golf course. The dump became a thing of great beauty.
Championship golf was on the mind and so it is a very strong golf course. But there are several forward tees which allow mere mortals to get about in safety. The course is wide enough to allow strategists to plot a variety of ways around. Care has been taken to present strong images and visual challenges some of which might look insurmountable and others seem more innocent than they really are. A thinking golfer's day out and with so much flavour of links golf in Britain and Ireland what with double greens, modern valleys of sin, and so on.
I spent upwards of four months on site in the two main construction years and almost as much time again in shorter visits in order to give it one's best shot. After all that effort and cost, looking at the great city that Montreal is with such thriving business life and so many visitors annually, it has come as a shock to see the golf priced so low. It has to be the least expensive good golf on the planet. But that is the way of things in Montreal where good living doesn't cost the earth.
The presence of Autoroute 40 is not a great handicap. Only a few holes are affected and nothing as bad as the many, many great courses worldwide which are located near airports and are virtually destroyed by the noise of jets. To have been of some small service to a city which has been so good to one's people has been a privilege and I can only hope that the golf at L'Ile de Montreal does very soon gain its correct place in the international golfing limelight. PAT RUDDY