Swinging old-style hickory clubs, golfers will celebrate Quebec City's 400th birthday this summer by reclaiming the Plains of Abraham, the clifftop site of Canada's most famous battlefield - but also the birthplace of Canadian 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 practise his swing.
Covering 108 hectares of grassy knolls, monuments and gardens overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the Plains of Abraham 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.
During the week-long run of Golf Tradition: Quebec 2008 (Aug. 26 to Sept. 2), a course replicating nine of the Royal Quebec's original holes will host individual players as well as teams of golf history enthusiasts, including representatives from the Golf Historical Society of Canada.
"Quebec City's 400th birthday is the perfect opportunity to showcase the birthplace of golf in Canada and to promote golf throughout the region," says Richard Laflamme, the event's principal organizer. "There are some really beautiful courses, many of them unknown to most Canadians. Hopefully, visitors will try them out when they come for the party."
A celebration of the lives of individuals who have made a lasting impact on Quebec City - including passers-through like Doleman, who later became one of Scotland's greatest amateur golfers - is a central theme of the year-long, $90-million birthday bash that reaches a high point with a citywide party tomorrow, 400 years to the day that Samuel de Champlain came ashore to establish North America's first permanent French settlement.
Every night until July 29 at Espace 400e, the main festive area on Louise Basin near the Old Port public market, the world's biggest-ever multimedia show will project images recalling Quebec City's history on the side of the huge Bunge grain elevators across the bay. Called the Image Mill, the show illustrates how the city 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 19th century, when the British Empire was at its height and Quebec City boasted a sizable English-speaking population.
Today, there are more than two dozen public courses in the area - 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.
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 Sainte-Hélène-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 the Château Bonne Entente, an upscale 55-year-old hotel in the city's western suburbs (about a 15-minute drive from the golf course) that recently underwent a $20-million makeover.
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 Grand Vallon, it's tempting to drive another 100 kilometres northeast to the ruggedly beautiful Charlevoix tourist region and the recently revamped Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club.
Poised to take its place among Canada's leading resort courses, the 27-hole facility is spectacularly situated on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence. Nine new holes, several of them affording commanding views of the river, have been added to the 83-year-old property 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 U.S. president William H. Taft, a frequent summertime visitor. An elaborate practice facility and a clifftop clubhouse, from which golfers can view a resident pod of beluga whales 300 metres below, have also opened.
But the biggest treat for serious golfers is found just to the east of Quebec City near Montmorency Falls. Steeped in history and tradition, the two densely wooded parkland courses at the Royal Quebec Golf Club offer early-morning and late-afternoon tee times to non-members.
Royal Quebec moved from the Plains of Abraham - which this year marks its centennial as a national parkland - 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.
No less gorgeous is the newer course, the Quebec, a Howard Watson design dating from the early 1960s that demands precision shot-making.
Overlooking the venerable club's lush and bucolic grounds is a stately clubhouse offering spectacular views of Île d'Orléans and Quebec City.
Golf's return to the Plains of Abraham will include a grudge match on Aug. 29 between North America's two oldest clubs, the Royal Quebec and the Royal Montreal Golf Club, which was founded in 1873, a year before its provincial rival.
Participants in Golf Tradition: Quebec 2008 (to be selected by lottery, with July 10 as the cutoff date for applications) will go off in shotgun starts two or three times a day. Most are expected to wear traditional plus-fours (trousers cut to four inches below the knee and worn with wool stockings) and all will play with replica hickory clubs, canvas bags and old-style golf balls supplied by a Scottish manufacturer.
But the most popular attraction will almost certainly be a separate par three where, for a fee of $10, everyone who takes a swing can boast of having played in the cradle of Canadian golf.
Pack your clubs
ROYAL QUEBEC GOLF CLUB 418-822-1805; http://www.royalquebec.com. Canada's second-oldest golf club offers two classic parkland courses. Visitors welcome weekdays before 8 a.m. and after 3 p.m.; weekends after 3 p.m. Green fee: $90.
LA TEMPÊTE GOLF CLUB 418-832-8111; http://www.golflatempete.com. Darrell Huxham design mixes links-style and parkland holes. Visitors must book tee times at least three days in advance. Green fees: $95 to $150.
LE GRAND VALLON 1-888-827-4579; http://www.legrandvallon.com. Howard Watson parkland design at the base of Mont-Sainte-Anne. Green fees: $52 to $88.
FAIRMONT LE MANOIR RICHELIEU GOLF CLUB 1-800-665-8082; http://www.fairmont.com. Revamped 27-hole facility overlooking the St. Lawrence. Green fees: $140 till July 12; $165 through the summer.
GOLF TRADITION: QUEBEC 2008 Visit the Royal Quebec Golf Club site, http://www.royalquebec.com, and follow the link to Golftradition2008@hotmail.com. To enter the lottery, fill out your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, the golf club (if any) to which you belong, the day and hour you would prefer to play, whether you are right-handed or left-handed, and your golf handicap. Application deadline: July 10. If selected, the green fee is $75.
400TH ANNIVERSARY INFORMATION http://www.MyQuebec2008.com.
QUEBEC CITY INFORMATION http://www.quebecregion.com;