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Personal Golf Courses

DOMAINE LAFOREST Sagard, QC

Owner: Paul Desmarais Sr. Design: Eighteen holes Yardage: 6,791 Par: 72 Architect: Thomas McBroom (2002)

If a drive is banged out at Domaine Laforest and no one's around to hear—which is quite likely—does it actually make a sound?It's the kind of conundrum you'll find yourself mulling should Canadian billionaire Paul Desmarais (his company, a conglomerate with holdings in media, entertainment, mining and energy, is literally called the Power Corporation of Canada) invite you to his private piece of golfing bliss in the hinterlands of northern Quebec. It's that pristine, and that remote. And this is one tycoon who prefers it that way.

In 1997, he called on Toronto architect Thomas McBroom to tour his 50,000 acres in quest of appropriate land through which to weave nine holes. By the time McBroom signed off, five years later, the course had stretched into a majestic track around 340 acres of brooks, streams, rock outcroppings, spruce, pine, birch and one man-made lake for irrigation—complete with practice facility, clubhouse chalet and posh neoclassical hot-dog hut on the fourteenth tee. "It doesn't feel like a golf course designed for one guy and his family," says the architect. "It feels like the real deal."

For Desmarais, that deal was straightforward: Build me a work of art to hit balls on. For McBroom, it was similarly clear-cut: Listen to the land. There was no need to move a lot of dirt and, given the stunning mountain vistas, no need for gratuitous framing devices or other tricks of the architect's trade. "This isn't Trump National with a fake waterfall," McBroom says.

Each hole has been designated a name on the scorecard. Some pick up on the physical poetry of the place, like the par-three seventh, Le Gouffre (the Chasm). Others are more personally prosaic; the long downhill par-four first forms Desmarais's grandkids' winter sledding grounds, hence Le Toboggan. The tenth tips a tam to Desmarais's impressive collection of sculpture: McBroom added a pair of Henry Moore boulders to a fairway bunker down the right side of the fairway.

Of the fewer than 500 rounds played here annually, a chunk come through hosted charity functions. More quietly, the first and second Presidents Bush have made the trek to tee it up, as have former President Bill Clinton and former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien (his daughter is married to the younger of Desmarais's two sons). In the face of such power, Domaine Laforest has held as firm and protective as its great pines. Indeed, when Raymond Floyd played the course in 2003, he was relieved to recross the border level par.

PORCUPINE CREEK Rancho Mirage, CA

Owner: Tim Blixseth Design: Eighteen holes Yardage: 6,724 Par: 72 slope: 137 rating: 73.6 Architect: Blixseth (1999)

Timber titan turned land developer Tim Blixseth figures what he didn't know only helped him. "There's no way," he says, "any established designer could have taken the risk to do this." What the architectural autodidact with a fifteen-handicap and deep zeal did was wrestle eighteen holes out of 240 California acres a few bars down from Frank Sinatra Drive.

His way.

"I needed a front lawn," he says. "The golf course could be my landscaping. What was stopping me?Nothing."

He started by imagining holes, sketching them in the sagebrush-covered dirt, then learning a little here and there through costly trial and error as he built them. Some $40 million (and advice from friends Dave Stockton and Tom Weiskopf) later, Blixseth had transformed his front yard, with its panorama of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the Coachella Valley floor, into a massive golf theme park that conjures the look and feel of the California desert (he brought in palm trees to line the fairways), the Arizona desert (ditto cacti), Hawaii (40,000 tropical plants and a lagoon) and the mountainous Montana terrain (thousands of trucked-in mature evergreens) from which Porcupine Creek takes its name (the Porcupine is a tributary of the Gallatin River in Montana). Blixseth insists it was all done merely to have fun—and because he could. Thus, the otherwise heroic dogleg sixteenth comes complete with waterfall, wishing well and castle turret.

Despite its multiple personalities, Porcupine Creek avoids schizophrenia by being, in the end, a good test of skill that incorporates classic lines of play. Less classic, but highly entertaining, are the porcupine tee markers and a few rowdy shots you won't find in the portfolios of Doak, Fazio or the Jones boys. Ever bounce one off a rock face—on purpose? It's an option on the short par-four fourteenth. Ever count hang time?You can't stop yourself on the par-three fifteenth, which demands a bracing carry from a tee cut high in the mountains to a green 247 yards out—and more than 200 vertigo-inducing feet down.

There's even an actual nineteenth hole that precedes the traditional nineteenth hole: a pesky par three over water, fashioned to settle any ties before cooling off in an opulent clubhouse with full kitchen and pampering amenities.

Since unveiling his course, Blixseth has devoted hundreds of annual rounds to charity events. He personally maintains an every-other-day pace of play when in town, either solo, with his wife, Edra, his resident pro, or such golfing compatriots as Dan Quayle and Gerald Ford.

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