Reed On The Greens: Rene Muylaert Feature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reed On The Greens Feb. 5, 2019
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

To define golf course architect Rene Muylaert as a humble giant within the golf industry would do the late course designer an injustice. Muylaert, who died on May 7, 2005 at age 69 after suffering a heart attack, was one of Canada’s most accomplished yet most unassuming golf architects to ever put pencil to paper. And that’s just the way the Strathroy, Ontario native liked to do things: he was old-school to a tee, and never bragged about his accomplishments.

London Ontario Golf Heart Award

In fact, it’s a good bet Muylaert is the most prolific Canadian golf course designer that most people have never heard of – until now.

LondonOntarioGolf.com (est. 2004) is proud to posthumously award Muylaert with the 9th Annual London Ontario Golf Heart Award. He is now recognized for his contributions to golf in Southwestern Ontario along with past Heart Award winners including: Mike Olizarevitch (2011); Fred Kern (2012); Patty Howard (2013); Mike Weir (2014); East Park Golf (2015); Bob Martin (2016); Mike Silver (2017); and Lindsey Edmunds (2018).

Biographies of past winners are published at LondonOntarioGolf.com’s sister publication, LondonOntarioSports.com, at https://londonontariosports.com/the-heart-award/.

The London Ontario Golf Heart Award recognizes a London and area community member who has helped grow the game of golf. LondonOntarioGolf.com created the award in 2011 in order to recognize a community member who gives back to the game through unselfish efforts. Each spring, the Heart Award recipient, as selected by the editors of LondonOntarioGolf.com, honours those within the categories of golf professionals/instructors, golf mentors, golf course owners/operators, golf course architects/designers and members of the media.

Heart & Stroke is the official charity of LondonOntarioGolf.com and LondonOntarioSports.com. February is Heart Month, and June is Stroke Awareness Month. Learn more at https://www.heartandstroke.ca.

Rene Muylaert

Muylaert is the first winner within the category of golf course architects/designers. In total, he designed almost 50 Ontario golf courses, and was enlisted to design additions and renovations at numerous other Ontario clubs.

London and area courses amongst Muylaert’s impressive resume include: Bear Creek Golf and Country Club (Strathroy) redesign; Echo Valley Golf Club (London) restorations; Greenhills Golf Club (Lambeth); Highland Country Club (London) restorations; London Hunt and Country Club (London) bunker renovations; West Haven Golf and Country Club (London); City of London’s municipal golf system (more than 30 greens designed); and his pride and joy, The Oaks Golf Club (Delaware).

While Muylaert’s deft skills working with the land have earned him a well-deserved reputation for creating golf masterpieces, there was much more to this man which, combined, see him named the 2019 London Ontario Golf Heart Award. As talented as he was working with what God – or an act of God – created, and shaping it into an enjoyable, unforgettable golf layout, Muylaert was one of the kindest golf industry professionals you’ll ever meet.

In the early-2000s, when a semi-retired Rene Muylaert owned and operated Green Par Practice Range (est. 1995) on Wellington Road South in London, yours truly was searching for a range where I would attempt to – borrowing a phrase from Ben Hogan – find it in the dirt. Muylaert had listened to my story about retiring from the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League in 2001, and then suffering a TIA – transient ischemic attack, or mini stroke – in 2003, and how I had wished to lean on my passion for golf in order to save my life.

During his entire tenure at Green Par Practice Range, Muylaert never charged me a dime for hitting hundreds of golf balls every day in my quest for a healthier lifestyle. In fact, when Rene died and his daughter, Susan Lebel, took the reins at the range, she honoured her father’s promise to me. Sadly, Susan died in 2015 at age 44. Their kindness will never be forgotten.

Jeffrey Reed beating balls at Green Par Practice Range. Photo: LondonOntarioGolf.com.

In 2010, I hit golf balls for eight straight hours at Green Par Practice Range to raise money for and awareness of the London Anti Bullying Coalition.

Rene’s wife, Patricia, died in 2002. They had three children, including Susan, Brenda Fehr and Stephen Muylaert, who worked with his father and shaped fairways and greens. Rene and Patricia’s grandchildren would often be seen hitting golf balls at the London range.

Rene’s twin Brother, Charlie, partnered with him for about two decades – Rene designed the course layouts, while Charlie managed day-to-day construction at Green Par Golf Construction. Charlie died on January 3, 2015 at age 79.

The Muylaert twins were inseparable. While raised at the family tobacco farm, they attended Strathroy District Collegiate Institute and were part of the 1952 Ontario-champion baseball squad.

Rene’s first golf industry job was as a labourer at Uplands Golf Club in Thornhill. In a tribute to Rene, golf writer Brent Long wrote in the Summer 2005 edition of Tee To Green Golf Magazine that Rene once quipped, “I still remember arriving at Uplands and seeing all this beautiful grass. Coming from the tobacco fields, I never knew there was such a thing.”

Rene moved to Maple Downs Golf and Country Club in the mid-1950s, and was bit by the golf course design bug. He later worked as head greens keeper at Markham Golf and Country Club.

It was the late Irv Lightstone, during his 45-year stint at Maple Downs Golf & Country Club, who hired Rene and Charlie as greens keeper and assistant greens keeper. Lightstone once said the brothers didn’t get enough credit for their work.

In a Fairways Golf 2013 article, golf writer Peter Mumford wrote, “In 1960, Rene and Charlie Muylaert were running the grounds crew at Maple Downs and had to remove a very large stump next to the 10th tee. As Irv wrote, ‘They had this stump rigged with enough dynamite to blow up the Hoover Dam. One of the staff told Charlie they had four sticks of dynamite left and Charlie asked me what we should do with them. I said this really isn’t my field but they decided to use them anyway and packed them under the stump too. Someone lit the fuse and we all ran for cover. After all the smoke and debris cleared we could see that the stump was gone. However it was sitting in the middle of the 10th green!’”

In 1960 at age 24, Rene was asked to be greens keeper for the planned Chinguacousy Country Club (now Caledon Country Club) at Caledon, Ontario. When the original hired architect decided not to take the job, it was offered to Rene. He accepted, and the rest, as they say, is history. One year later, he was hired to design Glen Eagle Golf Club near Bolton, Ontario.

By the late 1960s, Rene had abandoned golf course superintendent work and was a full-time designer. During an interview with writer Scott Feschuk for the July 1991 edition of Tee To Green Golf Magazine, Rene said, “It used to be that if you were a good boy on the farm, you’d make a good greens keeper. But today they handle big budgets and have college degrees. These guys have damn near surpassed the golf pro as the most key employee at a golf club.”

Green Par crew circa 1970s (L-R) Charlie’s son, Marlin, Charlie, Rene and unnamed employee.

Indeed, Rene kept things simple, working out of his home at an old desk or at his dining room table, designing two or three courses each year in addition to a growing demand for course additions and renovations. He specialized in optimizing golf on small acreage, often working with course owners with small budgets. Few of his designs and course constructions topped the million-dollar mark, but that never jeopardized Rene’s passion for creating the very best golf course for each particular client and piece of land.

In fact, Rene was an unassuming genius with a burning passion for golf and the land. He once boasted a single-digit handicap index, but he put down his putter for pencil and paper, and carved a name for himself amongst Canadian golf course architects. He took great pride in using the natural contours of the course, moved as little earth as possible and, in the end, provided affordable golf for the masses.

In a posting at On The Tee Magazine about Heritage Hills Golf Club in Barrie, Alistair Orr wrote, “You can’t swing a cat in these parts without hitting a course that Muylaert didn’t have his hands on.” But you don’t have to look any further than The Oaks Golf Club to appreciate what was Rene’s favourite course design. Stephen said his father loved The Oaks because of its “immaculate conditions.” In fact, Rene was often spotted wearing an Oaks golf shirt while overseeing operations at his driving range.

Rene Muylaert at The Oaks GC pump house. Photo: The Oaks GC.

Oaks superintendent Rick Perrault worked with Rene as he designed the 1993-opened Oaks course, a par-72 championship course built on the sandy banks and bluffs above the Thames River valley. Its 150 acres occupy an ideal site for golf, offering unusually mixed topography with excellent grass-growing conditions. Legendary golfers Moe Norman, Ed Ervasti, 2003 Masters Champion and 2014 Heart Award winner Mike Weir, Bruce Fleisher, John Daly and Fred Couples have all put their games to the test at the Oaks

“The Oaks was Rene’s pride and joy, and an ultimate challenge,” Perrault said. “He was given 150 acres composed of two gravel pits, old, flat, sandy tobacco fields and a woodlot that was devastated by a tornado in previous years. He designed half of the course as an open links style with mounds and long fescue grass. One of the gravel pits became a waste bunker. The back nine was deftly routed through a woodlot that was left standing from the tornado. The second gravel pit was enlarged to produce a large water feature which comes into play on three holes. It’s also part of signature hole No. 15, a par-3 island green. Rene was on site almost every day to make sure he didn’t miss anything and that the course evolved as he wanted it to.”

Signature hole No. 15 at The Oaks Golf Club. Photo: The Oaks GC.

Perrault defined Muylaert as “a quiet gentleman in the golf architectural world, yet he left a huge footprint on golf courses across Southern Ontario. He approached each new project as an opportunity to design an enjoyable, playable golf course that fit into the existing landscape. His name may not be recognizable outside of Ontario, but his contributions to golf in our region is remarkable. For those of us whom were fortunate to work with Rene and understand his passion and love for golf course design, we were truly lucky.”

Perrault said Muylaert “didn’t believe in moving mass amounts of material to build a feature that didn’t look natural. He believed that by sitting and looking into the distance, the golf hole would come to life and design itself. He sat with a pencil and graph paper – or the back of a cigarette package – and scribbled the layout for his shapers to follow. The dust-covered hood of his car was another favourite drawing board when he got excited and couldn’t find paper or pencil.”

In addition to golf and baseball, Muylaert loved hockey. In 2010, he was inducted into the Jr. B Strathroy Rockets/Blades Wall of Fame. He served on the Blades’ board of directors for 10 years, and for several seasons was the team’s president.

When you consider Muylaert’s talent as a golf course architect, his contributions to golf in Southwestern Ontario, and the way in which he treated family, friends and clients, it’s easy to see why he is the recipient of the 9th Annual London Ontario Golf Heart Award.

His recognition is long overdue. We’re just happy to be able to share his story. It’s one of a kind.

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Here is a list of Rene Muylaert-designed golf courses, plus a list of some of this restoration work:

Aurora Highlands Golf Course (Highland Gate Golf Club), Aurora, Ont. (restoration; site now houses residential property).
Bathurst Glen Golf Course, Richmond Hill, Ont.
Bear Creek Golf & Country Club, Strathroy, Ont. (redesign)
Brooklea Golf & Country Club, Midland, Ont.
Caledon Country Club, Caledon, Ont.
Chippewa Creek Golf & Country Club, Mount Hope, Ont.
Derrydale Golf Course, Mississauga, Ont.
DiamondBack Golf Club, Richmond Hill, Ont.
Echo Valley Golf Club, London, Ont. (restoration)
Emerald Hills Golf & Country Club, Markham, Ont.
Fanshawe Golf Club – Traditional & Quarry (greens designed)
Fort Erie Golf Club, Fort Erie, Ont.
Glen Cedars Golf Club, Claremont, Ont.
Glen Eagle Golf Club, Bolton, Ont.
Granite Ridge Golf Club, Milton, Ont.
Greenhills Golf Club, London, Ont.
Greens at Renton, Simcoe, Ont.
Hawk Ridge Golf & Country Club, Orillia, Ont.
Heritage Heights Golf & Country Club, Petrolia, Ont.
Heritage Hills Golf Club, Barrie, Ont.
Hickory Nine Golf Course, London, Ont. (greens designed)
Highland Country Club, London, Ont. (restorations)
Horseshoe Valley Resort, Barrie, Ont.
Indian Wells Golf Club, Burlington, Ont.
International Country Club of Niagara, Stevensville, Ont.
Kleinburg Golf Club, Kleinburg, Ont. (closed; residential property)
London Hunt & Country Club, London, Ont. (bunker renovations)
Markham Golf & Country Club, Markham, Ont.
Mill Run Golf Club, Uxbridge, Ont.
Nobleton Lakes Golf Club, Nobleton, Ont.
Oakville Executive Golf Course, Oakville, Ont.
Osprey Links Golf Course, Callander, Ont.
Peninsula Lakes Golf Club, Fenwick, Ont.
Pheasant Run Golf Club, Sharon, Ont.
Richmond Hill Golf Club, Richmond Hill, Ont.
River Road Golf club, London, Ont. (greens designed)
St. Andrew’s East, Stouffville, Ont.
St. Andrews Valley Golf Club, Aurora, Ont.
Sawmill Creek Golf Resort & Spa, Camlachie, Ont.
Scenic Woods Golf & Country Club, Hannon, Ont.
Sparrow Lakes Golf Club, Welland, Ont.
Spring Lakes Golf Club, Stouffville, Ont.
Station Creek Golf & Country Club (formerly Gormley Greens), Thornton, Ont.
Tangle Creek Golf Club, Barrie, Ont.
Thames Valley Golf Club, London, Ont. (greens designed)
The Club at North Halton, Georgetown, Ont.
The Oaks Golf Club, Delaware, Ont.
Victoria Park East, Guelph, Ont.
Victoria Park West, Guelph, Ont.
West Haven Golf & Country Club, London, Ont.
Western Trent Golf Club, Bolsover, Ont.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.

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