Here’s a golfing “Trivial Pursuit” question: Who were the creators of the world famous board game of the same name and which private golf courses did they build north west of Toronto in the early 1990s? Answer (for a piece of pie to win the game): Chris Haney and Scott Abbott were the men who established Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s Paintbrush. Not a lot of non-Canadians will know that!
Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry were the architects of the Devil’s Pulpit (named after a rock formation seen from the 7th tee), situated on 315 acres in the Caledon Hills on the Niagara escarpment, where they moved over one and a half million cubic yards of soil to fashion the course which opened in 1990.
Within two years, they built the Devil’s Paintbrush course on 164 acres and no, you’ll not find one of Beelzebub’s artistic tools on the property here – it’s named after a wild flower that grows around the course! Constructed at a fraction of the cost of the first course and with minimal earth movement, Devil’s Paintbrush has gone on to become rated even higher than its big sister.
Devil’s Paintbrush is as close to a links style of course that you can get over terrain that is nowhere near the sea – few trees, hummocks and hollows on the fescue fairways, blind shots, bold bunkering (some pot bunkers, some wooden banked, others revetted) – they are all here. There’s also the ruin of an old, abandoned stone walled barn on the fairway of the 8th hole to be negotiated. No cart paths on the course though as it’s a track that is designed to be walked!
And what about the wildly contoured greens on many holes? Plus, at the 2nd and 9th holes, the green is shared, as is the case at the 11th and 14 holes. The latter double green does have a tree, mind you, in the middle of the putting surface whilst the former is reminiscent of “the Himalayas” putting green beside the 2nd tee at St Andrews Old course! The par three 13th is an intimidating 226-yard hole with out of bounds right and a deep gorge in front of a large, two-tiered putting surface.
Golf at the ‘Brush as its members call it, is rugged, adventurous, unpredictable and above all, fun! Truly, members of the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association are very fortunate to have such contrasting yet high caliber private courses on which to play.
The devil was in the detail, but for some reason the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association decided to throw the devil out with the bathwater, renaming the facility The Pulpit Club in February 2021.
Chris Haney & Scott Abbott created the enormously successful Trivial Pursuit boardgame. With some of the proceeds they went on to create The Devil's Pulpit Golf Course on 315 acres of rolling Caledonian Hils just out of Toronto.
Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry were appointed as architects and they moved a lot of dirt to create a dramatic course. Walk to the first tee, and be prepared for a memorable tee shot!
No expense was spared, and the clubhouse and facitlities are first rate. The course opened for play in 1990 as a private members course.
In 1992 a second course was added for the enjoyment of the members. Located a few miles from 'The Pulpit', Devil's Paintbrush was sited on 164 acres of slightly gentler terrain- but it still bucks and rolls more than most.
Devil's Paintbrush was named after a wildflower that grows on the course, and required very little earth movement. The course could be best described as 'links like'- with fescue fairways, blind shots, dramatic bunkering, and plenty of movement in the greens.
The bunkering is worthy of discussion with some huge boarded bunkers reminscent of Prestwick, small revetted bunkers, and plain vanilla bunkers as well. It's an eclectic mix, but it works!
Two sets of greens are shared, and one of these- holes 11 & 14- have a tree in the middle of the shared green!
You will also find the ruins of all old stone walled barn in the middle of the 8th fairway. And you thought you couldn't hit the broad side of a barn! This course is pure fun!
I like the variety- with short driveable par 4's, a variety of par 3's and greens that challenge you with their movement without beating you up.
Notable holes include:
- hole 3- a short par 4 which is driveable- with bunkers awaiting, an eagle or a double bogey are both on the cards
- hole 9- a medium length dog leg par 4 with a huge green wrapped around an even larger boarded bunker...
- hole 10- a short par 4 with a moonscape of boarded bunkers to negotiate off the tee, and an elevated green that would test anyone's putting
- hole 13- a longer par 3 with a large tree framing the left side, a deep gully short right and out of bounds along the right side....
- hole 15- a shorter par 4 with water in front of the green
- hole 17- a downhill par 4 with a stone wall to carry off the tee, and more than a few bunkers to avoid.
Devil's Paintbrush has a number of teeing options, but you don't need to play it long. In fact I would recommend you go forward and just enjoy the course. There is enough going on to keep you fully occupied, and I think you will enjoy it more playing forward first up.
It is a course where you will benefit from the knowledge of playing a number of times, or playing with someone who has done so.
My only question mark on the course is that it is set up as a walking course, but has some longish and difficult walks from green to tee. The cart paths are rudimentary, and at times double back along the previous fairway. I am sure at some stage this will be rectified. I hope so because Devil's Paintbrush is the sort of course I would like to play over...
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Restraint can be a very difficult concept -- especially when an architect has superior creation skills. Such is the case with the efforts brought forward by the architectural duo of Dr. Michael Hurdzan and his former partner Dana Fry. Paintbrush followed their successful efforts at the nearby Devil's Pulpit layout. However, unlike the latter, the former's storyline was not over imposing architectural flourishes and thereby allows what Mother Nature provided to shine brightly.
In my mind, no less than 60% of any course has to be measured by the quality of the land in which the layout occupies. Paintbrush has a number of rolls which create a plethora of natural opportunities that Hurdzan and Fry needed only to "brush" their fingerprints upon. In selected other golf designs created by the duo the overemphasis on shaping was clearly done and, as a result, such courses stood apart from the site -- rather than blend into it.
I hate to use the term "links like" because it too often conveys a false impression. But, Paintbrush is a very good representation of such layouts. Shaping shots is the core of Paintbrush -- not brutish length or paralyzing rough. When you play the course you need to demonstrate your creativity and the rewards for those who do will be present.
The double greens found at the 2nd and 9th are well done -- ditto for the same dimension at the 11th and 14th holes.
In fact, the genius of the course rests on the quality putting surfaces and the surrounding areas. They are rich in detail -- but never inane in the riddles they ask players to solve.
The Paintbrush promotes a much needed ground game dimension -- allowing a wondrous elasticity that puts the onus on players to decide which style works best for the given moment and the level of game they have within themselves.
by M. James Ward
When I think of Paintbrush I think of great rock and roll. Undisciplined, rollicking but in the end sublime. It will not be to all tastes with its abandoned barns splitting fairways and two tiered greens that feature six foot elevation changes between the tiers. It is beautifully maintained and has an understated wealth to it. Most importantly it is a ton of fun.