7162 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.9/141
COURSE ARCHITECT: Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry (1990)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://devilspulpit.com/devils-pulpit/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: July 20, 2009.
LOW SCORE: (+12)
– Golf Digest Best New Canadian Course 1991
– Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2017: #17
– Golfweek Best Modern Courses Canada 2019: #14
– Top100GolfCourses.com Canada’s Top 100 2019: #24
– ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #25
“It all works as a scenic wonder and as a test of golf.”
– Golf Digest Magazine, December 1991
“…the best two-course golf club in the world.”
– Rees Jones
Needless to say, I was pretty jazzed at the opportunity. The Paintbrush, along with its sister course, the Devil’s Pulpit, is part of the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association, surely one of the finest 36-hole private clubs in North America.
The club was founded by Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, the two masterminds behind Trivial Pursuit. Both courses were designed by Dr. Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry, with the Pulpit opening first in 1990 and the Paintbrush opening two years later.
I made the hour and a half or so drive up to Caledon and I was just blown away by the vistas at the Paintbrush. It’s a linksy golf course dotted with nasty pot bunkers and waist-high pink fescues and I was literally drooling at the prospect of tipping it up here.
The problem was that Henry was nowhere to be found. Not only that, we were supposed to be playing in a low-key shotgun tourney, a full one at that. I wondered whether I had screwed up the day or something, as there were maybe 20 cars in the parking lot at most.
So I went into the pro shop to introduce myself and I ended up finding out that the event was being held at the Pulpit, NOT the Paintbrush!
So I high-tailed it to my car and drove like a maniac to the other course, which is a few miles down the road. Lots of cars in the parking lot and yup, my name was on the tee sheet when I checked in with the guard at the gates.
The Pulpit, ranked 22nd in Canada by ScoreGolf Magazine, sits on 315 acres of land to the Northwest of Toronto, right on the dramatic Niagara escarpment. I can’t imagine how much land was moved here but it’s quite a stunning achievement and decidedly a different experience than the linksy Paintbrush, where very little earth was moved.
The event was put on by noted photographer Doug Ball, most famous for the picture he took of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau doing a pirouette after meeting Queen Elizabeth during his term as Canada’s leader. Doug is a founding member of the club and puts on a huge 36-hole shotgun event on a yearly basis for his friends as a way of getting them all together. Henry is a very close friend of Doug and he had a spot in his foursome, which prompted him to call me.
There was no format for the event and no prizes – just play whatever tees you want, play whatever format you want. I played the tips (measuring a touch over 7100 yards) with one of the guys in our group while Henry and our fourth played the middle tees.
The first hole is a doozy. 478 yards, steeply downhill played to a double fairway. The first photo above shows the right fairway, with water framing the right side of it while the second photo shows the left fairway. Going right allows the player a few more yards but trouble lurks everywhere and the approach shot is much more difficult from that angle.
I decided to open up my clubface, aim way left and try to hit a cut down the left portion of the fairway. I nailed it center-cut and had a seven iron second shot into a tremendous greensite, with two or three humongous grass depressions that are about 15-20 feet deep. I’d miss the green but get up and down for the satisfying par to start.
The second hole, shown above, is a shortish par four measuring 364 yards. It plays from an elevated tee and gives the longer player a chance to get close to the green. Beware the centerline pot bunker! Elevated green site with some nice undulation. I’d hit a very poor approach here, missing the green left, chip on and three-whack for the ugly double.
The third is a mid-length par three that plays uphill to a shallow but very wide putting surface. Some tricky undulations and tiering here cause fits and I’d bogey this one to move to +3 through three.
The fourth, shown above, is a hefty par four measuring 445 yards. It’s a dogleg right and plays uphill so a big fade off the tee works best. You have no visual of the green from the tee but once you get to the top of the hill, you’ll see you have to avoid a cavernous bunker behind the green and a large drop-off area short left. I’d go into that depression area left of the green and make a solid up and down for my par here after driving perfectly.
The fifth (above) is a cool par four with a blind tee shot. The fairway slopes severely downhill about 200 yards from the tee, leaving a short approach over a creek to a very shallow, very wide and incredibly undulating green that is multi-tiered. Long is dead. Short is dead. Missing your proper tier is a certain three putt. One of my playing partners missed the left pin position by about 20 feet and the ball rolled off the slope and ended up near the right fringe, over 100 feet away! Really solid, short two shotter. I stuck my wedge into about five feet and missed the easy birdie putt, settling for par.
The sixth, shown above, is another midlength two shotter that doglegs sharply left with a gravesite on the corner of the dogleg. Green is very long but narrow and sits above the fairway. I’d hit my drive through the fairway here but make a two putt par to stay at +3.
The seventh is a lovely short par three with trouble everywhere. Plateau-type green with a lot of undulation. This 132 yarder got me, as I’d stumble to a bogey four.
The par five eighth, seen above, is tremendous fun! A short, 485 yarder with a centerline bunker in the fairway that separates the more elevated right side, giving the gambling player a better view of the greensite that is tucked left behind larger bunkers up the fairway. I’d do very well here to make bogey after spraying my drive into the junk way right off the tee.
The ninth, seen above, is another strong par four that doglegs left off an elevated tee but the second shot is played well uphill to a greensite protected by water left. Very large green with tremendous slope. I’d hit a horrible drive that just made the fairway and I needed to rope hook a 5-iron into the green, with my shot going just long. I’d chip on and miss a short putt, making bogey to shoot a 41 (+6) on the front side.
The 413 yard par four tenth, shown above, features a stunning view from the elevated tee. The drive must be placed between the tall tree that sits on the left side of the fairway and some large scale, fescue lined mounding on the right. The green sits lower than the fairway and drops off quite a bit to the left. I’d make one of my best up and downs of the year from well left of the green to stay at +6.
The long par four 11th (above) is actually three holes in one, as there are East and South variations of the hole that play from different decks and dramatically change the complexion of the hole when in play. We played the standard hole that day and it’s a brute at 459 yards! Downhill tee shot into the wind with a tough, long second shot that must miss the reservoir left of the green and bunkers right. Huge, multi-tiered green. I’d hit my approach into the greenside bunker and make bogey.
The 423 yard 12th, seen above, is a straightaway, relatively routine two-shotter. The green is elevated somewhat and there is a pot bunker up in front of the putting surface. I’d hit into the left fairway bunker off the tee and make a solid par.
The 512 yard 13th (shown above) is a neat par five, again with a split fairway and once again, the right side is elevated to give the golfer a better view of the approach. Water runs down the left side of the fairway and the green is tucked in between some immense, man-made mounding. I hit my drive onto the right upper fairway and hit a heroic hybrid approach onto the green, two-putting for the very satisfying birdie to move back to +6 on the day.
The 425 yard 14th (above) is a tight driving hole that requires the tee shot to navigate around or over a centerline pot bunker. Slightly uphill second shot to a green set at a slight diagonal to play. I’d hit two decent shots here but was surprised when my approach sailed longer than anticipated. I’d hit a poor chip and ultimately make bogey to go back to +7 overall.
There’s a semi-blind tee shot on the dogleg left, downhill 438 yard par four 15th, with trees and fescue left and a large target bunker right. Nice little green that slopes sharply front to back and right to left and accepts the ground game, one of the few holes out here that do. Got into trouble left off the tee here and didn’t have time to take any pictures, making a double bogey in the process. Nice hole though, one of the prettier and tougher ones on the course!
The 230 yard 16th, shown above, is a difficult par three with a very wide but shallow putting surface. Much more room out to the right and it’s truly a gamble to go for the sucker pin on the left, where it was located the day we played. I went for it and failed miserably, making a ball-in-pocket double.
The 456 yard 17th, shown above, is a lovely uphill par four that drops off quite a bit to the left of the fairway. Fescue lines the whole right side. Elevated green with a couple of tiers. Long and difficult and I’d be fortunate to make a bogey after hitting it into the hay well right of the fairway.
At 503 yards, the 18th is a tremendously long, downhill par four off an elevated tee. The hole doglegs to the left and thankfully, plays much shorter than its yardage. The green is relatively large and you can run it in. Still, a tough finisher, one I was able to make a par on to finish on a solid note, shooting 83 (+12) overall after stumbling somewhat near the end.
This golf course tests your shotmaking, without doubt and there are some intriguing options available, especially from the tee, on many holes. The Pulpit has a reputation for being as tough as nails and while I do agree you need to be on your game to score, this course is eminently playable even for higher handicappers. An aerial game is needed but there aren’t any tough forced carries and the course remains fun if played from the proper tee deck.
It’s a tough golf course but there is ample width in the fairways and I strongly feel that a player on his game can put a score together here. Design variety is also strong, with a great mixture of short and long holes, doglegs and terrain movement. There aren’t really any bad golf holes out here and the course flows quite nicely. That said, other than perhaps the 1st and 10th holes, you aren’t going to have many jaw-dropping moments.
The pink fescue that’s in abundance at the Pulpit provides a stark contrast to the well-conditioned fairways and greens. The land is pretty remarkable and there are many lovely vistas throughout the round. The Pulpit is in tremendous condition – the fairways roll very fast and the greens are quick yet receptive. Almost as good as it gets. There are a few long green to tee transfers at the Pulpit and with the relatively severe topography, this would be a very difficult walk.
The Devil’s Pulpit has a hard-earned reputation for being one of the tougher golf courses in the country and I’d certainly agree with that assessment. However, the course offers much more – interesting options from the tee, excellent green complexes and tremendous conditioning.
While I was slightly disappointed in not getting the opportunity to play the Paintbrush, I’m extremely happy to have played the Pulpit and it is certainly worthy of its lofty standing on the ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada list.
If you get the opportunity to play here, do it – you won’t be disappointed!