Devil’s Paintbrush & Pulpit
Ontario, Canada

The authors enjoy comparing the relative merits of one golf course to another. Through such a spirited discussion, much can be gleaned. Our favorite way to compare courses of similar merit is to do a match play competition, i.e., the first hole to the first, the second to the second, etc. The basic question is: which hole do you prefer playing? In that manner, a three par can be compared against a five par, etc.

In comparing the more traditional parkland Devil’s Pulpit course against its sister course four miles away, the windswept, barren Devil’s Paintbrush, a hole by hole comparison would look like this:

  1. Devil’s Pulpit 1-up
  2. All square
  3. All square
  4. Pulpit 1-up
  5. Pulpit 2-up
  6. Pulpit 2-up
  7. Pulpit 3-up
  8. Pulpit 2-up
  9. Pulpit 2-up
  10. Pulpit 2-up
  11. Pulpit 2-up (even though there are three 11th holes at the Pulpit?!)
  12. Pulpit 3-up
  13. Pulpit 2-up
  14. Pulpit 2-up
  15. Pulpit 3 – up
  16. Pulpit 2-up
  17. Pulpit 1-up (even though the 17th is one of the finest holes on the Pulpit)
  18. Halved.

In theory, this means the authors should be ambivalent as to which course to play. And yet, this is not the case, but you will have decide for yourself which course you would prefer based on the following descriptions.

When you consider its striking location in the Caledon Hills, the variety of hazards, and the degree of difficulty that comes with a 7,160 yard course, the Pulpit has a lot going for it. The property on the Niagara escarpment, while spectacular, was such that architect Michael Hurdzan had to move 1.7 million cubic yards (300,000 on the 1st hole alone) of dirt to create this course. That meant it was very expensive to build but one result is that everything is in clear view. Many professional golfers prefer it for that reason and the Pulpit has hosted more than its fair share of important Canadian golf events.

As for the Paintbrush, well it can be hard to tell what the heck is going on at times. What do you do off the 5th tee? It doesn’t matter because the approach is blind anyway. There is an old stone ruin of a barn in the middle of the 8th fairway. The mound in front of the par three 16th obscures all hole locations.

Is this Scotland or Canada? Note the bold green contouring at the Paintbrush.

The shots at the Pulpit are visually well defined. For instance, you want to cut the tee shot around the big maple in the 4th fairway, draw it around the small cemetery on the 6th and be sure to keep your approach below the hole on the 8th green. All of that is obvious first time round. The Paintbrush takes longer to get to know. There are no trees to provide depth perception on this exposed bluff, located some 35 miles from downtown Toronto. When the wind blows here, distance becomes meaningless anyway. The golfer is going to have to rely more on feel and instinct that pure mechanics.

Though treeless, the Paintbrush enjoys a rich texture, with numerous native fesque grasses that turn different shades of tan to brown. To see the ribbons of emerald fairways bob up and down across the rolling fescue-covered hills is one of great visual delight. Traditional parkland courses rarely achieve such contrast because they are working solely with different shades of greens and their trees only serve to obscure such grand sweeping vistas.

The bunkering at the Pulpit is well done and each one is where it should be. The Paintbrush, on the other hand, is more of a dog’s breakfast: bunkers are scattered here, there and everywhere. Some have wooden banks and others, like the 17 foot high sod wall in 8th fairway bunker, are enormous. The apparent randomness and variety of the bunkering is one of the Paintbrush’s most pleasing virtues. You don’t get the impression that there was a preconceived ‘master plan’ in place when Dana Fry started. It seems he got into the project and the different bunkering schemes evolved before him, as he began to see the property in different winds. The fact that the Paintbrush cost about 1/6 what the Pulpit did is testimony to the superior land and the job that Fry did.

The greens at the Pulpit are nicely flowing and given their superb conditioning and pace, the golfer needs to stay alert. Take the 2nd green. From the fairway, the golfer can see plenty of the green. Must be sloped from back to front right? Wrong, a thousand three putts wrong! Because the approach shot is actually downhill, the golfer can see all the green but in fact the green continues with the general flow of the land, which is away from the golfer. Other greens may lack the same subtlety of the 2nd but are just plain hard. If you miss greens like the 12th or 15th on the wrong side, you have no chance of an up and down.

Compare these traditional ‘model’ greens to the Paintbrush. Well, you can’t. The Paintbrush has some of the most wild, broad contours the authors have ever seen and the greens themselves average 30% more in size than at its sister course. The 2nd hole, with its shared green with the 9th, looks like the Himalayas practice putting green at St. Andrews. The 55 yard deep 6th green has a five foot tall step across the back third of it. The 11th and 14th holes share a double green. The 17th green slopes criminally away from the golfer for the back third of its immense length.

These greens enhance the fun of playing the Paintbrush. If you over-analyze them, such as the green contour on the already impossibly difficult 13th, you might go crazy. Just accept them as the crucial part to scoring well at the Paintbrush, as one of the author’s can attest after a magnificent 38 putt performance.

Holes to Note:

Devil’s Paintbrush

First hole, 370 yards; The golfer can’t wait for the game to begin. A classic links hole that on many days is a five iron off the tee to a fast running, lumpy fairway followed by a wedge to a wide green on the other side of a chasm.

The exciting 1st.

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