DPGA History

The Pursuit of a Dream: Celebrating the Creation of Devil’s Pulpit

By Lorne Rubenstein
Photos by Doug Ball

Christ Haney and Scott Abbott

The remarkable tale behind the birth of the Devil’s Pulpit featuring Chris Haney (left) and Scott Abbott. This is a story about vision, guts, pain, persistence and ultimately, glory.


Haney Goes Property Hunting

Chris Haney wasn’t happy. He wanted to join three friends for a game one summer Friday afternoon in 1985, but couldn’t get a tee time. His friend Martin Curtis asked, “Why don’t you build your own course?” Haney accepted the challenge and began to search for a property in Caledon where he could build a world-class course. Haney located several sites, and walked them with Dr. Michael Hurdzan, the Columbus, Ohio-based architect he’d chosen. It took them two years to find the site that would become the Devil’s Pulpit. It had everything: diverse topography, easy access off Highway 10, and a perfect, high setting for the clubhouse. The parcel of land included 300 acres. Haney and Hurdzan were confident they could turn it into the total package ideal for golfers.

Chris Haney, right front, with architect Michael Hurdzan walking the Pulpit property.

Chris Haney, right front, with architect Michael Hurdzan walking the Pulpit property.

Haney evaluating a makeshift tee box.

Haney evaluating a makeshift tee box.


A Royal Rejection

Chris Haney and Scott Abbott considered naming the club Royal Caledon, but Buckingham Palace declined to confer the designation. While looking at old maps of the area, they spotted an Escarpment rock formation named the Devil’s Pulpit that is visible from the seventh tee. Additional study traced the name to an Indian legend involving the hand of a beautiful maiden and a scorned brave who stole her away to that remote cliff ledge. The maiden fell into depression and died. Angered, the god of lightning struck behind the brave’s tepee, isolating him from the cliffside, where he starved to death. “It was the perfect name,” said Haney. Combined with the Jack-in-the-pulpit flower located on the property, it became the club’s logo.

Chris Haney pondering the par-3 seventh from one of its eight tee boxes.

Chris Haney pondering the par-3 seventh from one of its eight tee boxes.

Scott Abbott and Doug Ball ready for some course in progress play.

Scott Abbott and Doug Ball ready for some course in progress play.


Commissions and Conservation

Considering the wee creek fronting the fifth green, who would think that it proved a vexing issue during construction? The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources demanded the preservation of a wetland habitat. Protections were required that included a synthetic lining and a wall of natural cedar in the creek bank creating a buffer zone for the trout and other indigenous flora and fauna. The fifth hole cost plenty to build but all interests were satisfied and a fascinating green was created. A total of 11 separate governing agencies including the OMNR and Niagara Escarpment Commission were engaged during the building of the Pulpit.

Aerial view of the fifth’s original green.

Aerial view of the fifth’s original green.

Ceremonial felling of the first tree following a long and arduous process to acquire official permission to build the course.

Ceremonial felling of the first tree following a long and arduous process to acquire official permission to build the course.


Tribute to a Tragedy

It was learned that a family, surname Harris, had lived in a home in the vicinity of what would become the sixth hole, and that three children aged seven, nine, and 14 had died of diphtheria there in 1861 within 11 days of one another. The family had planted five or six maple trees in a perfect square around the burial site. Chris Haney at first wanted to fence off the property and alter the hole that Michael Hurdzan and design associate Dana Fry had envisaged. “Instead Chris decided to honour the Harris family,” Hurdzan said. Today the black wrought-iron fence and headstone that golfers pass every time they play the hole commemorates the sad events. The hole is named, appropriately, Memorial.

Canada’s own Lorie Kane visiting the Harris family grave site on the sixth.

Canada’s own Lorie Kane visiting the Harris family grave site on the sixth.

Cairns, like this one at No. 6, placed near the tee site of every hole reveal area history.

Cairns, like this one at No. 6, placed near the tee site of every hole reveal area history.


Polishing Perfect

Chris Haney had one proviso besides his desire to build a great golf course. He knew the clubhouse had to be located on the property’s highest point, offering long and wide views across the vast landscape. It was hoped that the ninth hole could return to that high point, but this didn’t prove possible. “I tried to get the ninth hole to finish up there,” Michael Hurdzan says, “but it was just too high.” Hurdzan did swing the hole so that it would turn towards and ultimately behind the clubhouse. No expense was spared to return golfers to the clubhouse and on to the very elevated 10th tee. Following a friendly conversation with the land owner, Haney and Scott Abbott purchased 15 more acres to create the ninth hole. That’s what you do to build a world-class course.

Creating the ninth hole required the purchase of an additional 15 acres of land.

Creating the ninth hole required the purchase of an additional 15 acres of land..

Toronto Maple Leafs legends Red Kelly, left front, and Eddie Shack, dropping the puck, at a pond hockey match.

Toronto Maple Leafs legends Red Kelly, left front, and Eddie Shack, dropping the puck, at a pond hockey match.


Evolution Theory

All great courses evolve, and the Devil’s Pulpit has been no different. Chris Haney and Michael Hurdzan saw things as they worked on the course, and made changes accordingly. The par-4 10th was designed to play as a dogleg finishing at a green located in front of a pond. But it, along with much of the routing, changed dramatically as soon as additional land was acquired for the ninth hole. The 16th, meanwhile, was going to feature wooden bulkheads in front of the green in the style that Pete Dye had used at the Tournament Players Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. But a contractor suggested that local armour stone would provide a better look while shoring up the area between the pond and the green. In the end, armour stone was used around all the Pulpit’s ponds.

Layouts for holes as evidenced in this early drawing from the 10th evolved during development.

Layouts for holes as evidenced in this early drawing from the 10th evolved during development.

Chris Haney and Michael Hurdzan.

Chris Haney and Michael Hurdzan.


The 11th Hole, All Three of Them

There’s 11 East, 11 South, named for Jun Matsuura, an original investor in the club who was killed in a car accident in early 1990, and 11 West. Three holes in one? Yes, but why? Michael Hurdzan in a routing plan had drawn the hole so that it could move either to the left or right. Chris Haney suggested they do both, making two holes. Then it was decided to create a third hole, a par-three which would become a bye, or betting hole. This became No. 11 South or Jun honouring Matsuura where a bunker separated its green from the green for No. 11 West. “That’s why the green is so wicked now,” Hurdzan explains.

Double green with middle bunker at the original No. 11 West and No. 11 Jun holes.

Double green with middle bunker at the original No. 11 West and No. 11 Jun holes.

Michael Hurdzan was an early champion of environmentally sensitive course building.

Michael Hurdzan was an early champion of environmentally sensitive course building.


Technology Matters

Devil’s Pulpit started with 300 acres. Another 15 acres were purchased for the ninth. Fifty-six earth-machines moved 1.2 million cubic yards of dirt — a remarkable quantity and much more than the average at the time. Seven miles of cart paths were routed and hidden wherever possible to maintain the feeling of being away from it all. Thirteen miles of storm drains were buried. A state of the art weather station was added. And more than 1,200 sprinkler heads and 500 plug-in valves were in service with a computerized Rain Bird irrigation system to ensure the course was in first-class condition from the moment Chris Haney and Scott Abbott hit their opening tee shots.

The par-5 13th sodded and seeded.

The par-5 13th sodded and seeded.

No. 13 and No. 14 under construction.

No. 13 and No. 14 under construction.


History and Heritage

To play the Pulpit is to learn local history by way of short stories on monuments located near each tee. There’s the aforementioned Memorial for the sixth hole, and Devil’s Pulpit, for the seventh. The 10th is called Escarpment for the most prominent geological feature of the area. The 12th, Garrity’s Grade, is named after the original farmer on the property’s southwest quadrant. The 17th, Bruce Trail, which runs through the property, is named for the 1,000 km of trails along the Escarpment that have long attracted hikers. Other names such as Caldwell, The Crown Inn, Inglewood and Twin Taverns commemorate area settlements past and present as well as pioneer establishments.

Early drawing for the par-3 16th hole.

Early drawing for the par-3 16th hole.

An archeological dig at a homestead site near the first green.

An archeological dig at a homestead site near the first green..


Razzle-Dazzle

Architect Michael Hurdzan, a retired Special Forces colonel and guerrilla warfare expert, was designing a course in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the U.S. Army that would cost all of $80,000. Now he was being invited to design the Devil’s Pulpit. Orders were for the first hole to dazzle. Hurdzan came up big. The CN Tower 54 km away in downtown Toronto is visible from the tee, from where the hole plummets to a double fairway and on to the green across a pond; no wonder the hole is called Tower. The setting was always going to be dramatic, but Chris Haney wanted it to be extremely dramatic. “Move more earth,” he told Hurdzan and his associate Dana Fry. So they did. Needless to say, the first hole cost many times more than the cost of the entire U.S. Army course.

First head professional Ken Trowbridge tees off on Tower.

First head professional Ken Trowbridge tees off on Tower.

Drama-filled first hole under construction.

Drama-filled first hole under construction.


Champagne Taste

The Pulpit was always going to be about providing members with a memorable, even one of a kind, experience, both on and off the course. Carte blanche was par for the course and for first executive chef John O’Malley. “We created a restaurant with a lot of grass to cut,” said O’Malley. The main floor of the low profile clubhouse that sits on a high plateau is a big room with a view, while the Horn Bar that swings in a  semi-circle was built to the scale of the course: large enough to accommodate plenty of members, which stimulated many interesting evenings. Locker rooms were equally plush with saunas and whirlpools. Chris Haney and Scott Abbott wanted a clubhouse to match the course. With its green-tinted windows and slate and copper roof, it’s as stunning today as it was 20 years ago.

Early plans for the clubhouse and interior.

Early plans for the clubhouse and interior.

The club’s first executive chef John O’Malley, left, and first head professional Ken Trowbridge trade roles.

The club’s first executive chef John O’Malley, left, and first head professional Ken Trowbridge trade roles.


Let the Games Begin

Opening day coincided with Canada Day, on July 1, 1990. The Devil’s Pulpit was always meant to be a casual place, without the usual assortment of convoluted rules that often defeat the enjoyment of the game. Chris Haney whacked the first tee shot, followed by Scott Abbott, Ian Matsuura whose father Jun, an original investor, had died only months before, and photographer Doug Ball, the club’s first director of golf. A year later Golf Digest named the Pulpit the Best New Course of 1991. More than a million cubic yards of earth had been moved, 100 acres sodded, and millions spent to create what Golf Digest’s architecture editor called “the best earth sculpture the game has yet seen.” Golfweek’s architecture editor referred to the Pulpit as golf’s Grand Hotel. Grand it was, and grand it remains.

Early photo of the first hole, an instant classic.

Early photo of the first hole, an instant classic.

Scott Abbott and Chris Haney receiving vintage golf clubs from Michael Hurdzan at the opening gala.

Scott Abbott and Chris Haney receiving vintage golf clubs from Michael Hurdzan at the opening gala.


Originally published in 2010.
DPGA co-founder Chris Haney passed away on May 31, 2010.