Devil's Paintbrush History

A Place Beyond Time: Devil's Paintbrush at 20

By Lorne Rubenstein

Devil's Paintbrush History

The late and great Canadian golfer George Knudson, who would have loved the Devil’s Paintbrush because of the kind of golf it offers and demands, once asked a ballet dancer why she enjoyed her art form. “Because it makes me feel free,” she told Knudson. The Paintbrush does that from start to finish: It makes you feel free.

“It’s a jewel,” says Scott Abbott, who along with the late Chris Haney founded the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association that incorporates both the Paintbrush and Devil’s Pulpit courses. “You have to play it three or four times before you understand the course. It’s so true to the origins of the game.”

Every component of the Paintbrush contributes to the feeling of freedom. Approach it by rounding the southwest corner on St. Andrew’s Road and coming upon the inviting expanse of the 11th fairway and you will surely feel the first flush of freedom; the wide-open, rambunctious ground is welcoming in the way that grand spaces are. Approach it from the other side, coming upon the seventh and eighth holes, and you will surely feel your pulse quicken with excitement in anticipation of the variety of shots that await you. How will you play today? What decisions will you make?

What lines will you take? It’s all up to you, because the Paintbrush epitomizes strategic golf through the variety of options it offers.

In this way the Paintbrush locates itself within the tradition established when golfers first walked the ancient links of Scotland. The golfer is rarely forced to hit a specific shot; the golfer is invited to choose from a variety of shots, on playing ground wide enough to accommodate all of them.

The width and contours of the 11th fairway put one in mind of waves crashing to the shore – an image that often inspired the work of Alister MacKenzie, the designer of Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne. The seventh green and eighth fairway, and their collected partners, are wide, and allow a golfer to pick a comfortable shot, or, if wanted, a dangerous one. The golfing mind expands. The golfer feels free.

The accomplished American amateur Robert Hunter described such a state of mind in his seminal book The Links (1926). Hunter was a course design aficionado who worked with MacKenzie on Cypress Point, and with Jack Neville at Pebble Beach. He believed that golf should expand a player’s thinking and, by doing so, introduce a spiritual quality to the game. The more open-minded a course encourages a player to be, the more the golfer will “feel” the game.

The Paintbrush succeeds beautifully, and thoroughly.

“If I were one of the legislators ruling over the destinies of this noble sport,” Hunter wrote, “I think I should outlaw any attempt made by architect or inventor to deprive the game of any of its various strokes, or to take from it any of those features which require skill in the play.”

Clearly, co-architects Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry felt that the Paintbrush should welcome any and all of the game’s “various” strokes, and incorporate all “of those features which require skill in the play.” The heaving landscape itself, and its broad spaces, dictated the creation of such a course. It is to the late Chris Haney’s everlasting credit that he sensed this must be the case when he first encountered the property that would become the Paintbrush. Fry, the primary on-site architect at the course, remembers that day. He’d been working at the Pulpit, while living in a guesthouse that belonged to Scott Abbott during its construction.

“One day during the summer of 1989 Chris pulled up as I was working at the Pulpit, with that twinkle in his eye, and said, ‘Get in,’” Fry recalls. “Chris then drove me over to the location where the Paintbrush is today. He parked on the side road and we walked up and hopped over the fence. He took me to what are now the tees for number seven, then to what is now number six green, and then to what are now number eight tees. Simply put, I was awestruck. I had never seen anything like it. Chris explained that he was going to build a second course and wanted to know ‘if this is a good site.’”

Fry used the word “awesome” again to tell Haney what he thought of the site. Planning for the Paintbrush soon began.

The course that resulted was, and remains, a vision realized. The immense corridors of play, the ramps, speed slots, ledges and slopes along those corridors, the bounce of the ball on terrain that tumbles and twists, the sod-wall bunkers, the double greens, the stone walls, the very “scope” of the course, the charming, modest clubhouse, the course’s walkability: These factors, together, paint a portrait of timeless golf. They enlist the golfer’s imagination while invigorating the spirit.

The Paintbrush hits the heart. It was new in the sense that Canadian golf – and, truly, golf in North America – had seen nothing quite like it. Modern golf had veered far from traditional golf, which made the Paintbrush a bold idea 20 years ago. Yet it harkened back to the game’s earliest days. This is the Paintbrush’s genius: It reasserts the game’s enduring values. It reminds the golfer of why the game has endured. It touches the soul. The golfer has more energy after playing a round at the Paintbrush than at the beginning. Oxygen seems to pour from the ground, infusing the golfer.

Hurdzan wrote in his book Selected Golf Courses that playing the Paintbrush “can fill your mind with changing patterns of colour, texture, and light, and provide visual images that stir some ancient hardwired sense of peace and tranquility. It is a magical place, where you can play a special brand of golf, and feel like every discretionary minute invested there was a wise choice.”

That is the Devil’s Paintbrush: Twenty years old, yet ever young. Timeless. Magical.

Originally published in 2012.