Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review

While everyone in the world is out partying on New Year's Eve, I'm at my keyboard writing up my 2009 Year in Review. Evan just woke up for a bit about a half hour ago but I got him back down and Jacky was in bed by 9:30pm.

We're the life of every party!

Usually, I write a very long-winded recap of my year, throwing out various statistics that bore everyone and prompt snickers and jabs from Harris and Cal. I've done away with the stats on the blog this year and I will stay true to my promise by not throwing a bunch of numbers at you even in this review.

Instead, I'll simply break my year down into the following categories: The Game, The Courses and finally, Looking Ahead.

The Game

I took a huge step backward in 2009 with my game. After briefly touching scratch status in '08, I started the year as a 1.7 and never came close to playing at that level at any point in the year, going as high as a 4.9 and ending the year at 4.1.

My scoring average was up over 2 shots a round over 2008 and I barely averaged less than 80 in my 58 rounds this year, a number that was down by seven rounds over the previous year.

Pretty much all my stats were down, none moreso than my greens in regulation percentage, which dropped to about 41% from about 49% the year previous. I also didn't break par once all year, with my low score being 73 (shot three times).

I played in far, far fewer tournaments in 2009, something that may have contributed to my poor play - I've always fared well when something is on the line and I didn't play in ANY Niagara Cup matches in 2009 and didn't go out for the provincial mid-am this past year either.

I played quite well at the Ontario Better Ball qualifier at Burlington with Harry, shooting a 74 on my own ball but bogeys on the last two holes meant we missed the cut by two shots. One year we'll get there...

I was completely mediocre on the Niagara Men's Tour this year, a big disappointment after winning an event in 2008. I finished 16th overall on the Tour in 2009 (was 11th in 2008) and only had one top five finish, with a 3rd place finish at the St. Catharines event. I only broke 80 twice in six events on the year, just a pathetic result.

I played in our Member/Guest tournament for the second consecutive year with my wife's Uncle Henry and we finished a very respectable sixth place this year. We led after the first round, which was quite cool, but we just couldn't keep up the pace in this handicap event. Still, a great time and one of the highlights of the year.

I flamed out early in the Langley Cup again, our club's match play competition for 0-7 handicappers, losing to Cal (the eventual winner in a classic match versus Harry) in the second round. It's the one event I want to win the most at our club, outside of the club championship.

Speaking of which, I finished T6th in the Club Championship at St. Catharines for the third time in my life, still my best finish ever. I shot 78 in the first round and was actually in second place but fizzled over the last two rounds.

Just a rough year for scoring. I was extremely inconsistent with my ball striking and I definitely need to put some more work into it when I'm not playing as much. Obviously, some late nights with our baby may have caused some fatigue but I won't make excuses. Simply put, it was my worst year on the course that I can remember from a scoring perspective and I hope I can rebound in 2010.

The Courses

I was pretty fortunate again in 2009 with respect to playing some excellent courses for the first time.

First, in late April, Harry and I played in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier at Burlington G&CC, a lovely Stanley Thompson design that is vastly underrated in my opinion. I have no idea how this course can be left off the ScoreGolf rating of the Top 100 in Canada. It's most deserving of that honour.

In mid-June, I had the pleasure of attending a Golf Club Atlas outing at Otter Creek GC in Otterville with the course architect Dick Kirkpatrick, fellow architect Ian Andrew (Mike Weir's design partner), writer Robert Thompson and a few other guys. We mixed the groups up so that all eight guys pretty much got to play at least a few holes together and we finished off the day at Ian's house, eating burgers and discussing architecture and watching the US Open. The golf course was pretty solid with a few notable exceptions - I'm not a fan of the 9th or 18th holes and there is some quirky routing on the 17th but Dick mentioned that his hands were tied on certain aspects of the routing.

In mid-July, I played the Devil's Pulpit for the first time (10th hole shown above) with Henry and a couple of Tim Horton's franchise owners. A very strong modern course with some neat options off the tee and glorious conditioning.

The highlight of the year, without doubt, was my trip out west to British Columbia.

First, I played Royal Colwood GC in Victoria, the 16th ranked golf course in Canada according to ScoreGolf. I wonder if I have been a bit harsh with my comments on Colwood but generally I think it's a tad overrated. The course does have some very strong holes, like the 18th (shown above)...and some ordinary ones too but I'm very glad to have gotten the opportunity to play this historic A.V. Macan course.

The next day, we played Bear Mountain's Mountain Course, a Steve and Jack Nicklaus co-design also located in Victoria. I was very impressed with the golf course, thought it was tremendous fun and the views are, at times, breathtaking. It's ranked in the bottom half of the Top 100 in Canada and definitely deserves that acclaim. A pleasant surprise.


The highlight of the year was my day at Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club (2nd green and 3rd tee shown in photos above) on Nicola Lake near Merritt. I've talked about my experience ad nauseum but I'll say it again - the day spent at Sagebrush was the most fun I've ever had playing a golf course. Options aplenty everywhere you look, from tee shots, to approaches, to cool shots around the greens and on them. It won Best New Canadian Course awards from both Golf Digest and ScoreGolf and I won't be surprised to see this course become a top 10 in the country. It's simply that good and I hope Richard Zokol's venture (that's Richard and myself at the top of the post) continues to be wildly successful in the years to come.

I ended the trip with a round at 2008's Best New Canadian Course, Tobiano, located in Kamloops. Visually spectacular (1st hole shown above) but a completely different playing experience than Sagebrush, and not necessarily in a good way. This is a very penal test and that did not help matters at all when I had to leave the golf course after playing only 13 holes in four hours. When I go back out there, I want to give the place a second shot - I think it's a good golf course that could have been great but falls short in a few areas.

The last biggie was playing the 17th ranked Westmount G&CC in Kitchener in early September. A great old Stanley Thompson track that is very deserving of all the praise and acclaim it gets. Parkland golf at its finest (the par three 12th is shown above) and just a great member's club.

The most disappointing day of the year was when Cal, Ryan, Dr. Greg and myself took the day off to play the well-respected St. Thomas G&CC for the first time. After getting rained out a year earlier and getting no holes in, we thought the jinx was over after teeing off on the first. However, we got to the 7th tee and the storm siren went off again and within an hour, the course was flooded and unplayable.

Things got worse - wanting to get something out of our day, we drove to Tarandowah Golfers Club, a new Martin Hawtree design that's getting wide acclaim. This time, we got only four holes in before seeing a funnel cloud in the distance and running like mad back to the clubhouse.

I also had hoped to play Hamilton G&CC, The National GC of Canada and St. George's in 2009 but those invitations all fell through, unfortunately.

Still, despite those disappointments, that's ten new courses seen in 2009: all of them well respected and highly rated. I've now played a pretty incredible 23 of the top 100 courses in Canada!

Looking Ahead

Things are looking very promising for 2010.

From a tournament and competitive standpoint, I expect things to be very similar to '09. I will once again play on the Niagara Men's Tour and my goal is to win again and finish in the top five overall.

I will once again play with Harry in an attempt to qualify for the Ontario Better Ball Championship and I can guarantee we will play at the best golf course that they offer on the qualifying list. Hopefully something new that we haven't seen.

I will likely play in the Member Guest tournament at St. Catharines for the third consecutive year with Henry and will participate in both the Langley Cup match play competition and the Club Championship at St. Catharines.

I don't expect to have the time necessary to play on the Niagara Cup again in 2010 and while I'd like to play in the Mid-Am this year (Donalda is hosting the event), time will likely not allow me to participate there either.

That is because I am planning two long weekend golf vacations for 2010.

First, in mid-June, Harry will be joining me on a trip to Colorado to play Tom Doak's Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club, already ranked 48th in the US and inside the top 100 in the world by Golf Magazine. We'll be spending three days at Ballyneal (photo shown above) with a bunch of fellow golf nerds and the experience is sure to be one of the great ones of my golfing lifetime.

I'm also working on something else very special for that particular trip but won't divulge details until things are set in stone for fear of jinxing everything. Let me just say this: if everything works out, this trip may end up being Epic. Yes, with a capital E!

I'm also planning on going back to British Columbia for a few days to play Sagebrush again, bringing some friends to share the experience as well. Looking at a mid-July trip for that one and may take another crack at Tobiano while we're there.

I'll be going on business trips to Ottawa in August and Mount Tremblant in September and will be playing at least one round of golf in each place. Not entirely sure which courses yet but I've heard good things about golf at Tremblant.

The one major daytrip that looks to be a lock is a visit to Redtail GC in St. Thomas for the first time ever. Redtail, with the ninth hole shown above, is ultra-exclusive and I'm hoping to bring out a few friends for 36 holes of fun and relaxation

I'm also very much looking forward to spending a day at the Devil's Paintbrush, the sister course to the Devil's Pulpit that I played this past year. The Paintbrush was closed in August in order to resurface the greens and will be back open for business this spring from what I understand. I took the photo above in July, arriving at the Brush thinking I was playing there but instead was on the tee sheet at the Pulpit.

There will likely be a few other day trips in there, maybe to some reciprocals during the Canadian Tour Championship week (coming back to St. Catharines for a second consecutive year) and maybe I'll finally get an invitation to Hamilton, the National or St. George's that sticks. Highly unlikely, especially in the case of St. George's which is hosting the Canadian Open this year, but a man can dream!

Regardless, as usual, you can expect to get honest and detailed reviews and great photos of all the courses I play in 2010. I already can't wait until the end of March!

Bonus Photo Tour

Sagebrush may have been the golf highlight of the year but the highlight of my life is this little guy, my son Evan. I shake my head every day, knowing how lucky I am to have him in my life.

It's amazing how quickly time flies...Happy New Year to all my readers!

January 2009 (Three Months Old)

February 2009 (Four Months Old)

March 2009 (Five Months Old)

April 2009 (Six Months Old)

May 2009 (Seven Months Old)

June 2009 (Eight Months Old)

July 2009 (Nine Months Old)

August 2009 (Ten Months Old)

September 2009 (Eleven Months Old)

October 2009 (One Year Old and Wearing His First Sabres Jersey!)

November 2009 (13 Months Old)

December 2009 (14 Months Old)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Westmount Golf & Country Club

Westmount Golf & Country Club
Kitchener, Ontario, CANADA


6943 YARDS (PAR 73)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 73.0/130
COURSE ARCHITECT: Stanley Thompson (1931)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://westmountgolf.com/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: September 1, 2009.
LOW SCORE: 90 (+17)

ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2015: #16
- Golfweek Best Canadian Classic Courses 2015: #12
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #12
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #18


"Westmount was carved out of a mature maple forest, but it’s not the trees that make the course, but the wonderfully uneven fairways which roll and cant in all sorts of interesting directions throughout the round. Westmount sometimes is underestimated for not being as flashy or as intimidating as other courses, but it still remains one of the best tests of golf in the country."
- Ian Andrew

My home course, St. Catharines G&CC, hosted the 2009 Canadian Tour Championship during the first week of September. The course was obviously closed to the membership for that whole week so the club's board and management set out to get reciprocal arrangements with other clubs in Ontario.

To be honest, I was slightly disappointed at the list on first blush. I had been told it was a 'lock' that Hamilton G&CC would be on the reciprocal list, a course I've basically been dying to play the moment I stepped foot on the course to watch the Canadian Open a number of years ago. Well, that lock must have fallen through, because Hamilton was nowhere to be found. Neither was St. George's G&CC, another club rumoured to be on the list.

Most of the courses and times listed were for courses I've either played before or courses that already are regular club reciprocals - our club is part of the Stanley Thompson Alliance, where most of the Thompson courses in Ontario allow limited access to members of other courses by the same designer.

One club that doesn't participate in the Thompson Alliance is revered Westmount G&CC in Kitchener, the 17th best course in the country according to ScoreGolf. However, they were one of the clubs offering a few tee times to our membership during the Championship week.

I had never played Westmount, missing out on a chance to play in the 2008 Ontario Amateur qualifier that was held there when it filled up in only two days. I took that as a positive endorsement and also heard accolades from Harris, who was lucky enough to play it last year as a guest and raved about the experience.

The club was holding a lottery for all the reciprocals and I put Westmount down as my first choice. I think we put Burlington G&CC down as our second choice but I had played there earlier in the year for the first time in the Ontario Better Ball qualifier so needless to say, I was keeping my fingers crossed for Westmount.

About two weeks before the Tour Championship, we found out the results of the lottery - we were going to Westmount!

Westmount is known as one of Stanley Thompson's finest designs, opening for play in 1931. According to the club website, much of the course was cut from bush and swamp, something that certainly isn't evident today - this course is the very definition of a parkland design, with almost every fairway framed by towering maples and pines.

Ryan, Jon and Cal joined me on the trip to Kitchener on an absolutely perfect late summer day. Bright blue skies and temperatures in the high 70s make for great golf weather but bad photographs (unfortunately) when taken in the middle of the day.

It's important to note that my game was in really bad shape at this point of the year. I was coming off four rounds in a row in the low 80s and I was having tremendous difficulty with my ball striking, not a good omen when playing a shotmakers course like Westmount.

That said, my session on the range was okay and I stepped up to the first tee and with a bunch of members watching us, I absolutely crushed my drive right down the pipe on the 557 yard par five.

My approach shot from about 260 yards went well left and I had to pitch the ball back up the hill to a blind pin. I'd go long, which is just a disaster on this heavily sloped green and would three putt from the fringe for the opening bogey.


The second hole, shown above, is a 368 yard par four playing well uphill. The fairway is very generous but I'd still miss it, hitting it into the trees left. I'd have to punch out (the first of many on the day) and still had about 100 yards into another deceptively long green. I'd hit on and barely miss my par putt, settling for my second consecutive bogey. Ryan would stiff his approach here to move to one under.

Unfortunately, the pretty par three 3rd hole (shown above) was out of play on this day due to maintenance so we all got free pars on the 17th handicap hole and moved on to the tremendous fourth hole.


The fourth, shown above, is a dogleg left par four measuring 422 yards. It's an intimidating tee shot for the first timer, as you really don't know how much room you have right of the fairway and cutting the corner brings the towering trees into play. I'd actually hit a fairly decent shot but it strayed through the fairway right and again, I was up against the tree. I was able to get a swing on it but had to manipulate things a bit, causing me to pull my shot into the bunker. From there, I'd simply throw up all over myself, skulling it over the green then pitching back long. I'd make a ball-in-pocket double here and as much as I'd like to tell you that this was an anomaly, the ugliness was just starting.


The fifth (above) is a long par five measuring 569 yards. Pretty vanilla tee shot as you can see, where you want to draw it off the fairway bunker in the distance. However, the approach is quite gorgeous, with the green sitting elevated well above the fairway right in the hillside, with a severe right to left cant to the putting surface. I'd once again wet the entire bed on this one - driving it well left, punching back to the fairway, stupidly trying to thread the needle from 260 or so yards and snaphooking my ball into the trees left and giving up when I couldn't find my ball.

Another 'computer double' and I was STEAMING!

"Why today?", I'm asking myself. Playing a tremendous golf course and I have absolutely nothing in my arsenal!

So I'm now +6 through five and the guys are LOVING IT. Cal especially is riding me hard but I find a way to actually put a good swing on my five-iron on the 206 yard downhill par 3 (shown above) and hit my first green in regulation on the day. Some mock cheers for that and then the mock cheering continued when I poured in the sliding left to right 20 footer for the birdie two.

"He's back", Cal says, or something to that effect.

Turns out he couldn't have been more wrong!


The seventh, shown above, is the third par five on the front side, measuring 537 yards. A dogleg right off an elevated tee, I'd drive down the right side, hit a pretty bad shot into the trees left but get lucky enough to be able to hit a lob wedge over the trouble and onto the green. Two greens in a row and I two putt for my par. Am I settled down? +5 through 7 now.

The reachable par four eighth, seen above, is simply a tremendous golf hole. It's only 284 yards from the back tee and everything screams "GO FOR IT!". However, out of bounds lines the entire left side and the fairway is elevated and slopes hard toward the houses on the left. Needless to say, you need to hit a premium shot if you're giving it a go. I felt I had to give it a try despite my difficulties off the tee. I think I even tried to open the clubface to negate the potential hook but it was no use - my shot soared hard to the left and disappeared into the trees. I'd reload and do the exact same thing again.

Holy crap.

We'd find my second ball right on the boundary and I could only advance the ball about 15 yards due to having no swing. Another computer double and I'm starting to go numb. Ryan actually drove the green and three whacked for par here.

No photos of the tough par four ninth, a 408 yard par four. Fearing the snaphooks which have plagued my entire round, of course I hit a monster push into a grove of trees. I'd punch out for the fourth time in nine holes and make yet another double bogey to finish the front side in 46 shots (+9). Cal made a sick chip in for birdie here to shoot an even par 37 while that sicko Ryan went bogey-free on the front to shoot a one under 36. Jon went out in 44 so I was in the back of the bus.

The course was very busy the day we played and we had a relatively long wait on the 10th tee, giving me a bit of time to regroup. The others were off eating hot dogs and grabbing drinks while I just stared down the fairway with my eyes glazed over. I finally came to my senses and kept the driver in the bag on the 337 yard par four, hitting my 4-iron right down the middle. I'd hit my second long but made a nice up and down for my second 'real' par of the day...can't count the gimmie par on the 3rd!

The 11th is a 568 yard par five played off an elevated tee. It's a dogleg right and the approach is played back slightly uphill to a very cool, deep green complex with multiple tiers. I actually hit a decent drive here, just through the fairway left and had a good two-putt par. Hey! Two in a row! Ryan, who finally cracked on the 10th, making his first bogey, stiffed another approach here and made another birdie to go back into red figures. En fuego! Earlier in the year, Ryan played one of the best rounds of golf I've ever seen in person, shooting a lights-out 67 (-5) from the tips at St. Catharines so the dude has game.

At this point, I'm just hoping to stay out of his way and Cal's too, as he's still only +1 on the day.

The 12th is another gorgeous par three, a dropshot 141 yarder from way up high. If I had any thoughts of shooting a semi-respectable score, they ended here. I hit a little punch 9-iron right at the flag...I'm staring it down, waiting it to drop near the pin and watch in horror as it flies the green and goes way down the hill on the other side.

Completely dead, pitching way back up the hill, I go long and three whack from about 40 feet for yet another crushing double. Both Cal and Jon made great deuces here, with Cal's moving him to even par on the day.

The 552 yard 13th is the last par five on the course. It's a dogleg right off an elevated tee then crawls back up hill and around the corner. The green is hidden from view on your second shot and you need to be mindful of leaving yourself a view for your approach as well. A very, very strong hole in my view, one I'd par after finding only my third fairway of the day.

The 378 yard 14th (approach shot shown above) plays quite a bit shorter than the yardage on the card, as the hole plays downhill the entire way. This was yet another hole where the prudent play for me would be a four-iron but at +11, there's not much point in laying back. I'd push my tee shot way right and again be forced to punch out of the trees. Then, to top everything, I snaphook a 9-iron way left of the green, something I didn't think was possible. Chalk up another double. +13 through 14.

The 425 yard par four 15th is another beauty, a dogleg left that curls around the trees that leaves an approach to an elevated green complex that falls off severely in front and to the right. Tremendous golf hole. I'd drive in the trees...again and be forced to hit my sixth pitch out of the day. Double bogey number seven on the day.

I'm numb.

You have to walk back a bit to find the 16th tee, a bit of a quirk in the routing, which overall is superb. Another elevated tee shot on the dogleg right 447 yard par four with a second shot played slightly back uphill (approach shot shown above). I'd hit another big snaphook off the tee into the trees but hit, for me, a miraculous second shot that went under and hooked around the trees, running all the way to the middle of the green from well over 200 yards away. I literally couldn't believe that result after all the poor shots I'd hit on the day. It was quite a difficult putt, as this green is ultra severe but I was somehow able to two-putt it for par.

The solid match between Ryan and Cal continued on. Ryan bogeyed the 15th to fall back to even on the day and a tie with Cal and then both nicely parred the 16th to stay all square.

The 162 yard 17th, shown above, is a pretty par three with a large bunker in front. Overall, a routine midlength one shotter and I'd almost chip in from just in front of the green, making the gimmie par. Cal made an ugly bogey here and fell one shot back of Ryan.

I'm +15 through 17 holes but I was as focused as humanly possible on the 18th tee despite my horrific score. I needed a bogey or better to break 90.

I just can't shoot 90!

I contemplated hitting a 4-iron off the 382 yard hole but it plays well uphill the whole way and the fairway *seemed* wide enough.

So I take out the big dog, tee it up, concentrate hard and swing away.

FORE LEFT!

Another snap hook into the trees. I find my ball RIGHT UP AGAINST THE TREE. Emotionally spent, I have to hit it left handed back into the fairway, then hit my approach shot short from there. Needing an up and down, I chip on to the green and leave about an 8 footer for bogey. I don't even scare the hole, making my eighth double bogey of the day to finish with a 90 (+17), my worst score in years.

Ryan ended up missing a shortish putt on the last that would have given him an even par round but ended up tied with Cal at 74 (+1), tremendous scores for both players who, like me, were seeing the course for the first time. Jon finished comfortably ahead of me with an 86.

What a weird feeling I had after the round as we sat on the gorgeous patio outside just off the 18th green. I had just played one of the finest courses in Canada but had trouble getting satisfaction out of it after posting one of my worst rounds ever. One beer and I was over my poor game, going to the pro shop to thank the head professional for allowing us the privilege of playing Westmount while waxing poetic about the tremendous course they get to see on a daily basis.

This is a true old-school, parkland golf course...a shotmakers delight. You need to be on your game and have all the shots out here to put a score together. While there may not be the 'options' available off the tee and in the fairway that you see on courses like Sagebrush, placement is of paramount importance out here in order to gain access to certain pin positions. There are no forced carries out here and the fairways offer enough width for all players not named 'Matt Bosela'. Everything is pretty much in front of you, with no tricks. A delightful members course, maybe one of the best I've ever played for players of all skill levels.

Is this course difficult, you may ask? Ha. Where do I go with this? I shot a 90 for *@&# sakes! Look, this golf course is a solid test but I played a very poor round of golf. Cal and Ryan's 74s on a course they've never seen before prove you just need to be on your game to score. The greens are slick and undulating and there are a lot of different hanging shots you may face on the slopey fairways. Westmount is a true testament of Stanley Thompson's genius - the routing is almost flawless, with the only blip being the strange walk back to the 16th tee (we had to look for awhile to find where we had to go). It's truly incredible how Thompson gives the player so many appealing downhill tee shots yet rarely forces unnecessarily long uphill climbs from green to tee. He does that by having many holes slowly climb from the landing area to the green, something that isn't really apparent until after the round when reminiscing over the course as a whole. There isn't a weak hole on this entire golf course. Some, of course, are better than others but everything flows beautifully from one hole to the next. You definitely notice how the par fives are front loaded in the round but again, that's Thompson taking what the land gave him in his routing.

The course lays on a remarkable piece of land right in the middle of Kitchener, with rolling topography and towering trees framing all of the holes. A truly beautiful parkland course. We played at the end of the summer on a perfect day and a perfect week. Conditions were ideal, the greens rolled fast and true and the course is maintained just how you'd expect considering its stature in the top 20 in Canada.

All of us were pretty giddy after the round, even sourpuss ole me after my tough day. A true members golf course. You could tip it up every day here for the rest of your life and not be left wanting more. It's also a great walking golf course. The land is certainly challenging but again, the routing never forces the player to make excessive climbs or descents.

I certainly wish I had scored better out here but there is no disputing the obvious - Westmount G&CC is one of the very finest golf courses in the entire country.

There isn't a weak moment to be found anywhere on the property and I truly can't wait to get a second crack at this gem in Southwestern Ontario. This is a course that all Stanley Thompson aficionados must play to complete their education.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Devil's Pulpit GC

Devil's Pulpit
Caledon Village, Ontario, CANADA


7162 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.9/141
COURSE ARCHITECT: Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry (1990)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://devilspulpit.com/devils-pulpit/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: July 20, 2009.
LOW SCORE: (+12)



ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest Best New Canadian Course 1991
- Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2015: #17
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern Courses 2015: #18
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #22
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #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

In early July, I got an invitation from my member-guest partner (my wife's uncle) to play the Devil's Paintbrush, ranked in the top ten courses in Canada according to ScoreGolf magazine.

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!

Damnit!

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.

Whew!

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!