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Devil's Paintbrush

Caledon, Ontario, Canada

When asked which is their favorite golf course, most golf course architects dodge the question by saying, "That is like asking me to say which is my favorite child." Well, I don’t dodge the question. Devil’s Paintbrush is my favorite child, and my favorite course to play. It is as close to a true links golf course as can be built on inland land. The only difference is that the sand dunes beneath the golf course were formed by a glacier 10,000 years ago instead of by wind and waves. The randomness of its contours, with humps and hollows that defy the natural forces of water erosion, are the same as a seaside links. The combination of porous sandy soils and constant drying winds usually limit vegetation to low growing prairie and pasture grasses. But when these same soils are planted to the fine fescue grasses common to European seaside links, and are given an occasional irrigation, they produce a dry, fast surface and capricious bounce and roll that is the heart and soul of links golf. I don’t believe there are but a handful of true links golf experiences in North America, and Devil’s Paintbrush is one of the best.

All of its bunkers have stacked sod faces. Water only comes into play on two holes. Fairways are twice as wide as on average golf courses. Blind shots are celebrated not cursed. Undulations of four to five feet in a green are not unusual. An endless supply of dry-stacked stone walls give the appearance of a giant maze. Golfers not only hit shots at the Paintbrush, they must invent some, like a putter from 50 yards off the green or a lob wedge over a pot bunker from a tight lie. Only four or five trees were removed to build the golf course, and 90 per cent of the required earthmoving occurred on two holes, just to get rid of dirt generated from digging the irrigation pond.

The essence of playing golf at Devil’s Paintbrush is to understand what the mythical Shivas Irons talked about in the book Golf In The Kingdom. It's true gravity coupled with the confounding influence of ever changing winds. To play the course well means having a diverse set of skills, great imagination and good karma. To play the golf course well two days in a row means having a good bit of luck, for the course plays very differently each day. On those days when intense concentration on golf is not on the agenda, the Paintbrush can fill your mind with changing patterns of color, 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.

Without question, there is a spiritual quality to The Paintbrush. It is not a demon's tool. (The real Devil’s Paintbrush, by the way, is a yellow and red wildflower that grows on the site). The natural spirit of the place seems to connect well to the human spirit…and to liquid spirits. The clubhouse (called Professor Rabbit’s Hole by one of the founders, Scott Abbott) consists mainly of an Irish pub. The only things on the menu are Irish -- bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, Irish stew and the like -- except for the wide  variety of European distillates served in the rosegarden behind the clubhouse, an enclave some 20 feet above and adjacent to the landing zone on the closing hole. From that quiet spot you can see the skyline of Toronto 35 miles to the south and nearly all of the countryside in between, including the entire 17th and 18th holes. You can watch golfers play every stroke on those two holes, even shots out of a couple of 10-foot-deep bunkers. I once suggested to co-founder Chris Haney that he should hide a  microphone in one of those bunkers and put speakers in the rose garden, so we can attach words to the emotional gyrations we see when golfers struggle to extricate a ball.

The golf holes at The Paintbrush are actually manmade, but were done with such naturalness  that it looks like the holes just happened and we simply added bunkers. At Devil's Paintbrush, we may have achieved the artistic goal of hiding the art.