Caledon, Ontario, Canada
The board game Trivial Pursuit® is the second largest selling game in the world, behind the much older game of Monopoly. It was invented in the 1970s by two low-paid newspaper guys who, one evening, while debating whether to buy a SCRABBLE® game or spend their last few dollars on more beer, decided to invent their own board game. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Trivial Pursuit® made its creators, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott, very wealthy guys. Wealthy guys often become golf nuts, and golf course owners.
According to lore, Chris was at one of his favorite watering holes complaining how he was unable to get a tee time at his local club, when someone suggested that he build his own golf course. To most sane people, this would have been good for a laugh. But for Chris, it became a not-so-Trivial Pursuit® that culminated in not one, but two, of the best golf courses in the world.
Canadian Chris Haney is not only a guy with a wonderful sense of humor, but also enormous vision, persuasion and determination. He's very methodical, but he places great trust in his instincts and he is rarely wrong. Chris hired me after we'd spent several hours together at his home. He did so without ever having heard of me, or playing one of my courses, or even seeing a picture of a golf hole I designed. "I want you to design me a world class golf course," he said, "and I know you can do it."
Prior to this, I was the king of B-movies, designer of cheap but functional golf courses that barely got recognition in my hometown, let alone the world. But I knew, given the chance, I could do a world-class course, and so Chris and I set off on our mission.
I suggested to Chris that the best way to get a great golf course is to begin with a great site. A few weeks later he and I, along with others, spent time evaluating countless sites. I ranked them in order from best to worst. Chris and Scott bought the 300 acres that was my number one choice. I was awed by the beauty of the land and excited by the possibilities of 300 acres for nothing but golf. Chris’s only stipulation was where the clubhouse had to go, atop a hill with views into downtown Toronto 35 miles away. The only problem with Chris’s clubhouse site was it made getting return nines almost impossible. After much planning, I came to the conclusion the only way to make his clubhouse work was to buy 15 more acres, land where the ninth hole is today.
He and Scott had every intention of buying the extra land from the moment I mentioned it, but they enjoyed stringing me along for a time. "I gave you 300 acres for one lousy 18-hole golf course, with no housing," Chris said mockingly, "and you tell me now I need more land!" Well, yes. There aren't too many world-class 17-hole golf courses in the world.
The additional land allowed us to create what is perhaps the greatest starting hole in golf. The back tee of the first hole at the Pulpit is at nearly the same elevation as the top of CN Tower in downtown Toronto, which is a good target point for a drive that drops 90 feet to a double fairway on this long par 4.
That was a difficult hole to build. And an expensive one. Chris still shakes his head when he says, "I hired this guy who used to build entire golf courses for a million dollars, and this first hole alone cost us $2.5 million." And it's true, but no one can step onto the first tee without saying something like, "Oh, my God. Look at that!"
Devil’s Pulpit was my breakthrough project, for it won Golf Digest’s Best New Canadian golf course award in 1990 and was followed two years later by sister course Devil’s Paintbrush. But just as important as that project was for my career, it was perhaps more important that during this time I met my future business partner Dana Fry.
A few more words about Chris Haney. We had budgeted for about 20 acres of sod for the Pulpit, which was an unusually large sod order for a golf course back then. Once the sod started going down, Chris decided he wanted the whole place sodded. Before long, we had used almost 100 acres of sod. This was such hot, strenuous, dirty work that Chris felt sorry for the laborers. So he had a swimming pool installed, so they'd have something to look forward to at the end of each long day.
I admit to extreme prejudice about Devil’s Pulpit and its sister Devil's Paintbrush, but I challenge anyone to show me a 36-hole club that offers as much beauty, diversity, excitement, great golf and good natured people than the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association. They are arguably the best courses in Canada, courses that are making history.