The Devil Turns Twenty-five
Hearty congratulations to the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association, in Caledon, Ontario, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. For those few readers who aren’t aware, Devil’s Pulpit was founded and funded by two former journalists who, more than a decade earlier, had mortgaged just about everything they owned (or didn’t own), to develop a board game they had spent months developing together. The game was called Trivial Pursuit, and if there’s one reader who doesn’t have at least one version of the game in their den cupboard today, I’d be shocked. The two guys were Chris Haney and Scott Abbott. Haney passed away a number of years ago, but Abbott is very much alive and well, and it was a pleasure for me to say hello to him at the very enjoyable Media Day that Devil’s Pulpit held last Thursday.
I last met Scott (and Chris) while managing the very first Export ’A’ Skins Game, which we inaugurated at the Pulpit in July, 1993. That three-day event was televised on CTV, and featured Fred Couples, Nick Price, Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd. It certainly drew large galleries, and a huge TV audience, and was the first opportunity for most Canadian golf fans to see the course that had already generated a fair amount of publicity in Canadian sports pages. Whether or not the Skins Game helped the Pulpit achieve its membership goals can’t be proven one way or the other, but it certainly gave the course solid credibility, and in turn, the course gave the Skins Game equal credibility that carried the annual event through a 20-year run.
Oddly enough, I remember a small controversy at that first Skins Game. The pro’s played 9 holes each day, and on the first day, Couples wasn’t playing particularly well. Somewhere around the 7th hole, and forgetting the fact that he was wearing a live microphone, Fred hit a poor wedge into the green, turned to his caddy, uttered the F-word and said “Get me off this golf course!” Many people in the gallery, in the media room, and in the TV audience, all of whom heard it clearly, interpreted Fred’s comment as being a criticism of the course. In fact, he was meaning to say that he shouldn’t be out there because he was playing so poorly. He clarified his statement and apologized after the round, but the damage was done, and people mentioned it to me for years afterward. For the record, Freddie liked the golf course, a lot… partly because he won that Skins Game in the end, along with $210,000.
Today, the Devil’s Pulpit Golf Association consists of two golf courses, on two separate properties about two miles from each other. Both were designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan of Ohio, and his colleague, Dana Fry, and were among their earliest design projects. As far as I could tell last week, the Devil’s Pulpit course has changed very little since I last played it 22 years ago… and that is a testament to the quality of its design and construction. No tinkering necessary. It’s a terrific course, with two of the prettiest holes anywhere in Number One and Number Ten.
The second layout, opened two years after the Pulpit, is called Devil’s Paintbrush (the two names come from flowers, by the way, not from any satanic worship that the original owners may have pursued!) Over the years, I had heard from many members and guests that they actually preferred playing the Paintbrush. So I was particularly excited to finally get my chance to play it when I received the invitation to Media Day.
And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The Paintbrush is much more of a links-style golf course, but not as dry and hard-grounded as you’d find in Scotland or Ireland. But the design elements are certainly there, along with immaculate conditioning, and constant vistas of the Mississauga and Toronto skylines way off in the distance.
On the DPGA website, there’s a quote from Lorne Rubenstein which says, in part, “Members here are very fortunate to belong to the best two-course club in the world.”
I was thinking about that statement as I played both courses last week, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think of any other facility that I know of that comes close to matching or beating that claim.
It’s a very different time in the world of golf than it was 25 years ago. Golf courses old and new are closing, or struggling hard to stay alive, especially in North America. Devil’s Pulpit, however, is proudly flourishing, in part because it had two visionaries with commitment and deep pockets, who also had the good sense to hire excellent people to make the vision a reality, and keep it that way.
The members here are very fortunate, indeed.