Review: Pulpit Club (Paintbrush)
Reading Time: 12 minutes As close to an inland links course as North America will get, Devil’s Paintbrush combines daring architecture with creativity from Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry.
- Caledon East, Ontario
- Dr. Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry (1991)
- 11th in Canada (Beyond The Contour)
Once named Devil’s Paintbrush, Paintbrush is a part of the Pulpit Club, a premiere private club northwest of Toronto. The club houses two golf courses, both from Dr. Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry, with the Pulpit being the firm’s big-break in 1990.
A year later, they returned to build Paintbrush. As opposed to Pulpit, which is presented in a very modern way with numerous architecture concepts and styles presented, Paintbrush is a more cohesive in its faux-links vision.
The opening hole at Paintbrush is a strange opening hole, diving down over some pretty interesting terrain. At 379 yards from the back marker, it will be less than driver for most, I think.
Why less than driver? The severe downhill nature of the hole with a gully short of the green comes in play for those aggressive off the bat. The gully will obviously dictate the approach shot more, but it comes into play on both shots. If I remember correctly, this is a pleasant first green with some interesting movement, but nothing too intense on the first hole.
The second is an incredibly short par 5 at 468 yards. The landing area is blind, with more room over the bunkers on the right (below) than you think. Two holes in, and already a very visually difficult golf course to pick out where to go. Not a bad thing, but I certainly would not want to play a match against a member here who has logged hundreds of rounds here!
This approach shot is quite interesting, with a massive mound blocking the entire left side of the green. The 2nd is a double green with the 9th, so there is a lot of room over, but the contouring is so extreme that even hitting the green is not a guarantee two-putt.
Perhaps the weirdest part of this hole is a second green left of the massive mound that they pin sometimes, which adds 40 yards longer. Sometimes they pin it over there—or so I was told—but I believe it is the practice putting green on days the pin is not there. Personally, I think it takes out the cool mound short left of the green, which makes this one of the better short par 5’s in Canada. Essentially, the massive mound is the centre of the hole, with a green left and long, and a green tucked right behind it.
A view looking at the second green shows you the scale of this place. The flag, behind the bunker is just peaking over. Keeping the ball up the right is ideal coming into this green, and upon realization, the tee shot becomes much more important than you think.
This is also an introduction to some of the frightful contouring in the green complexes at Paintbrush. Quite frankly, these green complexes are some of, if not the most extreme I’ve ever played. The only other course that compares may be Tobacco Road, which I thought was over the top. Paintbrush flirts with that line, but I think on a short par 5 like this one, it makes perfect sense.
The green complex slopes so hard off the mound that it’s borderline impossible to get a ball close unless the pin is in the bottom. I would like a second crack at this hole, or maybe 100 attempts. It really caught my attention.
Continuing with the short introduction to the golf course, the 3rd is a 293 yard par 4 playing up the hill.
Bunkering sits on the entire left-hand side of the hole. With the topography falling to the right, a tee shot challenging the left side will be rewarded with a bounce to the right and a better chance of finding the green.
The approach plays slightly uphill over a service road. The green, protected by a bunker short right, left, and long left, has some pretty intense slope.
The 4th brings some difficulty after the relatively easy three hole opening stretch. 191 yards, it’s a mid to longer par 3. The green sits behind some landforms and a bunker, which hides the surface from the tee.
The 5th is a really quality hole at 428 yards, and one of my personal favourites here. From atop a hill, we dive back into a depression before crashing into the up-slope. I think it is about 310 to the top, and I assume that is all carry as the ball lands into a pretty severe incline.
The approach shot is pretty cool. Playing over a ridge, it’s blind to a green sunken into the land. A big, almost bathtub like bunker on the righthand side catches shots that didn’t accurately pick the line properly. Here’s a view of the blind approach shot. The only help? Three rocks at the top that help you choose the line, though I would rather see no rocks that some artificial aiming point in the middle of the fairway. At a public golf course, perhaps; but at a member club like Paintbrush, those who play here every day will figure out the proper line.
The green is really cool, and receptive: the perfect compliment to a Hail Mary over the ridge.
The 6th hole is a 419 yard par 4. A tee shot bending to the right and over a bunker is lovely.
The green, however, is way too much for me. Two tiers, separated by a huge ridge, is not my style of green. I do not mind bold contours, but I feel like this is just reaching too much to create memorability.
The slope of this green is very big, and while I do not remember the exact height difference, it sure felt like 6 feet. Take a look below:
The 7th is the second par 3 on the golf course at 202 yards, but plays shorter as the orientation is slightly downhill. With the green effortlessly cut into the surrounding terrain, with an interesting green with its high-side left and low side right (as if the green is almost falling into the surrounding terrain) the 7th is my favourite one-shot on the property.
The 8th is a very cool and funky par 5. At 574 yards, I would say it is a longer par 5, and certainly not reachable for most. I venture that the same group of golfers who think about getting it over the ridge on the 5th are the ones thinking about getting home in two on the 8th, though everyone has to navigate the ruins of an old building. The foundation of an old, abandoned building acts as the centreline hazard.
Here’s a closer look at the ruins of the old building, which almost feels Victorian Era-esque.
The left side is an open view down the entire hole, but up the right is obstructed by a massive bunker.
To a shallow green, a depression area short left and a bunker long left guard this hole. At the mid-length of 574 yards, there is certainly enough bite!
Upon a closer look, you realize that short left is absolutely not the place to be.
The 9th is a dogleg right shorter par 3 at 384 yards. A slew of bunkering awaits in the fairway. Since I played in October 2019, they have apparently added sheep grazing up the right to add to the whole faux-links feeling. Truthfully, Paintbrush does a good job of getting the little things right with fescue grasses and little pot bunkers. Plus, some Victorian Era concepts sprinkled throughout, but Tarandowah feels more like Cabot Links than Paintbrush does, and Links is the only authentic-ish links golf course in the country.
To the double green shared with hole two, a big bunker wrapped in railway ties is on the left.
The green complex, as previously outlined, is massive, but here is another look.
The 10th is a very good short par 4. 352 yards, driver likely is not the play because it narrows substantially the more club you hit.
The approach shot plays uphill, without much visibility of the actual putting surface.
The 11th is a big swinging dogleg right par 5, measuring 591 yards. The tee shot is all about challenging as much of the right as you can to shorten the hole considerably.
A layup down the hill with a bunker on the right awaiting is the play for the majority of the golfers. I actually think the 11th is more reachable than the slightly uphill 8th, although the green is extremely well-guarded, sitting into the landscape and behind an almost dune-like hillside.
To a green fronted by two pot bunkers short right that almost appear to be nostrils of a quasi-Prinicipal’s Nose bunker complex, the green complex features quite a bit of movement.
It seems I have lost the photo of the 12th tee shot, but this is a very, very strong par 4. At slightly under 400 yards, the tee shot is slightly blind, with the fairway falling down to the right as the hole doglegs up to the left. Reverse camber, but make it modern: the fairway is very severe.
The green sits high above the surroundings, particularly the depression area short. The green is perched up, and the surface is hidden from the bottom of the hill. Anything short is not good, while left could potentially kick back towards the green.
The 13th is a stout par 3, playing around 225 yards. The hole is protected quite well, with lost ball/bush up the right, a tree short left, and two bunkers.
This is usually included in lists like Canada’s Best Holes or something similar like an Eclectic 18, but I think there is far too much going on to be classified as one of the best long par 3’s in the country. I like that the green narrows in the back—almost a Stanley Thompson-esque feature like at Banff Springs 12th and 13th or St. George’s 2nd or 17th—but the back tier is quite a bit higher than the front section.
A simple fix, in my opinion, is cut the tree down in the bailout area left, allowing some reprieve, and lower the back portion of the green ever-so-slightly. Two simple changes, but allow the great moments of the hole to shine, such as the green complex, which is pretty nicely snug between a hill left, and the gully right. At 225 yards, you do not need to go searching for difficult: it is already there, and anyone can make a hole hard. Great architects make the hard holes hard, but offer ways to play the hole playable for all. If I bail out left, like you would expect with a lost ball down the right, I am potentially chipping around a tree to a very dramatic green. Overall, it is just too much for me.
Working our way back towards the 11th green, the 548 yard par 5, 14th requires a carry over water with quite a few bunkers in play. The water is not in play, but the bunkering array is.
In the layup zone, there are a few pot bunkers waiting. It can be fairly difficult to navigate these successfully, especially on a first go. It is a visually difficult golf course to figure out, but I kind of enjoy that.
The green complex is quite interesting. I mentioned briefly that it’s shared with the 11th, but there’s a tree in the middle of the double green. Weird, but I guess whatever works.
The 15th is yet another semi-blind tee shot. Four bunkers up the left, one in the middle, and two up the right make this 372 yard two-shot hole extremely well-bunkered on the tee shot.
The green is angled at a 45 degree angle, with the irrigation/holding pond coming in play up the right. Challenging the bunkering on the left gives you the best angle in, but the short nature of the hole does not make it a prerequisite to get the ball close, but it does help. The hole is slightly out of character with the rest of the golf course.
The 16th is a funky, cool short par 3 at 159 yards. The green is above the tee box, and with the shaping of the contours, sometimes you just see the top of the flag. While I said the 7th is my favourite par 3, this is a close challenger.
You can see some of the extreme contouring below, which features a massive swale in the middle of the green. It almost features a Biarritz-style green complex.
The 17th is a very peculiar, yet really quality golf hole. I do not say peculiar in a bad way, in fact I am quite fond of the 17th, but I have never seen anything quite like it. A stone wall cuts through the hole akin to the Victorian Era. However, unlike the Victorian Era, which lacked strategy and often was “in your face, everyone has to cross it at the same distance,” the 17th at Paintbrush has the rock wall running at an angle, with the left side being a further carry than the right. To add to that, there’s copious bunkering in the fairway to add difficulty to this 413 yard par 4.
The approach, dictated by both the tee shot and the green complex, is very good. There are very strong elements of Alister Mackenzie’s boomerang green, with portions of the green hidden behind the hill on the right. If the pin is back, the golfer must keep his tee shot left. If the pin is on the left side, right might be ideal. A wonderful green complex. Overall, a brilliant golf hole. The best at Paintbrush.
The dramatic, wonky, and fun Paintbrush finishes on a big-swinging dogleg right par 4, but at a shorter yardage at 388 yards. It’s refreshing not to have one of the longer par 4’s finish the golf course, which is perhaps the most overused cliché in golf. The 18th actually plays past the clubhouse a la National Golf Links of America or Redtail, meaning those who hit their tee shot right could be in someone’s Guinness.
To a green tucked into the hillside, it is a demanding approachshot even if most will have a shorter club in. The massive bunker short is deadly, and the approach plays more uphill than it seems.
There is a lot going on here, but it can be easy to see why it generally ranks just outside Canada’s Top 10. Unique, dramatic, over-the-top, funky, and fun, Paintbrush checks a lot of boxes. Do I have it just outside the elusive top 10? Not quite, but that is not to say I do not enjoy the golf course. For me, this is perhaps the most unique golf course in Canada, and if there is such thing as a novelty bump, Paintbrush is worthy of such causes. To me, this is Canada’s Tobacco Road… a wild ride that everyone needs to see one, or twice, and one that I think will mix up debate for years to come.
2 thoughts on “Review: Pulpit Club (Paintbrush)”
Good overview here. Agreed on the Tobacco Road comparison; had the same thought when I played but I think it’s less funky and therefore more playable than TR. Two is an incredible hole — highly strategic tee shot based on the pin, and the short length gives you a shot even if you are approaching from the left (albeit most likely blind).
No issues with the tree on 11/14 green. If it’s in your way you hit a bad shot.
I agree, less funky and probably better than Tobacco Road for me. It is my favourite Hurdzan or Fry, though I have not seen as much of their catalogue as I would like (I have seen Calusa).
Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!