The greatness of the Paintbrush; critical course reviews

I had the chance to revisit Devil’s Paintbrush yesterday as part of a media outing. The Paintbrush fascinates me more and more each time I play it. I’ve though a lot about why that is the case. Truthfully the Paintbrush falls into a style of course that I really appreciate and that draws me back time and again. I’m not sure why this form of Heathlands/Linksland golf is so appealing, but I believe it has something to do with the myriad of options these sorts of courses present. You can play them with a variety of shots, and the end result is never entirely predictable.

I think that’s why courses like the Paintbrush, with its wide fairways, strange greens (like #2, #6 or #17), is so enticing. The game is never the same twice, an unfortunate fact on many other courses. Apparently I’m not the only one who is so intrigued at the Paintbrush. Lorne Rubenstein has a column on the course in the Top 100 issue of Score, and readers also seem to like it.

The round at the Paintbrush was followed by a second round at Devil’s Pulpit. At one point the Pulpit was considered the better of the two courses, but that concensus has changed in recent years. Interestingly, the member I played with was partial to the Pulpit, specifically the fifth hole, a downhill par four to a sliver of a green. I asked him why he was so fond of the hole.

“Well it is just such an f–king great hole,” he exclaimed. “You just really have to hit two good shots.”

This struck me as the typical response from a low handicap golfer. He never considered that the hole is a tough one for anyone whose handicap is over 10 and he never really articulated — or couldn’t articulate — why the hole was interesting. That struck me as all too common, even among golf writers, many of which I consider friends.

One of the things that bothers me about many course reviews is that they turn into a glorified yardage book, telling golfers how to play each hole, as opposed to determining whether the course works from an aesthetic and playability perspective. Take this “review” as an example. As readers of this site know, I’m not as keen on letting you know how to play each hole — I figure that you can garner that information from a yardage book. My goal, as can be seen on the main page of, is to present a critical view of the course from a variety of perspectives. It is interesting to see the debate raging on right now about the Top 100. The problem is when a poster makes a comment like, “Hamilton sucks compared to [insert course name here],” I wonder where the value is. Now if the same person explains to me why Hamilton can’t hold a candle to Crowbush Cove, I’ll likely listen. Of course I won’t agree — nothing could convince me of that — but perhaps there can be an argument made. Then again, as Chuck Klosterman says, just because something can be debated, doesn’t make it debatable.

I’ve got a few more courses to critique in the near term, including Ambassador Club in Windsor. My goal is to be as honest as possible, something I don’t think happens very often in the media when discussing golf courses. Too often everything is viewed as great — though time, and public dollars, often speak loudly and offer the final critique.

On to other news:

  1. It turns out Canada isn’t the only country struggling to find new members for private clubs. Check out this article on the issues some Scottish courses are having finding new members.
  2. Apparently Phil Mickelson is tired. Very tired. You must be sympathetic. All those flights on private jets can wear one out. “I need a couple of weeks off,” Mickelson said after he tied for 54th among 76 players at Firestone. “The best way for me to get ready for the Ryder Cup is to get some rest. I played poorly and I’m tired, too. I’m going to work on my game and get it sharp.” This doesn’t sound good for the Ryder Cup next week. The full story is here. I’m betting Phil wins one match, but the U.S., led by Stewart Cink, goes on to win overall.
  3. Does anyone understand the ruling on Jonathan Byrd at the Canadian Open? I’m completely perplexed. Oh, and this notion of phoning in rulings needs to stop at some point. First it was viewers and now a rules official at Pearson Airport in Toronto.
  4. This whole Michelle Wie deal has gotten as smelly as chicken fat left in the bin overnight. She blows out in Europe, leading the European Tour’s commissioner to question whether they should invite her back. So what does one do after barely breaking 80 in two consecutive rounds? They play on the PGA Tour. The chance of her making the cut is zero. This doesn’t sound hopeful: “Her recent results are not promising. She dropped out of this summer’s John Deere Classic after being overcome by oppressive heat, then finished dead last in last week’s European Masters in Switzerland by shooting a 78-79-157 in her only two rounds. Up next for a teenager who needed a blue slip from her Hawaii high school to skip class this week is the big hitters’ 84 Lumber, a tournament where it’s not by coincidence that Daly is the unofficial host. The mountaintop course stretches 7,511 yards, seemingly half the distance between nearby Uniontown and big-city Pittsburgh, yet Wie is confident that this — finally — is the week it happens.” Not a chance. The whole sad Wie story is here. Even the Golf Channel analysts think it is time she went back to school and petitioned the LPGA Tour for the right to play there regularly. I expect her to snap at some point — it is only a question of when.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • As a previous Pulpit member (’96), I can attest to the fun of playing the Paintbrush. Its’ uneven terrain, challenging greens, hidden pot bunkers, and unique shots make it a challenge and joy to play. Throw in wind and dry / wet conditions, and the course is different from one day to the next. As an example, I played the par 3 16th hole with a 2 iron and a 9 iron on different days depending on the wind. The tee shot on 15 can be played with a long iron or driver depending again on wind and willingness to take on risk. This type of decision and shot making throughout the round complemented with beautiful views make it special.

    As well, the course area is compact, course is built for walking, no huge practice area (irons only), and lack of a practice green make for no nonsense, step up, hit it, chase it, play quickly, and get on with your day kinda place. Makes so much sense.

    BTW, the 5th hole at the Pulpit is a wonderful hole. I describe it as such because it is hard to par and relatively easy to bogey. Visually it is pretty and there are many ways to play the hole for all levels of golfer with different but rewarding shots whichever way you play it.

  • Robert, re: your comment that the phoning in of rulings needs to stop – I agree. To me the problem seems obvious: allowing phone-ins potentially penalizes the leaders (who are being televised) to a different degree/kind than it does backmarkers (who are not being televised). In short, not everyone is playing under the same conditions. If officials are so concerned about rules violations, they should ensure that competent rules officials are walking with each and every group.

  • I agree with Peter….Have a rule official per group. Only they can make a call. And only the head officials can over turn a ruling (or mis-ruling). If they blow a call or miss something, then so be it. Outside calls should never be accepted nor taken into considerations.

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