Devil’s Pulpit: Case Study

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 reporters 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, who died in 2010, was not only a guy with a wonderful sense of humor, but also enormous vision, persuasion and determination. He was very methodical, but he placed great trust in his instincts and he was 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 sort of the king of B-movies in the golf design business, a competent designer of inexpensive but functional golf courses that barely got recognition in my hometown, let alone the wider 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.

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. 

Fun Fact 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.