Donald Ross Society
Donald Ross lives. National championships continue to be played on courses that he designed, and clubs across the United States continually seek to preserve his legacy.
The Donald Ross Society was created to assist in this effort and to study his work. Born in Dornoch, Scotland in 1872, Ross designed more than 400 US courses, including such luminary venues as Seminole, Oak Hill, Oakland Hills, and Wannamoisett in Rhode Island. In New England alone he is credited with 87 golf course layouts.
After helping to establish the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1946 and serving as its first president, he passed from these links in 1948. Today, thanks to the efforts of a group of golf enthusiasts, his classical design heritage is being studied, honored, and preserved.
Green chairmen and superintendents might well consider this alternative. All too frequently modern architects seem more concerned with imposing their own style than with enhancing the virtue of old layouts, and some fine old layouts have been compromised through a combination of carelessness and willful disdain for tradition.
Small wonder that so many traditional courses are considered obsolete today. Sometimes there is a well-intentioned superintendent or green chairman (or finance chairman) who wants to update and modernize (or, heaven forbid, "toughen") the golf course to attract new members or major tournaments.
The shame of it is that few architects take the trouble to educate their clients of the virtues of a classical design. Indeed, all too many designers today are looking for work and are willing to comply when the honest answer to the club would be a resounding "no."
Even when needed work is undertaken, few designers bother to search out old plans. Fewer yet are interested in a master plan for redesign that would essentially restore the course. Not every old golf course is a masterpiece. Nor was every course attributed to Ross the product of his personal handiwork. Many of the courses overseen by his on-site crew chiefs, Walter Hatch and J.B. McGovern, were not built precisely to Ross' original designs. Nonetheless, there often exist early plans worthy of consultation, if not emulation.
The Donald Ross Society traces its beginning to 1988, when some members at Wampanoag CC in West Hartford, Connecticut, decided that recent alterations were out of character with the course's basic design and sought to restore the original Ross concept. The process they went through was arduous but they learned some valuable lessons and formed an organization so that they might share their insight with others.
According to the Society's Captain, Michael Fay, the Society has developed a worldwide network of architecture aficionados. Its membership includes designers, superintendents, professional and amateur golfers. Based upon extensive work by the late, North Carolina-based archivist W. Pete Jones, the Society has exhaustively documented the courses properly credited to the handiwork of Donald Ross, and actively supports the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst, NC where searchers can track down existing sketches and design plans for various Ross projects. Individual members of the Society, many of whom have been intimately involved in restoration projects at their own clubs are also valuable resources.
The membership has also established The Donald Ross Society Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, that helps to fund the Tufts Archives and additionally provides funds for restoration projects at municipal golf courses
Several times each year, the Donald Ross Society holds a rabble-rousing meeting at a selected Ross venue. In addition to golf and good food, grants are announced, honorees acknowledged, and much ice is consumed.
Week after week, the spirit of Donald Ross is reaffirmed. At tournament layouts, private clubs, and daily-fee facilities throughout North America, golfers have a more interesting game to play thanks to the genius and legacy of this pioneering Scotsman.