Florida in January - a Recapitulation
The Donald Ross Society searched for Sunshine
In January 2010 and actually found some...
Friday January 22
Located near Georgia's southeastern coast, Brunswick CC, was originally
chartered in 1920, moved to its current location in 1936 and began operation
as a nine-hole facility with sand greens. In 1938, the club hired Donald Ross
to design the back nine. Later that year, Ross returned for a site visit and
provided drawings to redesign the existing front nine greens. On Labor Day
1939, all eighteen holes were officially opened for play.
Director of Golf, Dan Hogan, PGA, shared with us “Detailed Notes for Layout
of the Front Nine Holes” typed up by Donald Ross over three days in
September in 1938. Legend has it that Ross discovered this golf course when
his car broke down on a trip to Florida, and that he did the initial design in
appreciation for the Georgia hospitality while his car was being repaired. In
these notes, Ross insisted that no tee should be more than one foot above the
natural ground, and it is truly remarkable how interesting a golf course he
made on essentially flat ground. Another item that caught our attention was
that in specifying the lengthening of the 5th hole by building a new tee 90 feet
further back, he instructed that the existing tee be retained as a “Ladies
Tee”. Dan explained to us that over the next 70 years, the golf course
gradually changed due to agronomic and maintenance practices, however, the
original design has remained basically untouched.
In November 2006, Davis Love Design began a restoration, and the twelve month
venture was very much like an archeological project - uncovering a
buried treasure. Love’s work is exemplary here, for in his reconstruction the
surrounds to the greens flow naturally into the green surfaces, much as Ross
would have done them and one truly feels as if he has stepped back in time
on this golf course.
Saturday January 23
The following day, we moved down to Florida for a visit to Society Outings
Chairman, Derek Dobbs’ home course, Sawgrass Country Club,
synonymous with great golf ever since it played host to The Players
Championship in 1977. The tournament continued to be played on the East-
West Course through 1981, before it moved to the TPC at Sawgrass.
The Ross connection here begins with his protégé, Ellis Maples who trained
and inspired Ed Seay who ultimately joined Palmer Golf and designed the
Sawgrass courses. Those apostolic influences are palpable here. Through the
years, Sawgrass has been consistently recognized as one of the finest courses
in the country and has been included in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in
the U.S., Golf Digest’s Best Courses in Florida, and Golf Week Magazine’s
Top 100 Courses in America.
The Par-72 East-West combination course has an array of spectacular golf
holes, most notably the daunting par 5, East No. 4 with a tantalizing peek at
the ocean as you make your way from the green to the next tee.
A challenging match against Sawgrass members recruited by Director of Golf
Ed Tucker where we met a piano playing golfer named Murray (about whom
more later) was followed by a delightful dinner at their glorious Beach Club.
Sunday January 24
Located less than a mile from the University of Florida campus, the Mark
Bostick Golf Course at the University of Florida is home to the school’s
championship golf teams. The heavily tree-lined, softly rolling terrain
provides a 6,700 yard challenge. Originally built by Ross as Gainesville
Country Club before it was taken over by the University the course was
restored by Bobby Weed in 2001 in a project that included new tees, fairway
and green surfaces and 140 newly built bunkers.
Monday January 25
Hyde Park Golf Club is one of the oldest courses in Florida. It was built in
1925, and was a tour stop for the Men’s and Lady’s PGA Tour in the 40s and
50s for the playing of the Greater Jacksonville Open. Nelson, Snead and
Hogan; Zaharis, Berg and Suggs all played here and Mickey Wright won her
first pro tournament here in 1956. In 1971 the golf course was purchased by
Billy Maxwell and Chris Blocker and was long thought to be a Ross design
and without strong documentation, Blocker, is relying on attributions
published by Pete Jones' in his early DRS directories. Ron Whitten suspects
that Pete could have been wrong, however Whitten’s argument hinges on the
discovery of Ross Drawings for a different Hyde Park in Cincinnati, Ohio that
were not found until several years after Jones died.
Our members certainly felt the magic of Ross design here (many of the greens
looked even more like Ross designs than those we had seen at Gainesville the
day before), and encouraged Blocker to scout the local newspaper archives for
evidence from the 1920's. While it is true that in The Golf Course, Cornish &
Whitten attribute the design to Ross, in The Architects of Golf they suggest
that the course was revised by Stanley Thompson. The latter seems possible,
as the very large and high greenside bunkers with flashed up faces are more
Thompson-like than Ross, and Ross sometimes laid out a course and left the
bunkering for later. Another possibility is that Thompson, who was operating
a construction company at the time the course was built, did the actual build
from Ross drawings.
For dinner we re-crossed the inland waterway and found a delightful
restaurant under a bridge where The Piano Man, Murray Goff, entertained
us with songs in a repertoire that ranged from Frank Sinatra to Jimmy
Tuesday January 26
The Palatka Municipal Golf Course is a fabulous layout bordering the
beautiful Ravine State Gardens. Although only 5942 yards long from the tips,
it annually hosts the Florida Azalea Amateur and certainly wasn’t a
pushover. Whether or not it is truly a Ross design is problematic, and not just
because the plans that Head Professional, Spanky Aaron produced list W.D.
Clark as the "Designer" in February, 1925.
Nevertheless, this wonderful layout has suffered over the years as Municipal
management has steadily lost money in its operation. While we were in town,
however, a remarkable series of events has resulted in Bobby Weed Golf
being awarded a contract to manage the property. His plans to restore the
greens to original contours and improve the agronomy of its fairways could
make this into one of the country’s best Classic Munis.
Golf was followed by a private tour of the World Golf Hall of Fame where we
nostalgically visited a host of memorabilia and remembered the magic of Bob
Hope’s gift to the game. After putting gutta balls and swinging clubs for the
launch monitor, we went up into the tower for dinner surrounded by replicas
of golf’s greatest trophies. After dinner, fellow member Dan Bergman of Keep
It Classic told us about his plans for philanthropic support for restoration and
maintenance of municipal golf courses of the golden age.
Here is what the Hall of Fame says about Donald Ross
Wednesday January 27
On Wednesday afternoon Head Professional Todd Bork welcomed us to the
San Jose Country Club, designed in 1925 by Donald Ross and redesigned
in 1989 by Bob Walker, with a total yardage of 6,625. In March, 2006, golf
course architect Dan Schlegel researched the original Donald Ross plans and
updated the course once again with a total yardage of 6,921.
San Jose is clearly originally a Ross course and a wonderful course to play,
but the decision to mow for fast green speeds considering the amount of
movement in them may present more of a challenge than Ross intended.
While stunningly beautiful, there are probably many more over water carries
than there would have been when Ross designed it and the club history
remarks on the addition of most of the ponds much later.
Thursday January 28
Head Golf Professional, Clint Avrett met us on the practice green and told us
some of the fascinating history of this historic golf course. "Timuquana," is a
variation of the name of the Native American Timucuan tribe, which
formerly made its home here.
Donald Ross worked with the original Green Committee in designing an 18-
hole course through the wilderness of forest and scrub. Later, the Club
engaged Robert Trent Jones, to provide it with a long-range plan for
continued improvement, much of which was implemented in the late 1950s.
Open tournaments held at Timuquana, featured many famous names,
including Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Leo
Diegel, Henry Cotton, Bobby Cruikshanks, Horton Smith, Jock Hutchison
and Bob McDonald. For several years the Southern Amateur Championship
was played here.
Part of a major golf course renovation approved in 1996 and undertaken by
Bobby Weed, was an historic partnership with the Jacksonville U.S. Naval
Air Station to include an effluent water program to irrigate the Club's golf
course. Final connections were made in the summer of 1997 and the Club
began accepting the effluent water in the fall of the same year.
In September 2002, Timuquana hosted the Senior Amateur Championship of
the United States Golf Association.
The 18-hole Timuquana Country Club is a private golf course that opened
in 1923. Designed by Donald Ross, Timuquana Country Club measures 6859
yards from the longest tees and has a slope rating of 130 and a 73 USGA
rating. The course features 5 sets of tees for different skill levels. Greens and
fairways are bermuda grass. Bobby Weed did the recent work here restoring
not only the golf course but reclaiming the natural water systems in a
triumph of ecological design. Other architects to have a hand in the evolution
of Timuquana were David Gordon and George Cobb.
Golf at Timuquana, was followed by a dinner with the members watching the
sunset and the lights of Jacksonville come on across the St Johns river. After
dinner, Bobby Weed gave us a fascinating presentation describing his plans
for Palatka, his philosophy on Ross renovation, and some insight into the
heart and soul of a Classic loving modern day architect.
All in all, it was a fabulous week. Arranged by Derek Dobbs in his inimitable
style, the golf was challenging, the history lessons were fascinating, the
dinners delectable and even the weather was entertaining. And, as always at
DRS events, seeing old friends was grand and the opportunity to make new
friendships was perhaps Donald Ross’ greatest gift to us of all.