Holly Inn, Pinehurst, N.C.,
Dec. 3-5, 1947
Honorary President Donald Ross was a gracious host of the first ASGCA meeting in his beloved Pinehurst, the beginning of a long and pleasant relationship between this wonderful golf mecca and the Society. Because of the Ross connection, Pinehurst became the Society’s “second home,” with meetings scheduled on a regular basis so that newer members could enjoy the golf and unique atmosphere of this spectacular resort.
Ten of the 14 Founding Members made the long trip to Pinehurst, which was developed by the railroad to spur the burgeoning interest in resort golf.
The original $10 dues must not have been sufficient to cover printing and mailing expenses, so the expansive group increased the annual tab to $25.
President Robert Bruce Harris, Trent Jones and Bill Langford had been busy since the last meeting working on a constitution, by-laws and a Code of Ethics. There was much debate over the documents in Pinehurst, but all were finally approved, pending review by attorneys. (Oh, maybe that was why they had to increase the dues; attorneys already had their hand in the till!)
Richard Tufts, who was the head of Pinehurst and an amateur architect, was named the Society’s first Complimentary Member and addressed the members. “We feel that a golf course is designed for a certain type of shot to the green, and that as you increase the length of the tee shot, you throw the golf course all out of scale. Therefore, it spoils the pleasure of the play to have this continual increase in the flight of the ball. We feel that the question involves not only the ball, but also the equipment of the game; that possibly the shaft had something to do with the increased length of the ball.”
At the conclusion of Tufts’ presentation, and after some discussion of the evolution of the game, Thompson made a motion that the Society send a resolution to the USGA, noting the architects’ concern, but pledging ASGCA support for the rules and regulations adopted by the USGA. Shades of times to come. It’s interesting to note that the Society already was sensitive to technology’s impact on the playing field in 1947, nearly 50 years before the Society again publicly challenged the “new golf game.”
Since the officers were deeply involved in finalizing the legal paperwork of the Society, the group decided to re-elect Harris, Thompson and Jones as officers for another year. Langford continued as chair of the Constitution and By-Laws Committee. Langford’s initial document called for four classes of Membership—Regular, Complimentary (amateurs), Honorary (pros) and Senior (members over 70; since changed to Fellows). J.B. McGovern was given the important job of Membership Chairman. There was a long discussion on the use of promotional brochures, and the membership decided that they should only be used with clients and prospects. Mass mailings and advertising were definitely discouraged.
The Society already was well aware of the value of press coverage, and Golf World Magazine published a lengthy article on the first meeting, probably after being contacted by Jones, who later became Publicity Chairman. Trent Jones, of course, became a master of media relations and knew the value of courting golf writers and editors. Golf World’s coverage highlighted innovative work being done by the Founding Members and definitely demonstrates that ASGCA members have always been on the cutting edge of new developments.
Ross, who was noted for using horse and mule-drawn equipment to shape Pinehurst, excitedly reported that he had used bulldozers to cut down hills quickly when remodeling Allegheny Country Club, making the course much more inviting for senior players. He predicted that machinery would revolutionize golf construction, since he was now able to build a green in two days rather than the 15 it took with mules and a large field force.
“When I was a young man in Scotland,” Ross said, “I read about America, and that the American businessman was absorbed in making money. I knew the day would come when the American businessman would relax and want some game to play, and I knew that the game would be golf. I read about the start of golf in the United States, and knew there would be a great future in it, so I learned all I could about the game—teaching, playing, club making, greenkeeping, golf course construction – and came to America to grow up with a game in which I had complete confidence. Golf has never failed me.” You’ll recognize that famous sentence as the title of the Ross book that the Society published many years later.
In the article, Jones revealed an interesting design twist that he had incorporated into a new course. Trent, who was building the Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, also had the commission for two municipal courses in Nassau, where he created two identical holes at each par-3. He expected the dual holes to relieve congestion on the course. One must conclude, since we didn’t see anyone copying this idea, that the concept was one that “didn’t stick to the wall.”
Bill Diddel was building a course for an Elks Club in Indiana and believed that community service clubs might well be the generators of many new golf courses in the Midwest. If the clubs themselves didn’t prove to be the developers, their members certainly were active in establishing many country clubs and public courses in mid-size towns across the Midwest.
William P. Bell was excited about a new course he was building near Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, one of the first military golf courses. Bell, who was just completing Tucson Country Club, predicted that the Army and Navy would be interested in building courses near their major bases, and he was right on that one.
Bill Gordon designed one of the first “practical” golf courses at this time although the term didn’t become popular until Mike Hurdzan wrote a book on the subject in the next century! Bill stated that 150 municipal players in a small community wanted their own course and were willing to build it themselves. He designed it; they built it.
How about company golf courses? Well, Ross and his two cohorts, McGovern and Gordon, teamed up on a course for Bethlehem Steel’s employees. And, way back in 1947, Bill Langford produced one of the first garbage dump reclamation projects. He capped a dump and built nine par-4’s and nine par-3’s on a 63-acre site in the heart of Chicago!
Quite frankly, I was dumbfounded to read about these innovative projects in the coverage of the 1947 meeting. In the space of a few years, America’s golf architects had gone from using mule-drawn equipment to reclaiming garbage dumps. That’s quite a leap forward!
New Member – William H. Tucker, Albuquerque, N.M., #15
Donald J. Ross (1872-1948)
Like a master jeweler, Donald Ross used his prize gem (Pinehurst #2) to develop the first truly national practice of golf course architecture. From 1912 until his death in 1948, Ross was the best-known and busiest golf course architect in the country, designing and building nearly 400 courses. He spent many days on trains to reach his far-flung projects, and often started three or four jobs on the same trip. Despite his unjustified reputation as a “mail order architect,” Ross walked most of the sites and developed his own plans while working tremendously long hours. He was the first to establish branch offices around the country. He had a summer office at Little Compton, R.I., and branch offices in North Amherst, Mass., headed by Walter B. Hatch, and Wynnewood, Pa., managed by J. B. McGovern, also an ASGCA founding member. As Brad Klein wrote in Discovering Donald Ross, “Ross’ distinctive genius came from being trained in the earlier mode of golf course design and adapting himself toward the newer style of what might be called mass production.”
The modest Ross, born and trained in Dornoch, Scotland, brought his multiple talents (greenkeeper, pro and budding architect) at an early age to America, where he became pro-greenkeeper in 1889 at Oakley Country Club near Boston. He soon renovated that course and demonstrated some of the architectural ability that he possessed. When he met the Tufts family, and they persuaded him to become the winter golf professional at the resort they were developing in Pinehurst, N.C., Ross was on his way to becoming a major force in American golf.
Ross benefited from the post-World War I boom in golf course design and was the most active architect in the 1920’s. Like everyone else in the country, Ross was hit hard by the depression in the 1930’s and took on the only available work, municipal projects. Although not a self-promoter, Ross knew how to turn a “quotable quote” for the press. In short order he became the champion of public golf. In his book, Golf Has Never Failed Me, Ross wrote, “There is no good reason why the label ‘a rich man’s game’ should be hung on golf. The development of municipal golf courses is the outstanding feature of the game in America today. It is the greatest step ever taken to make it the game of the people, as it should be. The municipal courses are all moneymakers, and big moneymakers. I am naturally conservative, yet I am certain that in a few years we will see golf played much more generally than is even played now.” It turns out that Ross was a pretty darn good futurist, too.
In Klein’s book, he discusses seven strategic elements he believes dominant in Ross’ design philosophy—Efficient routings…Modest getaway holes…Generous fairways…Angles of play…Offset tees/S-shaped fairways…Demanding iron play…and Slightly raised putting surfaces with bunkers built into the fill pad. Ross’ greens, of course, were not designed for today’s fast putting surfaces, which has led to great controversy about “renovation”…”restoration”… or “remodeling.” Golf fanatics while away hours arguing whether today’s architects are “preserving”…”improving”…or “ruining” his designs. What matters, though, is the essence of a true Ross course, which captures the imagination of the player. And the “typical” Ross green resembling an inverted bathtub was the result of topdressing over many years before aeration equipment was developed.
How did Ross turn out so much quality work when he wasn’t there for frequent construction inspections? Well, he did his initial work extremely well. Here’s how the master craftsman explained the Ross process. “My usual method of procedure is to mark with permanent stakes on the property the location of tees, center line of fair-greens, size and shape of bunkers and outline of putting greens. I submit a working plan for each hole, giving approximate depths of bunkers, contours of putting greens and the outline of fair-greens. The club then furnishes me—free of charge—a surveyor’s plan of the property on which is indicated the exact center of each tee and putting green. From this plan I prepare and submit a general plan showing the complete layout.”
His secret, of course, was an outstanding support team, and Ross was able to delegate authority because he had built a trust factor with each individual, and, like a fine jeweler, had passed along his design “secrets.” Hatch and McGovern maintained active travel schedules from their branch offices, covering much of the work on the East coast. Ross was not much of a sketch artist, but he hired Walter Johnson, a licensed engineer, who could work with blueprints and topographical maps and turn out first-rate technical drawings. Eric Nelson, Ross’ personal secretary, was responsible for running operations at Pinehurst and handling the design company’s business affairs, enabling Ross to spend more time traveling and designing. Frank Maples, who is still revered as one of the best superintendents in history, kept the Pinehurst courses in tip-top shape and helped Ross with his work in the Carolinas. Bill Gordon worked closely with J. B. McGovern on a number of courses in the Pennsylvania area after World War II. So, much like today’s top architects, Ross had a stellar team that made him look good.
In his definitive book on Ross, Klein states that an exhaustive study of the prolific architect’s lifework shows that Ross made follow-up visits on about one-third of his projects; made a single visit of up to several days on roughly another third of his projects; and didn’t make as much as a single field inspection to nearly one-third of the courses that bear his name. And, he only had a telephone and Western Union for communications. No computers or cell phones for immediate contact with his field people. Ross admitted later in life that he took on too much work during the heydays of his career, so it’s even more remarkable that the majority of his courses continue to bedevil and intrigue today’s golfer. Since Ross ran head-on into the Great Depression, he wasn’t blessed with unlimited budgets. In fact, Richard Tufts controlled Ross’ Pinehurst budget down to the last dollar and even had the fabled Ross take a pay cut when the resort was going through hard times.
As a Midwesterner, I’ve always been amazed at how many truly outstanding courses Ross designed in the Great Lakes area. Obviously, there was good train service! He has more than 12 in the Chicago area alone, with other gems in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota. With this portfolio of work, it was no wonder that the ASGCA founders looked to Donald Ross as their foundation block, although he was no longer a healthy man. Ross generously hosted the first real meeting of the Society at Pinehurst in 1947 and enjoyed his title of Honorary President until his death a year later. The Society later honored him by wearing the Ross tartan and naming its annual award after him. Ross, the master jeweler, helped tool a living monument to his profession—The American Society of Golf Course Architects. Thank you, D.J., for all you have given to golf and the profession!
Courses by Donald Ross
- Pinehurst #2, Pinehurst, N.C. (1901-06)
- Wannamoisett Country Club, Rumford, R.I. (1914)
- Seminole Country Club, North Palm Beach, Fla. (1929)
- Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio (1919)
- Oakland Hills Country Club-South, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (1917)
- Essex Country Club, Manchester, Mass. (1909)
- Aronimink Golf Club, Newton Square, Pa. (1930)
- Salem Country Club, Peabody, Mass. (1925)
- Franklin Hills Country Club, Franklin, Mich. (1926)
- Plainfield Country Club, Plainfield, N.J. (1916)
- Oak Hill Country Club-East, Rochester, N.Y. (1923)
- Holston Hills Country Club, Knoxville, Tenn. (1928)
- Beverly Country Club, Chicago, Ill. (1922)
- Brookside Country Club, Canton, Ohio (1922)
- Sakonnet Golf Club, Little Compton, R.I. (1921)