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Hoganman1

Donald Ross Restorations

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Donald Ross was one of the most prolific golf course architects in history. He is credited with hundreds of courses here in the US . Ross was born in Scotland, but moved to the US in 1899.  A year later he moved to  Pinehurst, NC  which became his  home base for the rest of his life. Ross passed away in 1948.  Over the last seventy two years the game as evolved to the extent that most, if not all; of Ross's courses have required changes to remain relevant. Many of today's architects have studied the design concepts used by Ross and bill themselves as "official" restorers of his courses. Unfortunately, only a few actually succeed in that goal. The course I play was actually a redesign by Ross in 1945 of a course initially built by A. W. Tillinghast. Since becoming a member there in 1983, I have lived through four renovations by four different designers. Although all were supposed to be "restorations", I'm certain Mr, Ross would not recognize the tract were he still able to visit. My guess is this is probably the case all over the country. While there are some notable exceptions such as Pinehurst #2 by Crenshaw and Coore , very few restorations of his courses reflect what Donald Ross originally had in mind.

Edited by Hoganman1

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We have quite a few Ross courses in my area, two in my hometown, Mill Creek North Course and South Course. Back in the day, for whatever reason, they decided to get rid of the big mounds behind the 5th green on the South course. They replaced them with a bunch of little humps that I called pimples! It looked nothing like a Ross course should look, and I screamed blue bloody murder! 

Nothing happened for a while, and I kept screaming. I told them that they should promote the fact that Ross designed these courses! That they didn't understand what a treasure they possessed! Guess what? Nowadays that's all they do! "Mill Creek Golf Course, a Donald Ross design!"  That appears on nearly everything they sell! I should have gone into marketing! 

Well, the "pimples" disappeared but the mounds never returned. It's just flat behind that green now. There hasn't really been any redesign here either. This course was designed for play by the public. it was not designed like Pinehurst #2 or Seminole that could challenge the game's best from the tips. The Tour pros would rip this place to pieces, but it's good enough for who it's for! 

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I’ve found that the best and most true Golden Age courses are the ones that just never had the money to be re-invented. 
I played 2 excellent DR courses last week, that I believe are pretty true to the original design. Both are in Philadelphia. The Union League at Torresdale and LuLu Country Club. 

 

Both also have greens that no architect would build today. I would love to see more courses like they used to be, but unfortunately, today’s green speeds require greens to be toned down. 

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I worked at Raleigh Country Club when I was in turf school at NC State. It was the last course Ross designed. When I was there, we redid the bunkers, but we really didn't change anything, just improved the drainage. They are currently doing a big renovation project, and it looks like they are making some significant changes. 

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My home course, Shennecossett in Groton, Connecticut, is a Ross course. In the 90s the course did a land swap with Pfizer, who has an R&D HQ that borders the course. They removed a few holes from the back nine, lengthened a par-4 into a par-5, snuck a new par-3 in at the turn, and added a few holes down by the Thames River near the end of the routing. 

I have some things I could nitpick, but I think with that part of the redesign they did a great job.

Where I have a bigger issue is what they've let the greens turn into. The current 3rd, 4th, and 14th greens are extremely domed, and since the course likes to let them get to about 11 on the stimpmeter in the summer, those turn out to be borderline unplayable. 

From what the long-time locals tell me, they used to be much less domed, but in the 90s and 2000s they got a little aggressive with rolling and re-shaping them. The 4th in particular is insane - it's a volcano green with a huge dome to it. If you miss left or right, you've got about a 7-10 foot long patch of green to stop your ball - otherwise it's going off the other side or coming back to your feet. 

3 and 14 are similar, but you're coming into them with wedges instead of mid- to long-irons (and the holdable surfaces are larger), so they're slightly easier to hold. 

I think if the course got a bit smarter and realized that you can't play greens that fast with that much slope, they could actually turn them into something really interesting. 

Otherwise, the course is great. I do wish the fescue they like to grow up in the summer was a little bit thinner - it slows down play like crazy when you've got two people in your group on every other hole hitting provisionals and then searching for their ball in knee-high, thick fescue. But the bones of the course and most of the conditions are great. 

 

George Wright, in Boston, is also a Ross course that's seen smaller-scale renovations. To what I've seen, they've done a really good job with that. 

They also re-opened the remaining holes at Ponkapoag (another Ross course) just outside Boston recently, and I liked the work they did there. 

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I’m willing to bet Ross never saw half of the courses he is credited with designing. My favorite Ross course is Holston Hills in Knoxville. Too poor to change anything, it is arguably the most accurate Ross course in the South. The Knoxville Open will be played there next year. 
 

Two other country clubs bill themselves as Ross, but the greens have been totally replaced. It’s a shame as the Ross version was strategically a lot more interesting. 

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48 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

I’m willing to bet Ross never saw half of the courses he is credited with designing. 

How do you mean? Absentee designer? Genuinely curious.

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47 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

How do you mean? Absentee designer? Genuinely curious.

Exactly. I’m sure he had assistants. Bob Cupp did a lot of Jack Nicklaus’ work.

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1 hour ago, GolfLug said:

How do you mean? Absentee designer? Genuinely curious.

I was a member of Penobscot Valley CC in Orono Maine, many moons ago.  Hidden Donald Ross gem in Central Maine.  But he has his name attached to another course nearby, Lucerne Golf Course. Urban legend is that the Owner of the Lucerne Inn, at the time, got him to come over and stick a couple of stakes in the ground for some tees and greens locations and then he never came back.  Not sure if that is true, but that's what all the old guys I used to play with said.  I've played the 9 hole course many times and it just doesn't have the feel of all of the other Ross courses I've played, so it doesn't surprise me if he wasn't there during the construction.

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40 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

Exactly. I’m sure he had assistants. Bob Cupp did a lot of Jack Nicklaus’ work.

 

13 minutes ago, jsgolfer said:

I was a member of Penobscot Valley CC in Orono Maine, many moons ago.  Hidden Donald Ross gem in Central Maine.  But he has his name attached to another course nearby, Lucerne Golf Course. Urban legend is that the Owner of the Lucerne Inn, at the time, got him to come over and stick a couple of stakes in the ground for some tees and greens locations and then he never came back.  Not sure if that is true, but that's what all the old guys I used to play with said.  I've played the 9 hole course many times and it just doesn't have the feel of all of the other Ross courses I've played, so it doesn't surprise me if he wasn't there during the construction.

Ahahh..! Always wondered how some the big names have so many course credits to their banner.

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1 hour ago, jsgolfer said:

I was a member of Penobscot Valley CC in Orono Maine, many moons ago.  Hidden Donald Ross gem in Central Maine.  But he has his name attached to another course nearby, Lucerne Golf Course. Urban legend is that the Owner of the Lucerne Inn, at the time, got him to come over and stick a couple of stakes in the ground for some tees and greens locations and then he never came back.  Not sure if that is true, but that's what all the old guys I used to play with said.  I've played the 9 hole course many times and it just doesn't have the feel of all of the other Ross courses I've played, so it doesn't surprise me if he wasn't there during the construction.

My course is billed as a Ross course. He did the greens, but did not do any of the routing. The greens are long since gone. It’s a nice old style course, but Ross? No.

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I've also wondered about how much work Ross actually did on my home course, Miami Shores GC in Troy, OH. Whatever he did must have come at the very end of his life since the course opened in the late 40s. 

I guess either way, they redid the entire front nine in the 70s and the back nine in the 90s. It would be interesting to see what the place originally looked like.

 

 

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Historicaerials.com is a great resource to see what a lot of golf courses used to look like. Obviously, you have better luck in more populated areas. 

I’ve always felt like Piqua Country Club has a good Ross feel to it. He really only did 9 holes, then Jack Kidwell did the other 9, then it had to be moved a little for the I-75 expansion. But, you can see the original layout on that website. 

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I'm hoping to do a little tour around the public Ross courses in the southeast for my 50th birthday in a year and a half.  Forest Park in Augusta and Bacon Park in Savannah are two I definitely want to hit.  There are several in Florida as well.

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Donald Ross was prolific in my area, around Philadelphia. But I have to wonder about what he is ultimately credited with because my club is listed in the Ross Society's website as a remodel, and it never happened. My club is a George Thomas design and I am sure Ross was familiar with it because he designed and worked on multiple clubs within a twenty minute drive, but he didn't do anything at my club. Flynn tinkered with it, but not Ross.

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There are a couple of Ross courses that I've played in Florida that I've often wondered about as well. Delray Beach's muni is supposedly Ross but other than a couple of odd traps here and there (one that has a cart path right through it) It doesn't seem all that much different than any other muni I've played, complete with worn out rough in areas and crappy tee boxes. I played the Biltmore in Coral Gables many times when I was in college. That one has actually improved over the years as far as condition and they've restored several holes to what is supposedly the original design.

It's written on one of the Ross commemorative websites that he had such a heavy workload with a 2-3 year backlog of contracts to fulfill he was only able to actually visit half the sites, doing the design work looking at land surveys.

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I'm playing Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio next week.  Never played there before.  On their web site, see link, they talk about a 2016 restoration using original drawings.  Anybody have a chance to play there and if so, do you feel it is true to the initial design.  Note, they also state it now plays over 7,700 yards which I doubt is anywhere near the original but I am hoping they kept the "Feel"

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The Region’s Most Prestigious Address for Golf On February 23, 1903, six Toledoans led by S.P. Jermain, gathered to sign the letter of incorporation for the Inverness Club. Jermain was unquestionably the father of golf in...

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