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Donald James Ross (November 23, 1872 – April 26, 1948) was a golf course designer. He was born in Dornoch, Scotland, but became a citizen of and spent most of his adult life in the United States. Ross started his career by being an apprentice to Old Tom Morris at St Andrews in Scotland around 1899.[1] With the help of an American agronomy student, fellow Scotsman Robert White from St. Andrews, Ross decided to move to America. Ross invested all his life savings to move to the United States and walked off the boat with only $2.[2] In America, he got his first job at Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Massachusetts. He quickly rose to the position of golf professional at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, where he began his course designing career.

Donald Ross
Donald Ross 1905.png
Ross in 1905
Personal information
Full nameDonald James Ross
Born(1872-11-23)November 23, 1872
Dornoch, Scotland
DiedApril 26, 1948(1948-04-26) (aged 75)
Pinehurst, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality Scotland
 United States
ChildrenLillian Ross
Best results in major championships
Masters TournamentDNP
PGA ChampionshipDNP
U.S. Open5th: 1903
The Open ChampionshipT8: 1910
Achievements and awards
World Golf Hall of Fame1977 (member page)



Ross learned several skills related to golf throughout his life such as greens keeping, club making, golf pro, and architect.[3][1] Ross got his first job at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club, where he played while growing up, working as a greens keeper.[4] Ross served an apprenticeship with Old Tom Morris in St Andrews before investing his life savings in a trip to the U.S. After his year long apprenticeship he went back to the Royal Dornoch Golf Club where he honed his playing abilities while also taking care of the greens and making clubs.[4] Later in 1899, with the encouragement and support of Harvard astronomy professor and Salem and Petersham, Massachusetts resident Robert W. Willson, he obtained his first job in America at Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Massachusetts. In 1900 he was appointed as the golf professional at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, where he began his course design career and eventually designed four courses. He then began running a substantial practice with summer offices in Little Compton, Rhode Island. At its height, Donald J. Ross and Associates, as his practice was known, oversaw the work of thousands of people. However, Ross always kept up his professional golf standing. His brother Alec won the 1907 U.S. Open.

Ross's most famous designs are Pinehurst No. 2, Aronimink Golf Club, East Lake Golf Club, Seminole Golf Club, Oak Hill Country Club, Glen View Club, Memphis Country Club, Inverness Club, Miami Biltmore Golf Course and Oakland Hills Country Club. Although Ross was a competitive golfer, he is primarily known for his work as a course designer. As time moved on, his focus shifted towards designing courses rather than playing and teaching. In his time as a designer he is credited with roughly 400 course designs or redesigns between 1900-1948.[5] Some of his early work was in Virginia and includes Jefferson Lakeside Country Club and Sewell's Point Golf Course. He also designed the Municipal Golf Course at Asheville, North Carolina in 1927.[6] Ross also designed one of Westchester, New York's best courses, Whippoorwill Country Club, in Armonk, New York; however, Charles Banks was hired by Whippoorwill to redesign the course in 1928. He also designed a 9-hole course in northern New York, known as the Schroon Lake Municipal Golf Club in 1918. He designed the Hope Valley Country Club in Durham, North Carolina in 1927.[7]

In the 1930s, he revolutionized greenskeeping practices in the southern United States when he oversaw the transition of the putting surfaces at Pinehurst No. 2 from oiled sand to Bermuda grass. Ross also designed the course at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina which is home to the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship. Currently, Sedgefield Country Club is the only regular Donald Ross design on the PGA Tour. Aronimink Golf Club, located in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, played host to the AT&T National in 2010 and 2011.

Ross was a founding member and first president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, which was formed at Pinehurst in 1947.[4] He was admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977, a high honor rarely awarded for anything other than playing success.[2]

Ross died while completing his final design at Raleigh Country Club in North Carolina. He is buried in Newton Cemetery in Newton, Massachusetts.[8]

List of all Donald Ross coursesEdit

List of Donald Ross-designed courses

Design elementsEdit

What allows a Donald Ross golf course to stand out is the design principles and elements he used. He displayed great attention to detail. Often he created challenging courses with very little earth moving; according to Jack Nicklaus, "His stamp as an architect was naturalness." Some of his designs include the "turtleback" greens, a Ross double plateau, and The Punchbowl.[9] The route the golfer had to take was an important decision Ross had to make and he favored very clear routes that would not require much walking. When he would design a par-4 hole, he favored an uphill short hole. Ross often created holes which invited run-up shots but had severe trouble at the back of the green, typically in the form of fall-away slopes.[4] All of these exemplify his naturalness design philosophy which did not require intense earth moving, he simply let the lay of the land dictate what each and every hole should be. Ross would go into designing a new course with the thought to "make each hole present a different problem. So arrange it that every stroke must be made with a full concentration and attention necessary to good golf. Build each hole in such a manner that it waste none of the ground at my disposal and takes advantage of every possibility I can see."[10] His most widely known trademark is the crowned or "turtleback" green, most famously seen on Pinehurst No. 2, though golf architecture writer Ron Whitten argued in Golf Digest in 2005 that the effect had become exaggerated compared to Ross's intention because greenkeeping practices at Pinehurst had raised the center of the greens.[9]

Golfing careerEdit

Ross had a successful playing career, winning three North and South Opens (1903, 1905, 1906) and two Massachusetts Opens (1905, 1911), and finishing fifth in the 1903 U.S. Open and eighth in the 1910 Open Championship. As his fame grew, he began to teach and play less and to focus on golf course design.

Results in major championshipsEdit

Ross played in the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

Tournament 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909 1910
U.S. Open DNP DNP WD DNP 21 9[11] 5 10 25 DNP 10 T40 DNP DNP

DNP = Did not play
WD = Withdrew
CUT = missed the half-way cut
"T" indicates a tie for a place
Yellow background for top-10

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "A History of Donald Ross in America". Links Magazine. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Donald Ross". World Golf Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  3. ^ "Donald Ross". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d "Donald Ross Biography - Belleair Country Club". Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  5. ^ Whitten, Ron (1996). Golf Has Never Failed Me: The Lost Commentaries of Legendary Golf Architect Donald J. Ross. Sleeping Bear Press. ISBN 9781886947108.
  6. ^ Bowers, Sybil Argintar (December 2004). "Municipal Golf Course" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  7. ^ de Miranda, Cynthia; Martin, Jennifer (July 2009). "Hope Valley Historic District" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved November 1, 2014.
  8. ^ "The Barclays: Plainfield architect Donald Ross' journey had humble beginnings in Boston". Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Donald Ross: A Golden Age Great". The Fried Egg. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  10. ^ "Donald J. Ross". Mill Creek MetroParks. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  11. ^ "Open Golf Champion". The Saint Paul Globe. Minnesota. October 12, 1902. Retrieved August 26, 2015.

External linksEdit