Behind the Tartan is a series of articles that I have written for SEAMUS Golf. Each article in the series focuses on a historical figure in golf, tying them into a tartan headcover from SEAMUS. I am a huge fan of the company and am very happy to work together with them on this series. Check out their awesome products!
Donald Ross is one of the forefathers of golf course architecture in America. Ross acted as a bridge of sorts between the forefathers of golf in Scotland and the Golden Age of course design in America. His name is still uttered today as one of America’s great course architects, but it should also be mentioned as one of America’s great golfers.
Born in Dornoch, Scotland, Ross grew up in the Highlands, playing his golf at Royal Dornoch. Hailing from the Scottish Clan Ross, one of Donald Ross’ ancestor’s life mirrored the path that Donald would take in a number of ways. This ancestor was the first Clan Ross chief to ever receive a university education. He traveled down from the Highlands to attend the University of St Andrews in 1610. Similar to his ancestor who traveled down to St Andrews from the Highlands, Donald Ross made the same journey nearly 200 years later as he sought golfing wisdom from one of the masters of the game. Donald Ross moved to St Andrews as a teenager to serve an apprenticeship under Old Tom Morris.
Old Tom Morris passed his golf knowledge on to Ross, who worked steadily while saving money for his dream – moving to America. In 1899, when a Harvard professor suggested to Ross that he go to America, he cashed in his life savings and took a boat journey across the Atlantic. America was a fertile land for golfers in the early 20th century, and Ross rode the growing wave of golf popularity in America for his entire career.
That same Harvard professor found Ross his first job as a golf professional in Massachusetts. Not even a year later, Boston soda fountain magnate James Walker Tufts appointed Ross to be the golf professional at Pinehurst Golf Resort in North Carolina. It was at this point that his career in course design began.
Donald Ross’ professional playing career is often overshadowed by his illustrious design career. Ross won the prestigious North South Open three times, finished in the top 10 in the US Open four times, and placed eighth in the 1910 Open Championship. Even as his design business grew and employed thousands of people in the construction of courses, Ross maintained his professional playing career.
Although Pinehurst No. 2 is arguably Ross’ most famous design, his courses are peppered throughout the various top courses in the world lists, naming Seminole Golf Club, Oak Hill, Inverness Club, and Aronomink Golf Club among over 400 others. Sadly, many Donald Ross courses have fallen victim to the advances of modern technology, either being deemed too short for modern tournament golf, or being unrecognizably “updated” to keep up with equipment advances. Fortunately, a new tide of restoring Ross gems closer to the original design seems to be rising.Donald Ross was a founding member and first president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Growing up on the links at Royal Dornoch and learning from the Scottish master Old Tom Morris undeniably planted incredible golf seeds in Donald Ross. Ross was one of the first architects in the Golden Age of course design in America. He, along with the likes of C.B. Macdonald and others, paved the way for some of the best golf courses America has ever seen.