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Donald Ross: The Michelangelo of Golf

By Diane Amato

Published May 27, 2022 • 2 Min Read

Legendary golf course architect Donald Ross grew up in a small town in Scotland where he developed his love of golf playing and working at the local course. He knew from a young age that there was a future in golf — and he wanted to be a part of it.

In 1899 he apprenticed at St. Andrews, where he met American golf lovers who encouraged him to travel to the U.S. to pursue his love of the game. He arrived in Massachusetts later that year with $2 to his name.

After starting out at the Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Massachusetts, he was appointed as the golf professional at the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina. At Pinehurst, he later designed his first four courses, most notably the famous Pinehurst No. 2.

Ross went on to design hundreds of courses throughout his career, including the renowned Seminole in Florida, Oakland Hills in Michigan and Oak Hill Country Club in New York.

But in North Carolina, he truly made his mark, designing 50 courses and shaping the state’s golf legacy. From his cottage behind the third green at Pinehurst No. 2, Ross did most of his design work.

No golf architect in his day had more influence than Donald Ross:

  • He created many of the most iconic courses still in play today.

  • In the 1930s, he revolutionized greens-keeping practices in the Southern United States when he transitioned the putting surfaces at Pinehurst No. 2 from oiled sand to Bermuda grass.

  • His designs are known for letting the landscape dictate the design of each hole rather than significantly disrupting the natural contours of the earth.

Retired pro golfer (and fellow course architect) Jack Nicklaus said of Donald Ross, “his stamp as an architect was naturalness.”

Donald Ross was admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977 — an honour rarely bestowed on a non-player. Such was his impact on the game of golf.


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