Who was Donald Ross?

By Colin Terry

Donald J Ross is probably the most well-known golf course architect of the first half of the 20th century, and by all accounts the most prolific.  Traveling the country by rail from site to site, Ross is credited with some 400 course designs.  But even with the impressive quantity of work, the quality never wavered. 

From the turn of the century through his death in the 1940s Ross is credited with more great designs than any other course architect.  In fact, for a thirteen-year stretch, from 1919 to 1931, eight U.S. Opens were held at courses Ross designed.  He also presided over the making of the country’s first substantial golf resort in Pinehurst, NC.  Even today, many of his courses are considered among the very best in the country.  In 2021, ten Donald Ross designs are listed in the Golf Digest Greatest 100 courses and a staggering 65 designs are accounted for in the Golfweek Top 200 Classic courses (built before 1960).  How did this come to be?

Donald Ross was born the son of a mason in Dornoch Scotland in 1872.  He was exposed to the sport of golf early on at the Royal Dornoch Golf Club and spent a good bit of time learning the game as a caddy and player.  Leaving school at the age of 14, Ross became a master carpenter’s apprentice which developed his craftsman skills and all the while his fascination with golf (club building and greens keeping) was growing.  This interest was heightened when Old Tom Morris came to down to formally layout a proper course for the Royal Dornoch club.

By Old Tom Morris’ 2nd visit in 1892, Ross was a serious student of greens keeping and club making/repair as well as the game itself.  The very next year, Donald Ross headed off to St. Andrews where he served as Old Tom’s apprentice as keeper of the greens.  While in St Andrew’s Ross also refined his skills as a club maker.  Ross then spent one year at Carnoustie before being offered a chance to move home.  In 1894 he was hired as head professional, greens keeper and clubmaker back at Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

In the late 19th and early 20th century it wasn’t uncommon for men in Scotland to head to the United States to seek their fortune.  It was also becoming increasingly popular for golf professionals to go abroad to teach this “new” game to swaths of Americans who were smitten with it.  In 1899, not long after a notable Harvard professor visited Dornoch, Donald Ross packed a suitcase and his golf clubs and set sail for New York.  His actual destination was Oakley Country Club, just a few miles west of Boston, MA.

The course at Oakley CC was somewhat rudimentary when Ross arrived, and as the newly hired golf professional, he set out to remedy that problem.  By 1901 Ross had designed a new course for Oakley CC, one that would stand as his first design.  The location of 11 or those holes are still intact today.

During this same time James Walker Tufts was busy building a resort in North Carolina that was intended as a healing spot for people with means.  Outdoor activities were encouraged and golf started to become the pastime of choice for the visitors.  Donald Ross was soon invited to be the pro at Pinehurst during the winter months and design a new course that would help satisfy the growing demand for play.  That new course would become the world-renowned No. 2 course at Pinehurst.  He would eventually design three additional courses at the Pinehurst resort, where he would be a presence for the rest of his life.

In 1909, Ross left Oakley CC and took the post of professional at Essex County Club (Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA), a summer sporting club that boasted many wealthy Bostonians as members.  A redesign of Essex County Club furthered his reputation for course design and by 1914 Ross was becoming a full-time course architect.  His increased attention on course design signaled a slowdown in his competitive playing, a career that included 2 Massachusetts Open titles, 3 North-South Open titles, 4 top 10’s in the US Open and a T-8 in the 1910 Open Championship.

By 1920, Donald J Ross and Associates were as busy as ever.  He had hired J.B. McGovern and Walter B Hatch to oversee construction at sites across the country, while Ross laid out holes and course routings either in the field or using topographical maps while stationed in Pinehurst.  The addition of Walter Irving Johnson, an engineer, made the process even more efficient.  Johnson was technically savvy and was able to take Ross’ two-dimensional sketches and create detailed drawings conveying exact instruction to the construction crews.  An example of this type of drawing below details the first green at Broadmoor Country Club.  This drawing is the only one available for Broadmoor CC at the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst.

The number of projects undertaken by Ross in the 1920s was quite remarkable.  Because of the sheer volume of work, and the complications of travel, it is estimated that Donald Ross never set foot on a third of the properties where his courses were being built.  A thorough investigation by Bradley Klein for the book “Discovering Donald Ross” lists those courses where evidence exists that Ross was indeed on site.  And while it isn’t known how much time he spent there; it is confirmed that Ross visited the grounds of Broadmoor Country Club.

In the last 15 years of his life, Ross’ workload was much lighter.  He completed several municipal projects, but traveling was getting more difficult for him, and he spent a good deal of time in Pinehurst.  Donald Ross died in April of 1948 at the age of 75.

A lauded golf course architect, an elite championship player, a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, but what made his designs great?  What are the characteristics of a Donald Ross golf course?

Text Box: Editor’s Note: We thank Colin Terry for his contribution to our Centennial Newsletter.  If you have a story of interest, please submit to jfrazier@planningplusllc.com.

Source: Klein, Bradley S. (29 August 2001). "Discovering Donald Ross: The Architect and his Golf Courses." Sleeping Bear Press. Retrieved 21 June 2016.



Indy’s Golden Age in 1920s shows way forward

Source: Indianapolis Business Journal, May 28, 2015,  J.K. Wall

In the 1920s, Indianapolis was one of the most innovative cities in the nation.

If not quite the Silicon Valley of its day, the city held a rank similar to Seattle or San Diego today.  But after “the dark tragedy of the roaring twenties,” Indianapolis lost its edginess for decades.

From 1919, when the soldiers returned home from World War I, until the stock market crash in 1929, Indianapolis enjoyed the fruits of what historians call the city’s Golden Age—a 40-year period starting in about 1880 that saw Indianapolis flourish economically and culturally.

High-end auto companies, such as Marmon, Stutz and Duesenberg, pushed the envelope on engineering and luxury, winning races at the Indianapolis 500 and winning the hearts of the growing ranks of the nation’s wealthy.

Workers at Eli Lilly and Co., such as these in 1919, helped launch insulin in 1923. (Photo courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Co. Collection, Indiana Historical Society)The Duesenberg 1929 Model J, made at an Indianapolis factory, has become such a symbol of the 1920s that a replica of one was used in the 2013 film version of “The Great Gatsby”—even though that story is set in 1922.

It was in Indianapolis in 1923 that Eli Lilly and Co. figured out how to scale up production of insulin, turning a university discovery into a treatment available to diabetics around the globe.  In so doing, Lilly pioneered the R&D-based model that undergirds the modern pharmaceutical industry.

From Indianapolis, Booth Tarkington penned his two Pulitzer Prize-winning novels: “The Magnificent Ambersons” in 1918 and “Alice Adams” in 1921.  Both were later made into films.  “Alice Adams,” starring Katharine Hepburn, was an Oscar nominee for best picture in 1935.

Workers at Eli Lilly and Co., such as these in 1919, helped launch insulin in 1923. (Photo courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Co. Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Indianapolis participated in the nation’s first mass youth rebellion.  The rabble-rousers wanted to drive their parents’ cars to clubs that featured a shocking mix of illegal alcohol (Prohibition started in 1918), sensuous dancing, revealing women’s clothing (some even danced without underwear), and jazz music, a new style that came from African-Americans.

Songwriter Hoagy Carmichael learned jazz from black ragtime musicians in Indianapolis before becoming a national star.

“It just shows you what a bustling place this was,” Nelson Price, a local journalist and historian, said of Indianapolis in the 1920s.

While today’s society has been remade by the IT revolution, the society of the 1920s was being remade by the Industrial Revolution.  Midwesterners were on the leading edge of this transformation Tarkington wrote, disapprovingly, in “The Magnificent Ambersons.”

“They had one supreme theory: that the perfect beauty and happiness of cities and of human life was to be brought about by more factories; they had a mania for factories,” he wrote.

The Midwestern United States was the most productive manufacturing center on the planet, said James H. Madison, an Indiana University professor known as the dean of Indiana historians. Indiana and Indianapolis were latecomers to the Industrial Revolution—since Indianapolis didn’t get railroad lines until 1847—and were trying to catch up to the pack.

By 1919, Indianapolis ranked 23rd among leading cities for worker productivity, according to the Census Bureau’s 1920 survey of manufacturers.  In that year, Indianapolis had nearly 50,000 wage earners in factories churning out a bevy of products—especially food, but also automobiles and parts, books and magazines, railroad equipment and medicines.

Manufacturing wage earners in Indianapolis averaged about $1,100 in annual pay in 1919—but they added more than $2,600 apiece in value to the raw materials they worked with, according to Census data.

By 1929, productivity in Indianapolis’ factories had risen 40 percent, to more than $3,700 per wage earner.  That marked the seventh-fastest growth among 28 leading metro areas tracked by the Census across that decade, and moved Indianapolis up to the 20th-most-productive city in the nation.

“Indiana is really a manufacturing state by 1920, and a big-time serious manufacturing state,” Madison said.

Connected city

Three key things fueled innovation in 1920s Indianapolis.

First, the city was well-connected to the rest of the country.  Train travel brought people to Indianapolis in large numbers, whether or not this was their final destination.

Train routes from New York or Baltimore or Cincinnati to Chicago or Detroit or St. Louis stopped in Indianapolis.  Passengers often would spend the night or even a couple of days, noted Price, the local historian. This included such celebrities as George Gershwin and Walt Disney, as well as presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

In 1922, more than 6 million people passed through Indianapolis’ Union Station (even though Marion County had just 348,000 residents).

After city leaders spent the past 35 years building up a tourism industry centered on sports and trade shows, Indianapolis now attracts 26 million visitors a year. But that’s still a smaller multiple of the region’s population than was the case in the 1920s.

Second, Indianapolis drew in outsiders at a rate it did not for the rest of the 20th century. Marion County’s population grew 32 percent in the 1910s and 21 percent in the 1920s, which means it was attracting large numbers of residents from outside its borders, not just relying on the growth of its native families.

Less than 9 percent of Indianapolis’ residents were foreign-born in the 1920s—a far smaller proportion than was the case in Chicago, Detroit and New York.  However, Indianapolis had more immigrants in 1920—in actual numbers—than it would again until the 1990s.

Not until the 2000s did Indianapolis’ percentage of foreign-born residents finally recover to the levels of a century ago.

The Duesenbergs moved to Indianapolis from Iowa. L.S. Ayres came from New York. And Madame C.J. Walker, the nation’s wealthiest black woman, moved her entire beauty products company from Denver to Indianapolis in 1910.  Walker wanted access to Indianapolis freight railroad lines, which connected easily to all the major cities east of the Mississippi River.

She joined a city that then had the highest percentage of black residents north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  By 1920, 11 percent of Indianapolis’ residents were black, nearly five times as high as was the case in Chicago and New York.

“That kind of churning of people, that kind of churning and mixing that comes with it, is a good thing, in all kinds of ways, including for innovation,” said Madison, the IU historian.

Third, Indianapolis had clusters of small companies.  The two major industry clusters in the 1920s were high-end auto companies and insurance companies.

The insurance cluster waned, but enough of it remained to spawn significant businesses such as Anthem Inc. and CNO Financial Group Inc.  But not until the 1990s and 2000s, with the development of an IT cluster focused on measured marketing, did Indianapolis regain something like the thriving cluster it had with auto manufacturing in the 1920s.

Urban economists have long argued that a cluster of small businesses leads to faster growth than having large companies.

“Economic growth is highly correlated with an abundance of small, entrepreneurial firms,” wrote Ed Glaeser, an urban economist at Harvard University, in a 2009 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Losing its edge

Those characteristics waned in the decades after the 1920s.

For all the innovation of the Indianapolis auto companies, they still approached cars as holding the same basic function in society as fancy buggies and carriages—a privilege of the wealthy elite.  They failed to scale up, as the Detroit automakers did, to handle what Henry Ford call his “democratization of the automobile.”

Some Indianapolis automakers failed in the 1920s, unable to compete with the low-price cars churned out in Detroit.  The Great Depression delivered the coup de grace to Indianapolis’ auto cluster, although the mid-century auto boom was so huge that Indianapolis actually got richer as a satellite of Detroit than it had ever been as a hub of auto innovation.

Eli Lilly became a pharmaceutical powerhouse.  But it kept nearly all its functions in-house, meaning there was never a cluster of pharma-related companies that developed in Indianapolis.  City leaders didn’t formally start trying to build one until 2002.

Stricter immigration policies passed by Congress in 1924 caused the proportion of foreign-born residents to fall steadily in Midwestern cities for four decades.

Yet Indianapolis also hurt itself by telling most of the world it was not welcome.

City leaders in the 1920s celebrated Indianapolis as “this 100-percent American town”—which was code for low numbers of immigrants, particularly Catholic immigrants, according to James Divita, a retired historian who taught at Marian University in Indianapolis.  They also boasted that the city “is drawing its population from surrounding counties and states rather than from the immigrant tide,’” Divita wrote in an essay in the 1994 “Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.”


Klan’s influence

And then there was the Ku Klux Klan.

During a six-year stretch, from 1921 to 1927, the Klan had a meteoric rise, forming a chapter in every county in the state and signing up an estimated one out of every four adult males.

This was not the Klan of the post-Civil War and the 1960s civil rights era, stressed Madison, the IU historian.  This version of the Klan was animated less by blacks than by Catholics and Jews, and less by Catholics and Jews than by the rebellious young people of the day, Madison said.

The Klan of the 1920s promoted a “pure” white Protestant Christian nation and traditional family values—with plenty of intimidation shown toward those who didn’t go along.

The Klan essentially took over the state government in the election of 1924, helping Republicans sweep to large majorities in both houses of the General Assembly and win the Governor’s Office.  A year later, Klan-backed candidates won Indianapolis’ mayoral, city council and school board elections.

But the Klan’s influence collapsed after its Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson, was jailed for raping and biting a young woman, leading to her death.  When the governor declined to pardon him, he started spilling his political secrets.

Indiana was not the only Klan state of the 1920s—Oregon, Wisconsin and the southern states also experienced a surge in membership.  But the national notoriety of the Stephenson case caused the memory of the Klan in Indiana to live on for decades.

The impact of the Klan is what Madison, the IU historian, referred to in “Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana” as “the dark tragedy of the roaring twenties.”  It was perhaps the worst example of what he views as a common Hoosier trait: tiptoeing cautiously into the future while trying to hold on to an older social order.

“It reflects that backward-looking tendency that Hoosiers have always had of looking back to a time when things were hunky-dory and God was a Hoosier,” Madison said.

Until the 1920s, “the Indiana idea”—celebrating a simpler past in the face of a bewildering present—earned the state a leading place in the United States because it “satisfied a national yearning for nostalgia, escape, simplicity, and humor,” wrote J. Kent Calder, the former managing editor of the Indiana Historical Society’s magazine in a 1994 essay in the “Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.”

That’s what Indiana’s most famous writers of the time—including Tarkington and James Whitcomb Riley—gave to the nation.

But the Klan channeled this nostalgia into a destructive form that left a bad taste in the nation’s mouth.  Combined with the setbacks of the Depression and Indiana’s post-World War II status as a well-fed vassal of Detroit, Indianapolis lost the innovative character it had during the Roaring ’20s.  “Long term,” Madison said, “the Klan was bad for business.”

It was out of this injustice that Broadmoor was borne.  Next Edition: the beginning of the Broadmoor history.

Memoir: Indianapolis In The 1920s

by Margaret Winslow Fisher (Alexandria, VA)

Back to my earliest memories on Pennsylvania Street. The eggman, Mr. VanDyne, came once a week to the kitchen door and faithfully delivered long, conservative political commentaries along with the eggs. His eggs were wonderful. I was less enthusiastic about the drawn out commentaries.

There were certain smells in those days as horses left their inevitable dung along the streets. One had to walk carefully. Also, Kinghan’s Meat Rendering plant was nearby and it smelled terrible. In the winter furnaces burned coal and crude oil and there was always soot on the window sills. It was hard to keep hands clean.

In the house we had upright telephones. When you lifted the receiver a high pitched voice would say, “Number pleuze!” and you only had to give four numbers: “5224.” Sometimes the operator would say, “The lion is busy,” and we’d have to try again later. As more people had telephones we had to say, “Wabash 5224.” (At our vacation house at Lake Maxinkuckee one had to crank the phone for a sort of bicycle bell to ring and alert the operator).

Our radio was shaped like a stained glass window and emitted strange squeeks and squawks and static along with the music or soap opera or H.B. Kaltenborn, commentator. Phonograph records were heavy, claylike, and scratched and broke easily. Record needles were of steel and bobbed along on a wobbly arm which attempted to follow the tracks on the records, but frequently slipped with a horrible raucous scraping sound that made you wince.

This was Indianapolis in the 20’s from my perspective as a child.  It was not a bad life.