Monday, 27 December 2010

#6 Donald Ross

Best Course: Pinehurst #2

Other notable work: Seminole, Oakland Hills, Scioto, Pine Needles, Inverness, Oak Hill

Overview: Under advisement of John Sutherland, Ross went to study club making with Old Tom Morris and eventually returned to Royal Dornoch becoming greenskeeper and head professional. Ross was later convinced to come to Boston to take the same position with Oakley GC where he would eventually meet the Turfs family who were members. Ross was soon asked to become the winter professional at Pinehurst which lead to a long and storied history with the resort.

The work at Pinehurst drew a great deal of attention and made him sought out for his designs services. His contacts throughout the north-east meant he was always added to the demand for his services. Despite this he managed to stay on with Pinehurst as the manager throughout his entire career.

His style was certainly influenced by the links and Royal Dornoch’s greens in particular, but too many have made the mistake of pointing to the similar greens at Pinehurst as typical rather than atypical of his work. Additionally too many people have simplified his work down to a style which is unfortunate since his work was more varied than most people realize. Just look at the early photos of a course like Seminole and you will realize he was more adventurous than given credit.

Seminle's 6th

Praise for the work: His courses are more subtle and understated than any other famous architects in history. The bunkering is often minimal and the flourishes are few, but his courses are just as strategic and just as interesting as any of the great architects in history. Where someone like Thompson found flamboyance, Ross discovered the value of restraint.

There are so much many areas to praise his work from the outstanding skill in routing courses through to his use of strategically placed bunkers. He seemed to revel in the placement of a key bunker in the position you most wanted to be, often leaving you with lots of room to go around, but the knowledge that you had to take on the bunker in order to take on the hole.

Pine Needle's 3rd

The lasting impression of Ross will be forever at the greens. His contours were some of the wildest I have encountered and many of the greens have burned a lasting impression in my head as the easiest way to defend a hole against length. The even greater legacy is his surrounds and the use of short grass as a defense. By keeping the areas around greens short he has opened up the ground options for players, but when the slope is sharp enough he has created the nastiest of all hazards. This one looks serene right up until your ball comes up short and turns around and heads back towards you - slowly enough to be agonizing and deflating. Where it gets worse is when an aggressive near miss hits the side slope careens the ball away further away and usually into a horrible predicament. The short grass slope is Ross’s greatest lesson to the rest of us.

Criticisms: There is little to criticize architecturally, although many of his greens have become way too difficult as the grass has become shorter. There are people that feel some of the courses like Pinehurst #2 are not good design because of the extreme nature of the slopes on and around the greens. Others have called his work dull and suggested that most of the holes look quite similar. The line between subtle and dull is so close that one person's boring is another person’s genius

Oakland Hill's 11th

Great Quotes: “Often the highest recommendation of a bunker is when it is criticized. There is no such thing as a misplaced bunker. Regardless of where a bunker may be, it is the business of the player to avoid it”

Favourite Course: Pinehurst #2Where else can the professionals not shoot par and yet and average player can get around without losing a ball. The greens are the course and the slopes around them are the defense. Get aggressive and miss and you pay the price, manage your game and play short for position on occasion and you will win all bets. The course is an education in course management as well as design.

Pinehurst # 2 's 18th

What I take from him: Bill Coore praises him for “his simplicity and effectiveness for golf.” He teaches us all that one well placed hazard is often enough and that short grass is truly the architect’s best defense – not bunkers. Ross is more strategically effective in the smallest of contours than most modern architects are with the massive contours that they change.
He teaches me to simplify, to look for smaller and more effective details in design. He reminds me that the key attribute least used in current design is restraint.

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