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Centennial Celebrations Paying Tribute to Donald Ross' Brilliance

During the early 1920s, the preeminent course architect was churning out course designs by the dozens. Now, many of those clubs are recognizing the 100th anniversary of that work.
According to the Donald Ross Society, Broadmoor Country Club in Indianapolis, Ind., is one of 72 courses celebrating Donald Ross centennials between 2020 and 2023. 

According to the Donald Ross Society, Broadmoor Country Club in Indianapolis, Ind., is one of 72 courses celebrating Donald Ross centennials between 2020 and 2023. 

Any conversation about the all-time best course designers undoubtedly includes Donald Ross. Notable for his prolific architecture and output during the Golden Age of Architecture, he is credited with more than 400 layouts -- originals or redesigns.

By the 1920s, during his halcyon days, he had more work than he could handle, yet expeditiously churned out various masterpieces.

That, naturally, wasn't lost on the Donald Ross Society. For the past two years, the society has identified Ross courses in the U.S. and Canada coming up on centennial anniversaries. Unfortunately, the pandemic delayed festivities for some.

“We are running into a period where Ross was at his peak in the 1920s and we also wanted to recognize that," said Brad Becken, president of the Donald Ross Society.

Ross died in 1948 and never saw the full fruits of his labor. For what it's worth, he has more courses ranked among most top-100 lists than any architect in the U.S.

That said, Becken and team identified 72 clubs that will celebrate a centennial between 2020 and 2023. Or 37 between this year and 2022. Becken, who has famously played every existing Ross course through 2020 (roughly 359), had plans to visit some clubs last year, but the pandemic put the kibosh on those.

"We maintain our list based upon when Ross worked on a course, and there are quite a few courses like Schuylkill Country Club, which were originally laid out by another architect and subsequently remodeled by Ross," Becken said.

Becken recently took part in a panel discussion over the July 4 weekend at Teugega Country Club in Rome, N.Y., as part of a 100-year ceremony there.

The society, founded in 1989, honors each club with personalized inscriptions on an embossed plaque. Needless to say, clubs have been in full planning mode.

Indianapolis' Broadmoor Country Club, designed in 1921, decided to have its hoopla next year with the Women's State Amateur and various parties. PGA head professional Michael Admire said a hickory-shaft tournament could happen in the fall.

One of a handful of bulolic Ross courses untouched until 2020, Broadmoor recently fixed drainage issues and made tweaks to restore the to its original state.

True to form, Ross made “each hole present a different problem” and built "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," he famously said of his philosophy.

Said Admire: "It’s chess on God’s green Earth is what this is. To me, what makes it magical and special all in one is how they did this without computers, how they designed it with what they had and how it has stood up to the test of time."

Also standing the test of time has been Benvenue Country Club in Rocky Mount, N.C., established in 1922. Ross designed the 18-hole layout but aerials later showed "a lot was never put in place," said Ken Burnette, a two-time club president and defacto historian.

"We paid Ross for the architectural drawing, but we didn’t have the money to put all that into place back then," he added.

For instance, the greens were literally sand greens. Not until 1946 was a green grass committee formed and it decided to change to turf and put in motion plans to install an irrigation system.

Over the years, erosion and mowing patterns altered the course from its original intent. Recently, with Kris Spence's consultation and Land Innovations Inc. doing the work, the club fixed 42 greenside bunkers and restored the design in accordance to architectural drawings. Burnette said when looking at archetype aerials, drawings and photos, bunkers that used to be a third of a green grew to be two-thirds.

"We are closer to the Ross intent on greenside bunkers than we’ve ever been. It's big, big in our favor," he added.

The work was intentionally done to coincide with the centennial. The club, which consists of about 400 members, will hold various events as a lead-up to Sept. 22, 2022. A 100th Anniversary Steering Committee, led by former club president Sylvia Harriss, quickly came together in April. She said the commemoration will kick off with a New Year's Eve dinner and dance.

It hasn't been determined yet whether special events will take place monthly or bi-monthly. There's hope that at least one tennis and golf tournament will happen, where respective club professionals return. A Scottish cocktail of the month has been bandied about.

"We also are thinking of having a dinner with Scottish tasting and a program that would help members learn more about Ross and our course, but we also want to be mindful that we don't overwhelm members," said Harriss.

Longtime member Bob League took it upon himself to contribute Ross articles to a club newsletter.

"I've been going back through minutes of meetings and finding things of interest," he said. "The good thing is we have a lot of balls up in the air with ideas."

Boiling it all down, 100 years for anything is a long time. After all, 2021 also marks the centennial for such staples as Wheaties, White Castle hamburgers and Chuckles candy.

In the context of Ross' iconic designs, 100 years stands as a testament to his work.

"He should be honored and remembered," Becken said, "considering his contribution to golf."