June 25, 2014

Loran Smith: Ross courses both beautiful and tough

After two weeks of national championship competition, the No. 2 layout at North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort and Country Club will be getting a deserved break. After back-to-back U.S. Open tournaments — men’s and women’s — even a golf course needs a break.

It will be interesting to learn what the views are with regard to playing the two championships back-to-back at the same venue. The United States Golf Association, which sanctions those tournaments, has been bullish on the idea for some time. If it affects the bottom line positively, then you can bet that the format will continue. All sporting events today are in the big bucks business.

One thing is a given — Pinehurst has notable charm and appeal, much of it having to do with the legend of Donald Ross, the Scottish-born golf architect whose credentials were such that he was in constant demand when it came to designing golf courses. His designs in Georgia include East Lake, Augusta Country Club, Brunswick Country Club and the Athens Country Club.

With an opportunity to play the latter course while in college, I was taken by its beauty and learned early on why there was an advantage to those who could play percentage golf. Hit the fairways, avoid trouble and approach the greens with the best route to the flag. Bumping and running would give you more scoring opportunity than hitting into greens and letting the ball roll off and into trouble. The Athens Country Club does not have the turtleback greens of Pinehurst, but you pay for any errant shot.

One of the most enjoyable experiences a golfer can have is to visit Royal Dornoch Golf Club in Dornoch, Scotland, where Ross grew up. Play a round there and you realize what influenced Ross’ thinking.

On the first hole, a par four of 331 yards, there was the good fortune of a well-hit tee shot that came to rest in the middle of the fairway. My approach shot was on target to a high green, which left me thinking that surely my ball was next to the pin, a birdie opportunity. I was aghast upon walking up on the green and learning that my ball had rolled over the green and off the other side.

Welcome to Dornoch!

Welcome to Donald Ross design. Good shots are rewarded, off-line shots are not.

There are a lot of stories about Dornoch, including Dornoch Cottage, which was Donald Ross’ home at Pinehurst. It is now owned by Bob and Carol Hansen, who frequently have visitors to Pinehurst knocking on the door and asking if they can see what Ross’ home was like.

When the U.S. Open was played at Pinehurst in 1999, when Payne Stewart won, you could visit the Ross home near the third hole and see where the great man relaxed.  

Today, there is as much interest in Donald Ross as ever. There’s the Donald Ross Society and the proud legacy of more than 400 Ross-designed courses in the United States.

In addition to the abundance of course designs, Ross was an astute businessman who once owned the Pinehurst Inn. He was a fine golfer himself. All the while, he was maintaining and developing Pinehurst No. 2 into one of the finest golf courses in the world.

A man of great faith and deep integrity, there is the story that at one long-ago tournament, a priest won the event. It was later discovered that the priest changed his scorecard. Ross wrote the priest a letter, demanding that he return the trophy. The priest would not comply.

In a magazine at a Pinehurst hotel, there was the story recalling that Ross returned to Scotland in “1904 to get married.”

When he returned and introduced his bride to a friend, the friend told the bride, “You took a step closer to God when you married him.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at

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