Feature Interview


Donald Ross

May 2014


1. What is the function of a championship course?

It is obviously the function of  a championship course to present competitors with a variety of problems that will test every type of  shot which a golfer of championship ability should be qualified  to play. Thus it should call for long and accurate tee shots, accu­rate iron play (and let me say here that I consider the ability to play the longer irons as the supreme test of a great golfer), precise handling of the short game, and finally consistent putting. These abilities  should  be called  for  in a proportion that will not permit ex­cellence in  any one department of the game to too largely offset deficiencies in another. Likewise penalties must be provided to exact a toll from those who make mistakes and yet these penalties should not be unduly severe nor of a nature that will prohibit a full recovery by the execution of an unusually well played shot.

2. How do you challenge the ace golfer off the tee?

I have said that the tee shot must be long and accurate. A tee shot may be penalized either by narrowing the  area into which the longer player is hitting or by giving him an advantage for the second shot, according to the placing of  the  tee shot.

3. Please give us a specific example.

A good example of the first type of play is the eleventh hole.  The trap on the left side of this fair­way will not bother the short hitter from the back tee but by narrowing the fairway this trap makes the tee shot more exacting for the longer player who tries through his length to gain some advantage for the second shot.

4. What’s an example of the second method you describe for challenging the golfer off the tee?

Number Eight is a fine example of  the second type of hole. Here there is a ridge in front of the green which throws a ball played on the right side still further to the right and vice-versa. Thus if the pin is on the right of this green a player who wishes to avoid the effect of this slope must place  his tee shot on the right side of the fairway and conversely on the left side of  the fairway when the pin is on the left. A majority of  the two-shot  holes are of this general type.

5. What’s the surest test of a golfer?

I have said that  I consider  long iron play to be the ultimate test of a golfer’s skill, and I would like to have you observe how often the golfer will benefit who is playing  his long irons well in this tournament. Take for ex­ample, the second shot on the fifth hole. The competitor who has elected to play on the left side of the fairway has the opportunity of slapping a boldly played, high carrying iron directly on the pin but certain trouble awaits him to the right, left or short if he fails to properly execute this type of shot. The player on the right has a somewhat longer second and the slope of the green being more away from him, he is therefore likely to undertake an iron shot with a lower  trajectory.  The curl of the green to the left will, however, certainly bring him to grief unless he places his shot with fine accuracy or unless he plays with a slight fade to the right.

6. What did building in sand provide you relative to testing the shorter irons?

In the design of holes for the shorter irons and chip shots, the Pinehurst conditions offer a really exceptional op­portunity. Only in a sandy soil will the drainage problem permit construction of the rolling contours and  hollows natural to the Scotch seaside courses where golf was born. This contouring around a green makes possible an in­finite variety in the requirements  for short  shots  that no other form of hazard can call for.  I am sure that as you watch the play, you will be  inter­ested to see how many times com­petitors whose second shots have wandered a bit will be disturbed by these innocent appearing slopes.

Donald. Ross playing No. 2

Donald Ross playing a controlled pitch into the seventh green at No. 2.

7. What about the ultimate targets, the greens and putting?

Finally, as to the putting, for winter play the  greens on this course must be large and some premium had to  be placed on accurate play to the greens. Contours and slopes have consequently been used to break up the greens which are so designed as to always give the player near the cup an opportunity for one putt but have minimized the op­portunity to get down in less than the regulation number for the golfer whose play to the green has been less  accu­rate.

Ross playing the 9th hole of No. 2. Courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill

The two tiered green at the ninth at No. 2 cascades from left to right and features a false front. Recovery to it is very difficult for those who miss the green with their tee ball. Photo courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill.

8. Please discuss one of your favorite greens.

The sixteenth hole is a fine ex­ample of what I have in mind.  Here the slope rises gently on the front part of the green and falls slightly  away at the rear. Regardless of where the pin may be placed, a player whose ap­proach is either short or strong will be faced with the problem of putting across the ridge formed by this change in slope.

9. How do you hope the course will be perceived?

As you watch the play in this championship, I feel that you will above all, be impressed with  the fact that though Number Two course pre­sents a very exacting test of golf  from the back tees that it is essentially a fair test. You will see well but incorrectly played shots penalized, but you will always find that the right shot well played is fairly rewarded. There is no concealed trouble on the course and all hazards are in plain view.  Only players who have incorrectly  executed some shot will be unable to clearly see the green to which they are playing,  and with a few exceptions there are no holes on which the entire fairway cannot be seen from  the tee.

10. Any advice to visitors?

I am confident that you will yourself more fully enjoy a round of  golf,  at which time I hope you will select the tees most nearly suited  to your game as the varying lengths have been pro­vided for the sole purpose of presenting the same problems in the execution of shots to all golfers regardless of their length from the tee.

11. What is your main goal in building a course?

In building my courses my aim is to lay out an alternate route on practically every hole; that is in the case of a two shot hole the scratch player and long hitter has one way of getting home in two shots – he must place his drive accurately to do so – and the short player has another route to reach the green in three.

12. Tell us the story of the fellow you ran into at a train station.

I had just finished a hard day’s work on a Chicago course and had come to the station to check my baggage and buy my ticket. Just as I left the ticket window a man came by carrying a golf bag. He had a worn, worried look about him – about the way I felt. As he saw me he stopped. ‘Isn’t this Donald Ross?’ he asked. I assured him that it was. ‘Do you sleep well at night?’ was his first question. I thought this a rather strange opening remark, but I told him that as a rule I slept very well after a day out in the open. ‘ Then you must have a cast iron conscience’ he said. ‘Any man who has caused as much misery, suffering, heartache and trouble as you have should never be able to rest an hour!’

13. The poor chap must have just 4 putted some of those wild greens you built at Beverly Country Club! Speaking of playing, you finished in the top ten at the 1910 Open at St. Andrews. How was that experience?


I found at St. Andrews a great deal of hero worship. The crowds were all Braid, Taylor, Vardon and a few others, and seemed to think it preposterous that any of the young and rising golfers of Great Britain should accomplish anything against those giants of golf. Smith’s record round of seventy-one was forgotten when Duncan equalled it and Duncan was left to himself as Smith had been, after he had failed in his next round. Newspapers gave more space in their reports of the tournament to make excuses for the indifferent play of the heroes than they did in giving credit or praise to the outsiders who played well.

Being accustomed to the admirable arrangements that the United States Golf Association makes for its open championship in relation to the posting of scores and giving everybody the squarest possible deal, certain happenings at St Andrews deserve mention. For instance the scores were printed after the day’s play and during the progress of the play, it was next to impossible to find out how the golfers were going; all information, except the posting on a small blackboard of the lowest scores, being kept religiously within the tent of the Committee. Everybody seemed to be asking everybody else how so-and-so had finished with little hope of enlightenment. Again, the great players and the great names in the competition, were followed by large crowds and they were taken care of by flagmen and others, but the poor struggling player was left to himself, and however well he might be going, would at any moment be held up by crowds which had just left a favorite” pair or which were racing to follow another favorite player.

Such discrimination in favor of certain players struck me us being unfair, to say the least.

At the presentation of prizes, I made every effort to be on hand to receive mine, but the arrangements were so poor and the crowd handled so badly, that it was impossible for me to reach Lord Kinross who distributed the prizes when the names were called. Lord Kinross said something about the shyness of the golfers from across the water in not coming forward and later when he was told the facts he expressed regret. One can imagine the difference if a British professional came here and won a prize in the open championship under the auspices the United States Golf Association.

14. Please contrast the British and American perspectives on golf course design.

Seventy per cent of the courses in Great Britain are under 6,000 yards, and some of the finest links in the world are over there. In this country there seems to be a desire for length. The result is that we see layouts 6,500 yards long, and some of them will not begin to compare with the courses a thousand yards shorter. The number of really fine three-shot holes in this country can be counted on your fingers, while there are hundreds of splendid one and two shot holes.

15. Tell us about “when golf was golf”.

I’ve been playing golf for more than 50 years and I don’t believe there ever was a round in which I used more than six clubs. There’s a stick in the sack for every shot today. Thus, in a sense, the stick rather than the player makes the shot. When golf was golf, the player had to make a number of shots with the same clubs, half shots, three-quarter shots and so forth. I doubt that there are half a dozen players today who can bring off fractional shots with any degree of confidence. I don’t say this in criticism. It hasn’t been necessary for them to develop these shots. They have clubs which are designed to make the shots for them.

16. You sound a lot like your friend and mentor Old Tom Morris! Another friend Henry Fownes and you undertook a detailed study of how long it should take to play No. 2. What was your conclusion?

Two hours and forty minutes is sufficient time for foursomes to use in playing No. 2 Course.

17. Yikes! Times have tragically changed in that regard in this country. Moving along, what is your perspective on greenskeeping?

Greenskeeping is destined to be a very important and lucrative profession, of really far greater import to a golf club than the services of a professional. We haven’t realized this sufficiently here yet, but already some of the universities in the east have started special courses of greenskeeping and course maintenance.

18. In conclusion, where does Pinehurst Number Two stack among your works?

I  sincerely believe this course to be the fairest test of championship golf that I have ever designed.


The End

GolfClubAtlas.com wishes to thank the Pinehurst Resort for allowing us to quote from Donald Ross’s article ‘Architectural Features of the Championship Course at Pinehurst’ which appeared in the 1936 PGA Championship program. It served as the basis for Mr. Ross’s answers to questions 1-10 and 18.  In addition, here are the sources for other questions:
12. This is from a syndicated Grantland Rice newspaper column. Date unknown.
13. December 17, 1910 Pinehurst Outlook. Courtesy of the Tufts Archives
14. May 11, 1919 New York Times.
15. This quote is from a newspaper column called “Sports Roundup” by Joe Williams. Date unknown.
16. December 22, 1921 Pinehurst Outlook. Courtesy of the Tufts Archives
17. July 30, 1922 San Francisco Chronicle. Article by Hay Chapman.