Feature Interview with Walker Taylor IV
Walker Taylor, IV was elected President of the Donald Ross Society in June of 2003. He is the third person to serve as President. He succeeds Jerry Mitchell of Tennessee, who served for three years and Barry Palm, a co-founder and president for the first ten years, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Walker has served on the Board of the DRS since 1996. He learned to play the game at the Cape Fear Country Club, where Ross worked in the 1920’s and 1940’s. His respect for the game and its traditions grew by listening to stories at Cape Fear by his great-uncle, Isaac Grainger, a former USGA President and many years co-chairman of the Rules Committee at the Masters. Mr. Grainger’s favorite rule to site was Rule 1-4, ‘If any point in dispute is not covered by the Rules, the decision shall made in accordance with equity.’ An accomplished amateur golfer, Walker has competed in four British Amateurs, two US Mid-Amateurs, and two US Amateurs, most recently at Donald Ross’ Oakland Hills in 2002.
What is the purpose of the Ross Society today?
The Ross Society was formed generally as a response to the redesigns that occurred in the late 1970’s and 80’s to many classic courses – often for the worse, and specifically as a result of a redesign on the Wampanoag course in the mid-1980’s by a group of concerned members of that club. No drawings were researched prior to that work because few people cared at the time.
That was a case of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. This was done all over the US in the 1970’s and 1980’s until the Ross Society was formed. Amateur members of clubs with proposed redesigns or renovations had no resource or second opinion to call on when work was proposed at their club. Had Ross actually come to their club? What was so special about Ross? Who was Ross? What were other Ross courses doing? How should they be able to make a better informed decision for their course?
The Ross Society today still has the same mission which is the preservation and restoration of the classic works of Donald Ross and other architects of the golden area of design in America. It really is a parallel of what has happened in historic cities across the country to the historic buildings. For instance, the old churches, courthouses, banks, office buildings, post offices, etc. in many towns were either neglected, torn down and replaced with ‘modern buildings’ or kept in place with out of character modern renovations. Fortunately, in my town, they have been preserved and the character of the town has been preserved. Thirty years ago antebellum mansions had their front porches glassed in, or beautiful brick buildings had modern facades or additions wreck their character. Today in building architecture those changes have been reversed and the historic designs highlighted. New buildings, homes, and offices are being built everyday to accommodate growth but the history reflected in our historic buildings has been preserved. It is an ongoing challenge and we applaud the preservation and restoration movements of classic design everywhere.
What makes Ross’ designs unique and worth preserving or restoring?
To me the first thing that comes to mind is the harmonious flow of his courses from start to finish. The routings of his courses are pure genius.
They are almost musical in nature. The holes are well integrated with one another due to the closeness of the tees and greens. Ross used the slightest change in elevation to maximum effect whether on the drive or approach. He would certainly be described in current circles as a ‘minimalist’. The second trait that one associates with Ross are the variety of his green complexes, in all different shapes, tiers and sizes but all requiring thought upon approach and choices on the recovery. Typically the closer you get to the hole the better your game has to be on a Ross course. Generous off the tee but requiring more precise play into the green.
Thirdly, random bunkering, in spots that tend to catch the errant shot of the expert as well as the novice. You see them 120 yards off of the tee and 30 yards short of the green, really stuck into hills no matter where they are ‘supposed’ to be. Other traits that come to mind are great short par 4’s, usually one long challenging par 3 hole, and a short tricky par 3.
When you play a Ross course you’ve probably used most of the clubs in your bag. The final trait is that despite what’s mentioned above, the more Ross courses you play, you realize he didn’t stick to formulas other than great routing.
Are there common errors that you see clubs make (inadvertent or not) who possess Ross courses?
The common major errors that we’ve seen are usually related to rerouting of holes and in the rebuilding of greens. Common minor errors involve shrinkage in the mowing patterns around the greens and fairways and over planting of trees. A number of clubs have had the greens rebuilt from ‘push-ups’ to ‘USGA specs’ for agronomic purposes. In the process if the greens are redesigned (instead of preserving the original contours) a loss of playability and character are the result. Often when greens have been rebuilt the fill from the interior of the green is dumped into surrounding mounds as a redesign for visual ‘interest’. Usually these mounds end up not blending in at all with the native terrain and alter or eliminate the original strategy of the hole. The options for recovery shots are eliminated and turn into a monotonous lob wedge recovery. Ross designed in the traditional manner with emphasis on the roll of the ball and the above changes turn golf into a purely aerial game. He did after all apprentice under Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews, apprenticed at Carnoustie for a season, and became the head professional and greenkeeper at Dornoch before coming to America. What better start for the game could one have?
The Ross Society consists of what/who?
Individual members make up the Ross Society. Those members consist of interested members at Ross clubs throughout the US and Canada as well as a few overseas members from a half dozen countries. We have a number of golf course architects, green chairmen, superintendents, club general managers, golf officials, PGA club professionals, PGA touring professionals, and even a few non golfers who support the work of preservation and restoration of classic, time tested works of art. Overall, we have about 700 renewing members each year.
We have terrific volunteer leadership on the Ross Board right now. Every board member has been a great ambassador to Ross preservation and traditional golf. You can say the same about practically every one of our 700 members as well. I’ll mention a few of the GolfClubAtlas posters that are Board members such as Dunlop White from Winston-Salem who has written some of the best pieces I’ve seen about maintenence practices, tree management,etc, Brad Klein, who needs no introduction, Mark Studer from Pittsburgh and a great USGA official, Mike Fay, our executive director who’s seen more Ross courses than anyone alive, John Stiles, treasurer and Mike Miller, VP, both from Holston Hills and the MENSA society, past president Jerry Mitchell who has Donald Ross overlooking his son’s chipping at the Pine Crest Inn (poised to break Crenshaw’s 21 in a row), Ralph Hawes and Tom Stewart from Pinehurst are involved closely at the Archives, Glenn Rapoport and Paul Mersereau long time and knowledgable members from Hartford, Rick Holland who has been quite involved from the Chicago area, Frank Stone who represents us in Georgia, Terry O’Malley in New Englandand last but not least we are pleased to have you Ran who has done great work in bringing traditionalists of the game together here at GolfClubAtlas.com.
Does the Ross Society generate revenue?
We have an operating fund that consists of the $75 annual dues and pays for the operating costs to keep up our website, organize a couple of social gatherings per year for our members and guests, pays for a part time staff who visits clubs when invited, answers club questions, helps coordinate, locate and preserve Ross drawings entrusted to the Tufts archives. We have a foundation fund that grants money for specific requests such as apprentice architects or turf grass students, supplements the Tufts archives operation, or other small one time requests such as the Ross golf trail at Dornoch.
Why is the Ross Society Executive Director compensated monetarily?
We tried offering eternal conciousness on his deathbed but he didn’t go for that. Seriously, Mike is paid a stipend to answer calls, maintain our website, maintain our membership, organize outings, and make course visits to help encourage preservation and restoration where courses are considering work to be done. It really is a true job with a heavy admin component, requiring twenty plushours a week in work and the board feels that it is only fair for thatthe person in that jobto be compensated.
By the way, we now post our financial statement and tax returns on our website for anyone who is interested. We are a 501 3(c) non profit tax exempt organization. John Stiles has done a terrific job as treasurer in maintaining our small budget.
How can a member of a Ross course use the Ross Society to help?
A typical call received to our group comes from a club member to get an opinion on a proposed change on their golf course or wants to know if Ross actually worked there. We can help them recover lost drawings, and generally give them information to make an informed decision. So often, they will just do something based on the latest trend which may or may not work out. If they research the history of their course, network with other clubs on their experiences in restorations/renovations they’ll certainly make better decisions, more often.
Does the Ross Society make recommendations to clubs as to which architect they should use in terms of restoring Ross courses?
The DRS doesn’t make specific architect recommendations. First, there are a large number of qualified architects that can do a pretty good job restoring a Ross green, bunker, hole, etc. There are a number of architects that are members of the Society themselves and I think that shows at least some concern for the valid nature of his designs.
We urge club members to do their homework and check around with other clubs that have done work. We can often give them that information. We recommend that the proposed architect/contractor show evidence of before/after work that they have done.
We ask that the club do its homework and document what is original and what is not. The Tufts Archives is a prudent first call to make to see if Ross sketches exist for the course in question. Obviously, old aerial photographs, newspaper photos of the course, photos of the course on the ground from the earliest dates are most helpful. Also, our website has a catalogue of all the courses and dates where Ross worked that members may research.
In conclusion, documentation, caution, and research are the place to start.
What have been the highs and lows of the Ross Society since its inception in 1988?
The low was certainly the 1999 Sports Illustrated article where personality conflicts abounded and everyone was made to look bad. I much prefer the fine article that appeared the same year in the USGA Golf Journal by Lee Pace on the Ross Society as it conveyed the positives that the Ross Society embraces. By positives, for example, I recall when my home club Cape Fear Country Club found through the help of the Ross Society the original Ross hole by hole diagrams of our course. We continually refer to those plans as a blueprint for what we should/shouldn’t be doing going forward. There are tens upon tens of such examples where the Ross Society has helped clubs get specific information on Ross and the work that he did at their courses.
What are such examples of restorations where the Ross Society has been helpful?
Some examples of courses that have been restored (partly or completely) due to Ross society member’s input or help in locating drawings from the Tufts Archives or elsewhere are numerous including most courses restored in the last decade such as; Aronimink, The Orchards, Timaquana, Longmeadow, Linville, Mimosa Hills, Grove Park, Charles River, Beverly, Skokie, Wannamoisett, Hartford, Oakland Hills, Wilmington Muni, Holston Hills, East Lake, Salem and many more.
How has the business of working on Ross courses changed since the Society was formed?
There have been a number of architects that did changes twenty or thirty years ago that thankfully wouldn’t do the same today. Some of those architects didn’t consult the old drawings and just redesigned (often as proded bythe green chairman) are today doing some excellent restorations.
Competition from other architects in the restoration business has been useful. A few new ‘restorers’ are making their mark. The Ross Society was the first, but now forums such as GolfClubAtlas.com are quite helpful in making sure care is taken on these great old traditional courses. There are even fewer architects that have had the vision to preserve classic design when given the honor to work on one. That is a short list.
Does the Ross Society have any enemies?
It’s important to remember that the organization (not unlike GolfClubAtlas.com) was formed because golfers didn’t have an outlet to call on because of the redesign of Ross Courses. We have taken a position which is preservation and restoration. Certain architects, clubs, and developers have done the opposite such as recently at the Ponce de Leon course in St. Augustine. I think many or most of the architects (some of whom are now doing the best work) and clubs are returning to tradition and I hope that we can be friends because of that in the future. It is a win/win situation for all. We are talking about a game, a leisure activity and not life or death subjects.
Any particular hidden gems yourecommend Ross fans seeking out?
Three hidden gems are Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford, NY which is close toits more famous neighbor, Oak Hill CC, in the Rochester area. Monroe has a great routing, an interesting ‘short course’, and a set a greens that would make any Ross aficionado smile. Camden CC is set in the small South Carolina town by the same name. The course is a really strong second shot course. At only 6200 yards it’s a great example of how a clever routing and green placement can make technology irrelevant. The best players in the Carolinas still would like to have ‘par as a partner’ in the annual Four Ball Championship of the Carolinas held there in the spring. Lastly, Pinehurst #1 I’ll consider ‘hidden’ since it’s so much in the shadow of the #2 course at Pinehurst. Like Camden, it also is only about 6200 yards but the great variety of holes like the 230 uphill par 3 11th with Redan characteristics and the 380 yard first hole with the green set right next to the road make sure that by the end of the round you’ve probably used most of the clubs in your bag. These are three not very well known or talked about Ross courses but tremendously FUN courses to play.
How does the Ross Society interact withthe Tufts Archivesat Givens Memorial Library in Pinehurst?
The Tufts Archives and the DRS work very closely together. We just gave them a grant and helped them update their computer system. Audrey Moriarty, the archivist, has continued and improved upon the work of Kris Januchik. Audrey has her master’s in library science, her husband, Jim Moriarty,is a well known golf journalist, and she has a very professional and orderly manner about her. To gain a different perspective on how the Ross Society interacts with the Tufts Archives, I’ve asked Audrey to respond directly:
Audrey Moriarty: The DRS has been a great friend to the Tufts Archives. The support of the organization has been vital to our continued success. The arrangement we have is mutually beneficial. We help to supply individuals, organizations and golf clubs with access to the many Ross documents, drawings and files, and we care for and preserve them. I wish that every member of the DRS could visit the Archives because it is such an interesting place. I want to thank the DRS in general and Michael Fay, Gery Krewson, John Stiles, you, Walker, and the many others who have supported me and the Tufts Archives. The financial assistance has been wonderful, too.
Also, the DRS has just donated some new computers to us which are a godsend. In the last year, I have begun e-mailing files and documents as well as creating some photographic prints in house. The length of time and the myriad problems and glitches were terribly frustrating. Now we can create high quality images and documents, create CDs and send files, images and documents without tearing our hair out and gnashing our teeth. The new machines are saving us a great deal of time and effort and have raised our level of professionalism considerably. They have a lot of memory so they are fast!
Prior to my arrival, little had been done to permanently preserve our documents or images. Since August 2002, we have scanned over 7000 photographic images and saved them on duplicate CDs, stored in separate areas. Several months ago, John Fought, a golf course architect from Arizona, donated a fabulous large format ESON GT10000+ scanner, and we have scanned the documents from about 30 Ross courses.
What promptsinterest in the Ross Society – high profile events such as the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill?
Yes, there is a surge of interest when a major happens at a Donald Ross course. Oak Hill at the PGA this past year, Oakland Hills for the US Amateur in 2002 (Ryder Cup this year), the US Senior Open at Salem two years ago, the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles, and the US Open returning to Pinehurst #2 in 2005. People are amazed at how these courses have stood the test of time and realize there is tremendous value if their course possesses the ‘Ross’ distinction. A Donald Ross course in well maintained and restored condition is a priceless asset for any club and a pleasure for it’s members.
Similar question for Audrey: How do you expect the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst to impact your work at the Archives?
In the next few months, I expect that we will be increasingly busy with traffic as well as calls for information and research on Pinehurst, Donald Ross and the courses, and images to go along with those facts up until the Open. I am working in conjunction with Stephen Boyd at Pinehurst, Inc. in order to be prepared with a basic package of information and images for the press. I am hoping that the Open will be financially rewarding for the Tufts Archives. Our financial future is uncertain. We are currently experiencing the financial problems everyone is as a result of these difficult economic times. Our endowment is small and our income is recovering very slowly.
I have discussed with Rand Jerris at the USGA, the possibility of getting some help from them to create a temporary US Open exhibit in the Archives to prep for the 2005 Open.
As President, what would you most like to see accomplished during your term?
As president, I would like to see the continued maturity of the organization. We have more members involved in the leadership of the group and I would like to see that continue. If we can look back twenty years from now and see that the trend towards preservation and restoration has continued then we will have done a good job.
Why should someone join the Ross Society today? How does one join?
Someone should join for the fellowship of likeminded individuals, the chance to meet a few times a year to compare notes in person, and most of all to help preserve the Traditions of the game through the Ross Society’s message. For more information and how to join, pleasevisit our website at www.donaldrosssociety.org