By Richard J. Moss
Museum Moment: Ross Brings Scottish Traditions To Pinehurst, U.S.
Dec 01, 2011
Today we know Donald Ross as a course designer. He produced classic courses such as Pinehurst No. 2, Seminole, Inverness, Aronimink and hundreds of others that have more than stood the test of time. Ross did most of his design work in the summer, traveling by train in New England and the Midwest. His winter life was very different; from November to May he was at Pinehurst, introducing Scottish golf traditions to America.
He was in the largest sense the head of a corporate department in an enterprise called Pinehurst, which was the North Carolina resort village owned by the Tufts family. Ross worked for three generations of this family. James Walker Tufts, the founder, died in 1901 and left the resort to his son, Leonard, who ran it until the early 1930s. Control then passed to Richard Tufts, who operated Pinehurst until 1970, more than two decades after Ross’s death in 1948 at age 75.
For nearly half a century, Ross was involved in running the golf program at Pinehurst. What did this mean? First of all, he was in charge of constructing and maintaining the four resort courses. In this he was ably assisted by his superintendent, Frank Maples. Second, Ross was charged with creating a program of events and tournaments that would keep the guests from becoming bored. Boredom was the archenemy at Pinehurst, which was fundamentally in the entertainment business. Golf shared the entertainment spotlight with tennis, riding, hunting and other sports. The golf tournament schedule which was formalized before World War I included almost weekly events, called fixtures, that employed every possible format. It concluded with the North and South tournaments that brought the best pros and amateurs to the village in what served as a windup to the season at the resort.
Ross was also responsible for the pro shop and the caddies. Pinehurst guests would leave the luxury of the Carolina and Holly hotels and travel the short distance to the golf clubhouse, entering a more austere world. At Ross’s pro shop you checked in, you were assigned your caddie, and you could buy clubs and balls. It was very Scottish – very businesslike and the Scots who Ross hired rarely smiled and refused to treat the guests with the deference they received at the hotels. This contrast grew so stark that Leonard Tufts once asked Ross to fire two of the more dour Scots. Ross replied that if his Scottish pals were to go, then Ross would have to leave as well. End of discussion.
Caddies were a constant headache, but many of the problems were handled by the caddie master. For much of Ross’s time at Pinehurst the caddie master was Eddie Curry. There were, in the lush times of the 1920s, over 550 caddies (ages ranged from 7 to 75) and they were a significant administrative problem for Ross. He had to arrange for regular health exams that included vaccinations and for the establishment of a caddie cafeteria to feed the army of loopers. The local schools complained that truancy was close to universal when the resort was busy, so Ross had to establish a program that barred caddies who had skipped school.
Finally, Ross was a businessman in his own right in Pinehurst. In 1920 he purchased the Pine Crest Inn, which had been built by Emma Bliss in 1913. Ross put up the money but his friend James McNab, another Scot, and his wife Isabel ran the establishment. Like the pro shop, the Pine Crest conveyed a decided Scottish tone. It was just another way in which Ross reproduced Scottish golf traditions in the United States.
As spring came to the Sandhills, Ross packed up and moved North and took up his travels as a course designer. But he never really left Pinehurst behind. He would send letter after letter back to Leonard or Richard Tufts, conveying news of how the resort business was faring in other parts of the country and how Pinehurst compared. In a sense Ross never left Pinehurst behind.
Generations of golfers passed through Pinehurst during Ross’ time. No visit was complete without a word with Ross and a few minutes spent in his distinctly Scottish world. Given his busy life, we forget that there must have been moments on a fine Carolina morning when Ross picked up a club in the pro shop and thought, “I don’t get to play enough.”
Richard J. Moss was a history professor at Colby (Maine) College until his retirement in 2005. He has written several books including, Golf and the American Country Club and Eden in the Pines: A History of Pinehurst Village. He currently lives in Pinehurst, N.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For nearly half a century, Donald Ross was involved in running the golf program at Pinehurst. (USGA Museum)
In the way he ran the pro shop, caddie yard and Pine Crest Hotel, Donald Ross reproduced Scottish traditions in the United States. (USGA Museum)
In addition to his career as a golf architect, Donald Ross was a fine player in his own right. He finished fifth in the 1903 U.S. Open. (USGA Museum)