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Opinion & Analysis

Donald Ross: Discovering The Legend DVD Review

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No one ever made a film about A.W. Tillinghast, Old Tom Morris, Alister Mackenzie or Robert Trent Jones. Books have been written about them, but nothing on the big or small screen. Thanks to Cob Carlson and his film, Donald Ross: Discovering The Legend, Donald J. Ross is smiling in his small place in the afterlife (which looks like either Dornoch or Pinehurst, but more on them later) in gratitude.

Donald Ross built golf courses in the U.S. at a time when travel wasn’t easy (lots of trains and many fewer automobiles, with no interstate highway system), labor was human and horse-powered, not yet mechanized to the extent it is today, but the land that was available was nothing short of incredible. Ross was contracted to build nearly 400 courses, 200 of which were individual designs, over a long and successful design career.

Cob finish

Cob Carlson

Cob Carlson is a Boston guy, and New England is rife with Donald Ross layouts. Carlson’s day job is film/video editor and producer. His work is principally on documentaries, although he has also contributed work to feature films, music videos and commercials. As far back as 2005, when the U.S. Open was played at Ross’s Pinehurst No. 2 course, he had interest in creating a documentary on the architect. Finding little interest from the major networks, he stored the idea away for half a decade. In a 2014 interview on the Golf Club Atlas website, he revealed more of what ultimately motivated him to resurrect the project. Recently, Carlson summarized part of what the DVD presents to an interested golfing public.

“Viewers will see what the courses look like now, and what they looked like years ago,” Carlson said. “Clips from archival films, still photos, and architectural drawings are featured. Interviews with renowned golf course architects, professionals, writers, historians, course superintendents, and amateurs critically enrich the film, and explain why Ross’ classic designs have stood the test of time.”

In 2014, Donald Ross: Discovering The Legend was first released on DVD. In 2015, Carlson released a second version, in which improved graphics and additional photos and footage enhance the entire Ross experience. Without giving too much away, the second edition does a thorough job of tracing and defining Ross’ life, both personal and professional. Vintage photographs from a time before moving pictures were popular and affordable, coupled with video footage of later events on Ross courses, provide a backdrop to a life and career that spanned two World Wars and the period of greatest mechanical change in the U.S.

Computerized technology moves life at a breathtaking pace in modern times, and yet, the motorization of the game’s upkeep, from the early 1900s when Ross began his career to the late 1940s when he died, undeniably changed the way he and his associates built golf courses. Through it all, Ross designed those courses in one of two ways: site visits or topographical map consultation. He had complete faith in the construction crews and site managers to render his vision, even if he was unable (or too busy?) to visit the property. In addition to the 200 original course plans, Ross expanded some 100 nine-hole courses to 18 holes, and redesigned another 100 courses to reach the fabled 400 total course routings.

Cob on Location

Cob Carlson (foreground) with Ran Morrissett at Mid Pines in North Carolina

One point of a proper review is to offer sufficient insight into a topic to compel an interested party to further pursue the topic. Cob Carlson manages this task without ever resorting to unnecessary drama. The story of Donald J. Ross did not involve battlefield military service, as was the case with Alister Mackenzie. It did not involve a battle with alcohol, as A.W. Tillinghast fought during his lifetime. What he did endure was personal tragedy, through the loss of his wife (and mother to his daughter) and the subsequent loss of a woman he loved and hoped would be a surrogate mother to his child.

Golf courses, in the spirit of park spaces, effectively preserve much of what is natural to this earth, and Ross did so in an efficient, concerned manner. The secrets of how, where and why he did it, are what make this DVD a worthwhile purchase for any golfer who wishes to know much of what goes into the golfing grounds that she or he frequents on a regular basis, through the words and deeds of the most prolific course designer of all time.

In the words of Siskel and Ebert, the renowned film critics, two thumbs up.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Greg V

    Jan 4, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Ron, thanks for the review.

    While I personally don’t like Ross courses because they confound me, I respect the body of work. Personally, I would rather play a MacKenzie. But, I will buy the video.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Jan 4, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      I played my first Mackenzie this fall, at Pasatiempo. I would play his courses for the rest of my life (too bad they’re all private and in California!) Ross is so accessible to east coast USA folks, although most of his are private, too.

      If someone plays Mark Twain in Elmira (NY), Mid Pines in Pinehurst (NC) Sagamore (Adirondacks, NY) they can get a very good idea (and not break the bank) of what Ross was about.

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On Spec

On Spec: Please don’t play blades (or maybe play them anyway)

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Host Ryan talks about the different ways to enjoy the game and maximizing your equipment enjoyment which doesn’t always have to mean hitting it 15 yards farther. The great debate of blades vs cavity backs is as old of an argument you will find in golf but both sides can be right equaling right. Ryan explains why.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?

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Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.

That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.

All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18

Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined

  • 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
  • 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
  • 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent

Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018

  • 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
  • 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
  • 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent

Percent decrease 

  • 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
  • 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
  • 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
  • 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
  • 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent

One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.

Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.

So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!

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Opinion & Analysis

A merciful new local rule

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This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.  

New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.  

My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case.  So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems. 

The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.  

This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play.  But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.

That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized.  If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it:  Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.

When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem.  But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).

While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.

This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty.  One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.

With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:

“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.

“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).

“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.” 

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