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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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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), John Handrigan (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed North Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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