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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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Back from vacation! Nikon Coolshot 50i and Tour Edge C721 irons review!

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I was off last week and didn’t get a show recorded, I am sorry for that. But back this week with some club tinkering and course play talk. Then I review the new Nikon Coolshot 50i laser rangefinder. I started to really miss the red LCD display, just so easy to read. Tour Edge’s Exotics C721 irons are super forgiving and really long, but have such a soft feel and sound to them. The 4-iron has crept into my bag quietly as well.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: The quest for removing the ego

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If Mike Tyson was more worried about what it looked like for him to get hit than actually focusing on the task at hand there is no way he would have the record he has today. The ego is the enemy of performance.

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Opinion & Analysis

A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: July

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As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine. Here you’ll find the seventh installment of “A Golfing Memoir” as we trace a year in the life of Flip Hedgebow, itinerant teacher of golf. For January, click here. For February, click here. For March, click here. For April and May, click here. For June, click here.

“What do you think of weddings?”

“How comfortable is your room?”

The first question was offered by Grace Éimí Seáin. After he escorted her and sundry to her room via golf cart, they made plans to meet in the lodge for dinner. She had taken note of the path he chose to deliver her to her lodging house, and informed him of the time of her arrival to sup. Yes, he had offered to retrieve her in the same cart, as he should, and yes, he had nodded when she told him that it would be unnecessary.

The second question was posed by cirE “Flip” Hedgebow, itinerant golf instructor and relationship tyro. In anticipation of her arrival, he had checked the status of the newly-acquired guest house on the hill overlooking the seventh hole. When he realized that it had not been rented for the first two weeks of her stay, he sped up the work order on the landscaping and outside trim, so that it would be rentable no longer. Once that part of the plot was detailed, he let the crew know that he would text them each morning of their required, on-site hours.

The reason for the questions, was to re-break the ice. The two had not seen each other since Florida, and flowers need time to transition from bud to leaf. Flip had suggested that Grace ask him a question, to place her in a position of advantage. She acquiesced, but only after securing the contractual agreement that he would ask a subsequent one of her. His nod was his signature. In the large room down the hall from their table, a nuptial reception was in full roar. Sisters danced on tables, brothers shuffled with collars loosened and ties rakishly draped around necks.

“What do you think of weddings?”

He explained that he was of two minds: professional and personal. From the standpoint of his job, wedding receptions brought in lots of money to offset unforeseen expenses at the resort. The wait staff loved them, as ebullient parents showered servers and associates with healthy tips. Only rarely did guests lose so much control that damage ensued. Those matters were resolved efficiently. Flip also confessed that the energy that flowed from a reception resembled the type emitted by a waterfall, like the natural one behind the sixth green. The optimism of new life together, the rekindling of family ties, all generated a temporary but powerful élan, a brio that courses through the entirety of the space and inhabitants.

From personal experience, he had much less to offer. He could count on two hands the number of weddings he had attended as an invited guest. Not to say that he had few friends, but proximity and responsibility had kept him from more than a handful of receptions. Flip valued the uniqueness of each ceremony, be it religious or civil, and the measured opulence of the decor. It was hoped that it would once in a lifetime, after all, so why not go all out? For himself, he offered, should he ever take that step with someone, the decisions would be mutual and planned. No knee-jerk for him.

Three public-access buildings comprised the resort. The first was the lodge, which held the pro shop and offices on the first floor, along with a seldom-used locker room in the back. On floor the second, the combined bar and dining room sat to the north, while the banquet hall was on the southerly side. Adjacent to both lodge and first tee was the hotel, made up of two wings of rooms. The older wing was less ample but wider, and held all of the smaller rooms. For families, the new wing was deeper, and allowed for greater per-room occupancy. The final building was the aforementioned and still-unnamed guest house, away from resort-center. When the house went on the market, the heirs to Klifzota, in their German and Polish logic, moved quickly. The resort needed a space for large parties who wanted a bit of separation. An opportunity to steal some cash from Airbnb, especially during the seasons when the hotel sold out all of its rooms.

Flip knew how well-appointed the interior of the guest house was. He had worked with the marketing people to select fixtures, bed frames and other furniture, and had watched in solemn reverence as PR team matched shams and sheets to wall colors and lighting. The final product was understated and comfortable; not in the least bit intimidating. He suspected that Grace would be happy there, but wanted her own confirmation, which she gave.

July was always a rambunctious month at Klifzota. Across the rural highway, a music jamboree attracted tens of thousands for a display of patriotism and calamity. The celebration was enjoyed by aficionados of country music, as well as newcomers to that brand of song. Flip had been to so many renditions of the Vale Slam, as it was called by venue veterans, that he knew what to expect and how much to imbibe. Until the first day of the festival, he had no idea that Grace had keen insight into the genre.

It’s a classic case of wild child meets wayward boy, then grandmother steps in. My mother was a classical singer as a teenager, but she had an ear for all styles. She appreciated genius, no matter the rhythm, color, or duration. She met my father, a fiddler in a bluegrass band, and they had some times together. I was the product of one of those times. My grandmother, uncertain as to whether she would ever collect her daughter, offered to take me in for a spell. That spell became forever. I know that my mother and father are out there, somewhere in the universe. I hope that they are together and happy. I don’t begrudge them most days. Now you know why I was introduced as Agnes Porter the younger. Someday, you might learn about Agnes Porter the elder.

cirE “Flip” Hedgebow stared at her, words absent. She took his hand and away they walked, through the admission gate. What’s on your mind now? she inquired. Johnny Farrell and Willie Macfarlane, he muttered.

Those names caught her by surprise, unknown and disconnected. In the August incalescence, both persons would come to understand their kinship. Catching him as much by surprise was her follow-up question, completely unrelated to Farrell and Macfarlane: Is it all right if he comes and stays a few weeks?

 

Artwork by JaeB

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