The Tale of Augusta National and Donald Ross

Donald Ross had agreed to design a Georgia golf course for Bobby Jones. But then Bobby Jones lost a match. And that changed everything.

Photos Courtesy of the Tufts Archives

 

By LEE PACE

Augusta National is the home of The Masters, the tournament that each April generates more goosebumps, gallery decibels and history fodder than any other venue in the game.

But imagine this: Donald Ross was almost the architect of Augusta National.

Almost.

Donald Ross

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The Defeat…and The Decision

During the 1929 U.S. Amateur, the great Bobby Jones inexplicably lost his first round match at Pebble Beach to an obscure player by the name of Johnny Goodman.

Bobby Jones

By that time, Jones had dreamed of an idyllic golf club somewhere near his home in Atlanta and apparently had a handshake agreement with Ross that the Scot would design the course whenever Jones was ready to embark on the project.

But when Jones lost in the first round at Pebble Beach, he had a week to kill – travel arrangements not being as fluid as they are today. He spent considerable time playing a new course on the Monterey Peninsula and getting to know its architect. Jones was so smitten by what he found in Cypress Point and Alister MacKenzie that he left California knowing MacKenzie, the British physician-turned-golf architect, would be his designer—not Ross.

Ross wasn’t happy to learn that Jones was hiring MacKenzie to design the new course in Georgia. And so he went back to work on his own gem – Pinehurst No. 2.

“Ross was a notorious individualist,” author and historian Charles Price explained in “A Golf Story,” his 1986 book about Jones and The Masters Tournament, “and Jones wanted a course with his designs incorporated into it, not a course entirely of somebody else’s.”

Ross wasn’t happy to learn that Jones was hiring MacKenzie to design the new course in Georgia. Pinehurst resident John Derr remembers the hair standing on Ross’s neck in the mid-1930s when Derr, at the time a young sportswriter from Greensboro, innocently made a glowing remark to Ross about this terrific new course in Augusta.

Ross was miffed.

And so he went back to work on his own gem – Pinehurst No. 2.

Back to Work

As Augusta National and The Masters were nearing their unveilings in 1933, Ross set about a major retooling of his prized course, No. 2. Over the course of the next two years, he added the fourth and fifth holes and abandoned two weak holes that ran on ground now occupied by course No. 4. He rebuilt and re-contoured all the greens and their surroundings and replaced the sand/clay putting surfaces with Bermuda grass. New tees and bunkers also were added.

“I don’t see how a course could be any harder, but at the same time it’s the most pleasant course I’ve ever seen. You have to play No. 2 with your head as much as your hands.” – Johnny Revolta, at the 1936 PGA Championship

Ross was not about to let some upstart course in Augusta challenge the spot of No. 2 as one of the finest courses in the south and the nation.

The impact was immediate.

“I don’t see how a course could be any harder, but at the same time it’s the most pleasant course I’ve ever seen,” Johnny Revolta said in 1936 as the PGA Championship began play on No. 2. “You have to play No. 2 with your head as much as your hands.”

It was that 1936 PGA Championship that announced Pinehurst as an elite player in major championship golf. Everything that followed – the continued successes of the North & South Open and North & South Amateurs, and later, the Ryder Cup, Tour Championships and U.S. Opens – were made possible with Ross’s rededication to the golf course that would become his most legendary design.

A history that had its true origins from a motivated – and miffed – Donald Ross.

 

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