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Architecture: Ross in Augusta

There's a great story about Donald Ross and Augusta National Golf Club. It goes like this: Ross was snubbed by Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts, who instead hired Dr. Alister MacKenzie to design the course. Why?Because Jones suspected Ross was too stubborn to follow his vision—too proud to take anyone's advice. After Jones turned to MacKenzie, an angry Ross stormed off and perfected Pinehurst No. 2, as if to say, "I'll show them!"

It's a dramatic tale. But it's not true. In fact, Ross had long since left Augusta by the time MacKenzie laid out Jones's new course in 1932-33. Ross did tinker with Pinehurst No. 2 quite a lot—he lived there, after all. He did convert the greens at No. 2 from sand to grass, but he performed that task in preparation for the 1936 PGA Championship.

There is, however, a connection between Ross and Augusta. For in 1927, Ross brought his artistry to Augusta Country Club (ACC), the course across Rae's Creek from the future home of the Masters. Seventy-four years later, I was asked to restore ACC to its former glory. I've been lucky enough to have restored a number of renowned Ross courses, including Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Florida; Biltmore Country Club in Asheville, North Carolina; and Old Elm Golf Club, near Chicago. Adding ACC to the list was both a challenge and an adventure.

Ross isn't the sole embodiment of golf architecture's golden age, which stretched roughly from 1915 to the early 1930s, but with more than 400 U.S. layouts to his credit, he was its towering figure. While ACC's current configuration is his work, the course predates him: It was laid out in 1909 by then club president Dr. William Henry Harison Jr. with help from the club's pro, David Ogilvie. Ross was brought in to convert the club's flat sand greens to undulating Bermuda grass in 1927. Later he substantially rerouted the front nine and reworked the course tee-to-green. By the close of 1928 he had rebunkered the entire layout and created eighteen new greens.

Over the decades, however, well-meaning green committees bulldozed many of Ross's bunkers, moving them down the fairways or filling them in. Decades of lazy mowing habits gradually shrank the putting surfaces to a fraction of their original Ross sizes. In the 1980s, the greens were rebuilt to conform to USGA specifications, making them faster, altering them still further. Throughout this sequence ACC members continued to consider their layout "a classic Ross course." But the changes, many trivial in themselves, added up to a substantial revision of the design's character. After seventy-plus years of "improvements," the club's directors decided to restore that character. But how?

The answer came in the form of Ross's original hole-by-hole working drawings—complete with his hand-written notes in the margins! These glorious blueprints were discovered by ACC superintendent Greg Burleson at Tufts Archives in Pinehurst. Such exacting documentation is rarely available to guide the restoration of layouts as old as ACC's. We got lucky. I proposed to put everything back as Ross first conceived it, and the club fathers embraced the concept. The course was closed for six months, starting in June 2001.

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