Essex County Club & Donald Ross

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A Growing Appreciation for Donald Ross, Architect and Designer of Golf Courses

Essex County Club Clubhouse from Fairway

Essex County Club

This Fall, I had the chance to play several outstanding golf courses and I am starting to appreciate golf in a whole new light. Playing different courses and playing with many different golfers has opened my eyes and given me a whole new perspective on golf.

Essex County Club, located in Manchester, Massachusetts was such a special experience. Why? Because it was personally designed by Donald Ross.

The course opened in 1893 and was one of the first social clubs in the area that included golf and was actually a popular summer getaway for those who wanted to vacation near the ocean.

I wrote an article for NewEngland.Golf about my experience playing there and how truly special it was. I am realizing that golf, where I live, has some of the oldest golf courses in the country.

My home golf course, Cohasset Golf Club is among them, which opened in 1894 just 1 year after Essex CC. These courses were not 18 holes though, many of them started with 6 holes or 9 holes and then years later expanded to the full 18 hole courses they are today.

Essex CC was one of my favorite courses I played this year. I would also love to play it again, actually a few more times as there are so many nuances and trouble to get into and I’d love to get to know it better.

Donald Ross

This particular round I played was not only challenging because it was designed by Donald Ross, but it was unfamiliar and a newer course for me.

The course was undeniably a Donald Ross Course. Working with the natural terrain and left in tact, he was able to carve out a golf course that has remained challenging to golfers far and wide.

Essex County Club 18 Hole Donald Ross
18th Hole at Essex County Club

The fairways on the first few holes were open and fairly straightforward, but long. Bunkering and classic Donald Ross mounding near the greens could get anyone in trouble even while trying to play safe.

Essex County Club - Mounds by Donald Ross

Fescue and long grass allowed to grow naturally along the course. The topography of the course was different the whole way through, changing as the land changed.

Fescue and Boulders at Essex County Club
Essex County Club - Hole 17
A view of the approach to the steep 17th hole green.

Uphill, downhill tee shots and greens cut out from hillsides with the boulders and rock still intact. A straight fairway made challenging because of steep rolling hills on each side. A golf course that truly makes you think and forces you to change up your game throughout the round.

According to the book, Discovering Donald Ross, The Architect and His Golf Courses by Bradley S. Klein, Donald Ross was a Scotsman from Dornoch “who learned greenkeeping and club making from legendary Old Tom Morris in St. Andrews”. Donald Ross is known for designing many great golf courses around the United States. But his most famous ones include Oakland Hills, Seminole, French Lick, Inverness, and Pinehurst No.2. Just to name a few as there are so many.

What made Essex so special was that he was the head golf professional here from 1911-1913 and actually lived on the property overseeing his designs and the work.

Donald Ross Home at Essex County Club from Hole
The yellow house that Donald Ross lived in as head golf professional at Essex County Club.

If you are interested in learning more about Donald Ross, this amazing book that I referred to above is one that I highly recommend.

It would make a great golf gift as well for anyone who plays on a Donald Ross course or is a fan of the great architect and designer.

The hardcover coffee table book is chock full of history and pictures and goes into a great amount of detail on his background, his designs, ideas, and lists out the more famous of his course designs.

Mr. Klein is the architecture editor for Golfweek magazine and received the Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and has written many golf books over the years.

Having played a few Donald Ross courses over the past year, I am becoming a huge fan and it has sparked a curiosity in me on golf course design and especially the history of these golf courses.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to play Essex County Club and hope to play many more courses around the area and maybe even travel a bit. On my bucket list is definitely Pinehurst.

If you have the opportunity to play a Donald Ross course or different golf courses, be sure to read up on the history of the course. There are always some interesting nuggets of information that will make your round that much more fun and unique.

I’d love to hear your experiences. Have you played a Donald Ross golf course? There are so many!

Are you a fan of his? Be sure to comment below on your thoughts or experiences.

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Essex County Club & Donald Ross

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