DCSIMG

How Scots gave golf to America

THE precious cargo of two dozen gutta-perch balls, three woods, three irons and a putter arrived at the doorstep of John Reid's new home in Yonkers not a day too soon.

As a young man, Reid had left his native Dunfermline and had come to New York, as his famous townsman had, only Reid, unlike Andrew Carnegie, was not in the throes of creating an empire at the time. An executive position with an ironworks company in the city was as good as it got for him.

But, as soon as that box landed, as soon as he delved in and lifted out his brassie and his spoon and his cleek, Reid did not have a single complaint in the whole wide world.

The goods were quality. Many months before, they'd been shipped from Scotland, from the shop of Old Tom Morris himself, so Reid knew what he was getting was nothing but the finest equipment.

It was the morning of February 22, 1888, and though all of America was celebrating George Washington's birthday, Reid had other plans. He told his friends to meet him on the old cow pasture across from where he lived. On that historic day, three golf holes, about 100 yards long, were laid out over the bumpy terrain and cups were dug up from the ground with the head of a cleek. Golf had finally come to America.

Later in the year, at a dinner in Yonkers, the first permanent golf club in the United States was formed, with Reid at the helm. They called themselves the St Andrew's club, but with an apostrophe inserted to avoid confusion with the place back home, not that there was ever likely to be any. Reid's crew led a nomadic existence, moving from the cow pasture to the north east corner of Broadway, to an orchard on the Weston estate about a quarter of a mile from their old course. They pitched a tent under the shade of an apple tree and called it a clubhouse. Forever more, these men would be known as the Apple Tree Gang, with Reid, of humble Fife stock, to this day being remembered as the father of American golf.

If Reid kick-started a love of the game in the new world then he had a supporting cast of hundreds, if not thousands, of pioneering Scots. There are many you will never know about; club pros who came in from the four corners of their homeland and eked out honest livings for themselves and their families. At the other end of the spectrum, the stars hung out. Willie Anderson, an intensely private man from North Berwick, won four of the first five US Opens at the beginning of the 1900s, claiming three in row from 1903, a record that has never been matched. Only Laurie Auchterlonie denied him the distinction of five in a row, the St Andrews player winning his first and only championship at Garden City, New York, in 1902.

After the remarkable Anderson era passed, Carnoustie's Alex Smith was the closest resemblance to a dominant force in America, but it was harder then. Rivals stepped off boats every week of the year and if Alex didn't know the majority of them by anything other than reputation, the ones he needed to keep an eye on the most, the few who represented the greatest danger to his success, were only too familiar to him. They were, in fact, his own brothers.

Alex's mother had given birth to ten children but only five of them had survived into adulthood. Alex was the eldest, then there was Willie, George, Jimmy and Macdonald, or Mac as he came to be known. Willie had followed Alex to America in 1899 and at the first time of asking he won the US Open, in Baltimore. Within a few years, the Smith parents had brought the rest of the clan to the States, a better life awaiting them there than anything Carnoustie could offer.

All the Smiths were formidable players and ferocious competitors; Alex had proven that much all by himself ever since he arrived in America in 1898 and went to join the staff at Washington Park golf club in Chicago. He was said to be the very first man from Carnoustie to chance his luck in the States but an estimated 300 more would follow him out there. Few of them were made of the same stuff, however.

In his first Open as an American resident he finished third, and two years later he was beaten in a play-off by his good friend Anderson at the cruel Myopia Hunt club in Massachusetts. He was knocking on the door again in 1903 when fourth, and came second in 1905 despite an attack of malaria midway through the tournament.

In 1906, at Onwentsia in Illinois, Alex finally did it, beating his brother Willie and the field of 68 players by seven handsome shots. In 1910 he won again, overcoming young Mac and the suave American Johnny McDermott, in a play-off in Philadelphia. In the meantime, Alex Ross, brother of Donald, won in 1907, and Fred McLeod, brother of nobody but another son of North Berwick, won in 1908. All week long, McLeod had played in his streets shoes with hob-nails screwed in for spikes, and he beat Willie Smith in another play-off.

Willie kept playing in the Open despite leaving his brothers and moving to Mexico to become the country's first professional golfer, but after failing to make the cut in the 1913 championship, Willie returned home and his family never saw him alive again. Within 18 months, the Mexican Revolution was in full flight and, as a symbol of the corrupt ruling classes, Zapata's troops attacked the country club and brought it crashing down. Willie had refused to leave his post and had retreated to a cellar where later he was found trapped under a fallen beam, badly wounded by shrapnel. He died soon after, with Alex, George, Jimmy and Mac bringing his body home to Scotland for burial in the family plot, beside their late brothers and sisters.

There really is no telling how many Scots emigrated at this time - but their influence was felt everywhere, in every state, in every tournament in almost every club that sprung up throughout the country in the first ten years of the new century and for a little while after. And in the early development in almost every native player, too.

Many of the greats, professional and amateur, had Scots behind them, from Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet to Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen. A Scottish accent was a passport to a better world. If you were from North Berwick or Musselburgh, St Andrews or Carnoustie, you had a standing in the golf world.

If you weren't a celebrity then you could easily mix with one and not get out of your depth. Musselburgh's Willie Dunn arrived in the States in 1891 and in time he would count John D Rockefeller, John L Sullivan and Buffalo Bill Cody as mates and Teddy Roosevelt and WK Vanderbilt as students.

World and business leaders, sports and film stars and even royalty and the occasional prairie scout from the Wild West wanted a piece of wisdom from the old country to help improve their game. And there was certainly no shortage of it

The writer Herbert Warren Wind said that Scottish golfers had, in that period, become "as permanent in the American scene as Swedish masseurs and Chinese laundrymen". They had taken over, completely.

AMID THE PRETTY COUNTRYSIDE OF FAR HILLS, NEW Jersey you will find the headquarters of the United States Golf Association. More than 20,000 books line the shelves of their research library, alongside complete or near-complete runs of every golf magazine there has ever been, more than half a million photographs and several thousand hours of footage.

It's not big, it's mammoth. And a chunk of it belongs to Scotland.

In every cabinet there is some file or other detailing the heroics of a pioneering Scot, every account of the rise of golf in America being traced back to John Reid and the migrants who came in his wake. They arrived on their own, in pairs and as whole families.

One of the first to make the move was Tom Anderson, who brought his two sons with him, Tom Jnr and Willie, who became the first great player America had ever seen.

Next there was Willie Dunn. His first act was to set about transforming nearly 4,000 acres along Great Peconic Bay in New York State into America's first sophisticated golf course.

With the help of 150 Indians from a nearby plantation, Dunn created a 12-hole wonder - the original Shinnecock Hills. When he'd finished he immediately sent for his two nephews, Seymour and John, and that was the way it worked, relation funding relation and friend funding friend on the expensive passage across the sea.

There were the Hutchisons and the Mackies, the Campbells, the Dows, the Jollys and the Foulis boys from St Andrews. The Smiths from Carnoustie were brought up down the road and related through marriage to the Maidens, Stewart and Jimmy. Stewart, or "Kiltie" as they called him in America, played off a handicap of plus one and was a tremendous golfer. His place in history, though, is not recorded through tournaments won or anything he himself achieved in battle. Rather, he is remembered and written about in books, as the inspiration, the guiding light in the career of the man some still tell you was the finest golfer and one of the greatest gentlemen who ever swung a club. Kiltie taught Bobby Jones how to play.

From its unofficial inception in 1894, when Willie Dunn beat Willie Davis and Willie Campbell, and all of America began to believe that unless your name was Willie and you were a Scot then you had no chance of succeeding at golf, the US Open had largely been a meeting of the clans. They came together and spoke about home and about their experiences in their own corners of America, as players, designers, teachers and the makers of balls and clubs. Seventy two holes of medal play was the highlight of these gatherings and the $300 prize fund was a mighty reward given the times in which they lived.

In the second decade of the century, American players began to make strides of their own. In 1913, Francis Ouimet, a young amateur from Boston, shocked the golf world by beating his great hero Harry Vardon at the Country Club in Brookline, right across the road from his family home. "Whatever progress I have made in golf," said Ouimet years later, "I owe to Charles Burgess." Burgess was from Montrose and had a rare gift for nurturing young talent. He left Scotland in 1909 and stayed close to Ouimet his entire career.

If the new Scots were proven players then they were, if anything, better teachers. Kiltie Maiden was Jones's mentor and Alex Smith guided Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen, all multiple major winners. By the dawn of the 1920s, the balance of power in American golf had most definitely switched to the locals, with the help of their new friends from abroad, but the playing, as opposed to teaching, Scots still had their days in the sun.

In 1925, Aberdeen's Willie Macfarlane went head to head with the great Bobby Jones at the US Open at Worcester country club. Jones had been champion two years earlier and would be champion again in three of the next five years, his last Open being a part of his legendary Grand Slam of 1930. Macfarlane had a rollercoaster ride that week. On the final hole of normal play he had a makeable putt to win the championship and missed. In the play-off he fell four strokes behind Jones before he knew it and as the watching Ouimet later recorded in his work as a writer: "Nobody can spot Jones four strokes on nine holes and hope to beat him."

Macfarlane did just that, sweeping the champion aside with a display that Ouimet described thus: "When golfers talk about historic matches of the past you can put down in your book the championship of 1925 as the greatest one ever."

IN THE EARLY 1920s TWO YOUNG AMATEURS, ONE from Grantown-on-Spey in Moray and the other from Edinburgh, went to America for the first time. There was a bond between Bobby Cruickshank and Tommy Armour, not just because of their dear love of golf but also because they had served in the First World War and survived to tell the tale.

Cruickshank joined the Seaforth Highlanders and was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Somme. The story of how he lived to become a key figure in the game in America comes later in our series as does Armour's amazing tale. He was a hero in the tank corps, the victim of a gas attack in the Battle of Ypres. He lost an eye and emerged from the war with metal plates in his head and in his left arm yet Tommy Armour conquered America, beating Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper in a play-off for the 1927 US Open at Oakmont country club in Pennsylvania, winning the USPGA in 1930 and coming home to beat the field in the Open at Carnoustie in 1931.

Reid, Ross and Dunn. Macfarlane, Cruickshank and Armour. The Smiths, the Andersons, the Maidens and all the others besides. The pioneers. The trailblazers. The men who brought golf to America, who built their courses, organised their tournaments, taught their players and inspired their people; who insured that, for as long as the game is played in the States, the heroic sons of Scotland will never, ever, be forgotten.

There is a corner of American land which will be forever Dornoch

NESTLING in the trees, behind the green on the third hole at Pinehurst, there sits a pretty white brick cottage called Dornoch, where golf tourists call from time to time. Inside, there's a photograph of a bespectacled man playing a shot out of a dune, another of the same man posing on a boat. In a room, more like a museum, three old putters hang from a wall near an old bag of hickory-shafted clubs and on the table, in a beautifully bound volume in expert calligraphy, there is a list of some of America's most cherished golf courses. Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Michigan. Oak Hill in Rochester, New York. Seminole in Palm Beach, Florida. Interlachen in Minneapolis, Minnesota. All these and Pinehurst No.2 and more than 400 others in 47 states across the country have one thing in common; they were all designed by Dornoch's own Donald Ross. They are his legacy and this is his cottage.

He lived here for the last 23 years of his celebrated life, doing a lot of his work from home from topographic maps and blueprints and issuing instructions to his construction crews by way of sharply worded notes. He was a perfectionist and a visionary. He could see the design of a hole through the thickest of woods. He was, as Jack Nicklaus, once said "a creative genius".

By 1925, Ross was well on his way to transforming the face of American golf, working on 20 courses at a time and employing 3,000 people. He had winter offices on Rhode Island and branch offices in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Millionaire investors were lining up to have him turn their golf course dream into reality but were told instead they would have to wait their turn. Three years was the norm, if they were lucky.

Unlike his two great contemporaries, Charles Blair Macdonald and AW Tillinghast, Ross never got caught up with his designs. The other pair were intent on turning every course they worked on into a masterpiece, as a monument to their genius but the Scot was far more workmanlike in the way he did his business. With the exception of what he always believed was the jewel in his crown, No.2 at Pinehurst "he didn't care about fame or glory," said Bradley Klein, his biographer.

Ross was a man of opinions and nothing annoyed him more than a golfer's conceit. "Now, golf is a fine game," he wrote. "It has been my relaxation and my livelihood since I was a little shaver in Scotland. But when the game of golf becomes so all-important and feverish and holier than anything else in life, then parents might do worse than turn their young careerists over their knees and administer an old-fashioned spanking.

"These young fellas are so completely wrapped up in getting a little golf ball into a little hole in less strokes than anybody else that their attitudes and sense of intelligence about the more important things in life become not only distorted but practically non-existent. They read about themselves in the sports pages and become complacent but eager for more and greater laurels. They cannot carry on an intelligent conversation without sooner or later having their talk backfire to golf."

If he was not obsessed with the game then the game was obsessed with him. Wealth came to him in torrents. In an era when men like Sarazen and Hagen were competing for purses of $1,000, he was making 30 times that amount every year for building the courses they played on. "When I was a young man in Scotland," Ross once said, "I read about America and that the American businessman was absorbed in making money. I knew the day would come when the businessman would relax and want some game to play, and I knew that game would be golf."

But Ross did not keep his good fortune all to himself. When friends from Dornoch decided to make a new life for themselves in America he helped them achieve it, sending his chauffeur-driven Buick to get them from the train and setting them up in accommodation and work. "I was at once installed in the Pine Crest Inn," wrote Donald Grant, a fellow son of Dornoch, on a visit he once paid to his old pal. "The kindly host and hostess were Mr and Mrs McNab, friendly southern Scots brought to Pinehurst by Mr Ross. Later, as I walked towards the club I saw someone approaching me from the tennis courts, then I heard: 'Welcome to Pinehurst. I knew your walk'. It was Alec Innes, a Dornoch man, a boyhood friend of DJR (Donald James Ross) and now manager of the Pinehurst golf clubhouse."

How many of the town's sons and daughters joined Ross in his American nirvana? Hard to say, but plenty. It was a time, after all, when Scots were fashionable in the States, when the gifts they learned on the links at home were suddenly in demand abroad by businessman looking for a game to play. And nobody was in more demand than the 27-year-old who had set out from his modest family home on St Gilbert Street a few weeks before Christmas of 1899 surely not knowing what on Earth lay ahead of him.

DONALD ROSS WAS THE WORKING CLASS SON of a stonemason, apprenticed to a carpenter and inspired by an icon. From an early age, all he ever wanted to do was play golf and in that regard he could not have had a finer teacher for the man who gave him his grounding in the game was Old Tom Morris, the sage of St Andrews. From the age of 18 until he turned 20 and returned to Dornoch as the resident pro, Ross hung on every word that ever came out of Tom's mouth, devouring his thoughts on greenkeeping and clubmaking and the construction of a proper golf course.

Dornoch was a town popular with Americans but with one American in particular. Robert Wilson was a professor of astronomy at Harvard University who wanted nothing more out of life than to play golf in Scotland all his days. Over the years, he befriended Ross and they would talk about the game and the possibilities that existed for a player of his talent in the new world. They came to an arrangement; if Ross ever decided to emigrate then Wilson would get him work.

At the turn of the millennium, 1899, Donald made the most momentous journey of his life. With $2 in his pocket he sailed into New York harbour on a mail freight and then boarded a train bound for Massachusetts. Eight miles short of Wilson's home in the town of Cambridge he got to get off, $2 only taking him so far down the track. Forced to walk the rest of the way through the snow, suitcase in his hand, golf bag over his shoulder, how can anyone have known that this forlorn figure would soon become one of the most distinguished names in American golf?

Wilson installed Ross at Oakley Country Club, a rudimentary course near Cambridge that had designs on being something grander. As a designer, Ross loved bunkers and hated water unless it was whipping in on the breeze from the sea. It was not uncommon for his 1920s creations to have 200-plus bunkers. He believed in strategic golf, hard but fair. Think your way around or suffer the consequences. Nothing is supposed to come easy on a Ross course.

He made $60 a month as the professional in charge of revolutionising Oakley's bland layout - which he did - and earned 55 cents a lesson from the members. As the game began to catch fire in the States, business proved brisk. "He gained so many followers," wrote another biographer, "that he laboured frequently to the point of exhaustion."

As a professional, Ross won the prestigious North and South Open three times between 1903 and 1906 and won the Massachusetts Open in 1905 and 1911. He played in seven US Opens and was fifth in 1903 but solid and all as he was as a ball striker he wasn't in the same class as his younger brother. Alex Ross had joined Donald in America and in 1907, he won the US Open, the latest in a line of transplanted Scots who dominated the national competition in the early part of the century.

Donald was never going to play as well as Alex but his ambition had changed in any case. Playing for a living didn't have the same appeal any longer, not after he set foot in Pinehurst for the first time. One day, while teaching at Oakley, Ross got talking to one of his pupils, a high-powered attorney who represented some serious operators in the business world. One such figure was a man by the name of James Tufts, the founder of the Pinehurst resort in the sandhills of North Carolina. At the time Tufts and his son, Leonard, were engaged in a disagreement about the future of golf, one saying it was nothing but a passing fad and a waste of money, the other catching a clearer vision of the game's future. Vision won the argument.

The Scot was put in touch with Tufts and a relationship of huge significance was born. He got to work at Pinehurst in 1901, designing and rebuilding four of the five courses on the complex, none with more attention to detail than on No.2 where the US Open will be staged this week. From the beginning it was a mighty struggle. One newspaper later wrote about the problems Ross faced in those early years. "Imagine, if you can, a contractor employed to build a house, who can find no workmen who have ever worked on a house before and you will have some idea of what it meant to be the first golf architect in America."

Ross, and his team of novices, took two years to build nine holes and then another four years to complete the 18 but that was just the start of it. It wasn't until 1935 that he finally declared his masterpiece finished. He called it "a chess player's course where the placement of every shot opens or closes the way for the following shot and determines the varying ways a shot must be shot." Others simply called it - and still call it - one of the game's greatest venues.

When he completed his work in the October he wrote to his daughter, Lillian, from his old cottage behind the 3rd green of his new creation. "The golf course is just grand," he said. "It is, I think, the best job I ever did and will always be a monument to your dad."

But behind the faade of one of golf's great achievers there was a man who had suffered a lot of hardship in his private life. Lillian's parents met before her father ever set sail for America, Donald promising Janet Conchie, a nurse from Dumfriesshire, that he would return for her one day. It took him five years but return he did and on June 9, 1904 they were married.

Lillian came along five years later but in the spring of 1922, not long after walking in off the golf course, Janet died suddenly from a heart attack, aged 55. In the act of getting over the death of his wife, Donald grew close to a family friend, a woman called Susan Aldridge whom Lillian simply knew as Aunt Susie. In May of 1923 they announced their engagement. By August, Susie was dead from cancer.

The following spring, while immersing himself in work at Pinehurst, Ross was asked to negotiate with a nearby landowner who wished to extend her property a few feet into the back of the third hole on the No.2 course. The owner was Florence Blackinton, widowed two years earlier. Romance bloomed for a third time and on November 7, 1924, Donald and Florence were married and lived the rest of their days in that white brick cottage, named Dornoch.

BY THE TIME THE WALL STREET CRASH OF October, 1929 triggered the Great Depression around America and the wider world, Ross's once mighty empire had become a much leaner organisation, employing dozens of people rather than the thousands of before. Even those smaller numbers would reduce as the years went by.

Ross made his last visit to Scotland a year before the Depression partly because his work no longer required him going there but also because his new wife had a terrible problem with boats. She couldn't stand a voyage of that length and so they never went. He lived out the final decades of his life as an American citizen and a proud Republican. While he designed about a dozen courses after Pinehurst No.2 was unveiled to the world in 1935, it was the last of his great works. He was now in his 60s and in the layouts of his feted courses and in many of his other less well-known classics like Worcester (1913), Wannamoisett (1914), Plainfield (1916), Essex (1917) and Salem (1925) he felt he had made his contribution to the history of the game. He didn't need the money and he never needed the glory, though plenty of it has come his way over the years.

All he wanted out of life now was to live in his cottage and spend days with his family and his dogs and go to the odd college football game, so long as Harvard (the alma mater of his sponsor, Wilson) were playing. He raised money for underprivileged children and tended his garden where he looked after his prized roses with the same dedication he applied to any golf course he ever created. And every week he would write to Lillian.

On March 13, 1948, he told her: "I have two courses to design now on my drawing table but I don't intend to advertise for any more business. I don't care to undertake any more work. If I didn't have to think of the men who depended on me for a living I would never take another job. I have done my share of work. I am quite well aware that my heart is not acting well."

A little over a month later, on Monday morning, April 26, in his 75th year, Donald suffered a heart attack and at 9.15am at Moore County hospital he passed away. As he was brought to Massachusetts for burial the flags at the Pinehurst resort he put on the world map flew at half-mast.

Herb Graffis, the golf writer, wrote of Ross as "one of those gracious, beloved characters out of Scotland with a winning personality." Bobby Jones and all the greats of his era paid tributes and now, more than half a century after his death, the new generation still know who Donald Ross is and what he was about. In the corners of America where golf is played, he is immortal.

 
 
 

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