Object of the Month

The Golf Course that Might Have Been: Donald Ross Designs 18 Holes for The Country Club in Brookline

Preliminary Study: No. 2 Eighteen Hole Golf Course by Donald J. Ross, Golf Architect Map

Preliminary Study: No. 2 Eighteen Hole Golf Course by Donald J. Ross, Golf Architect

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This plan is a proposed design for a second 18-hole golf course at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. The plan was devised by famed golf course designer Donald J. Ross in 1921, but not built.

The Country Club

In June of 2022, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., will host the 122nd United States Open golf championship, marking the fourth time that the Club has hosted this major tournament. Golf, however, was not even a consideration when the Club was founded in 1882 by James Murray Forbes and a number of his well-heeled sporting friends. An article in the Brookline Chronicle stated the aims of the fledgling club

It is proposed to organize a Country Club at Clyde Park, and a number of gentlemen prominent in the clubs and social circles of Boston have issued a circular explaining the aims and objects of the club. The general idea is to have a comfortable clubhouse for the use of members with their families, a simple restaurant, bedrooms, bowling alley, lawn tennis, a racing track, etc.: also to have race meetings occasionally and music in the afternoon.

Forbes and his cohorts formally incorporated the club on 7 November 1882, signing a five-year agreement to rent the 100-acre Clyde Park site which featured a half-mile track, stables with stalls for 75 horses, and a “rambling but very picturesque building with a wide piazza.” The Club was an immediate success, with over 400 people paying the entrance fee of $25 and annual dues of $30. Horse racing, steeplechase, and a live foxhunt inaugurated the club’s activities, and by 1883 clay pigeon shooting, lawn tennis, and croquet had joined the mix. The club purchased the property in 1886 and three years later drained the infield of the racetrack oval to create a polo field. In just a few short years, however, these sports would be supplanted by the newly introduced game of golf.

“A nuisance … looked upon somewhat as the untouchables are in India”

The minutes of the Executive Committee of The Country Club of 29 November 1892 record that “A letter from Mr. Laurence Curtis requesting that a Golf Course be constructed was read. Voted: That Messrs Arthur Hunnewell, Laurence Curtis and Robert Bacon be appointed as a Committee on Golf and lay out the course and spend necessary amount up to $50.” By the following spring, the men had laid out a six-hole course, followed by three more; engaged a flock of sheep to keep the greens tidy; and soon hired Willie Campbell of Scotland as their first golf pro. Golfers soon began to outnumber (and annoy) the horsemen and others at the club who viewed them

as disturbers of the very ethics on which this Club was founded … a nuisance … looked upon somewhat as the untouchables are in India. They were jumped upon by the Racing Committee for interfering with their course; the were jumped upon by the pigeon shooters. The Grounds Committee … thought us vandals if we wanted anything in the nature of trees cut down. … the wives of some of the members [complained] that we were corrupting the morals of the people of Brookline … by permitting the playing of golf on Sundays …

Nevertheless, golf had arrived at The Country Club to stay. The Country Club was one of five original founders of the United States Golf Association and hosted its first major national tournament—the USGA National Amateur Championship for women—in 1902. In 1913, the Club hosted its first U.S. Open, won by local phenom Francis Ouimette, a former caddy.

Plans for expansion

By 1920, The Country Club had 700 golf members, “far too many for an 18-hole course,” according to that year’s annual report. The next year, golfers asked that the Club purchase more land so that an additional 18-hole course could be constructed, and for which Ross’s plan was likely created. Neighboring parcels of land owned by Douglass, Hood, Dane, and Lapham (incorporated into Ross’s plan) were offered to the Club for a total of $442,000 and a proposal for purchasing the acreage was introduced at the December 1921 meeting, encountering fierce opposition and disagreement among the members. Opponents cited the financial burden of acquiring the land, the potential for “radical change” in the membership should the number of members be increased to offset the costs, and even suggested decreasing the number of members to “solve” the overcrowding (even though at the time, the Club had a waiting list numbering in the hundreds). After much wrangling, the membership authorized the purchase of smaller parcels in 1922 and 1923, enabling the club to create a new nine-hole course.

Who was Donald J. Ross?

Donald James Ross was born in Dornoch, Scotland in 1872, where he learned the game of golf and worked as a greenskeeper. After serving an apprenticeship at the famed St. Andrews golf course, Ross decided to move to the United States where he began working at the Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Mass. Soon thereafter, he accepted a position as Director of Golf at Pinehurst, an up-and-coming resort in North Carolina, and his career as a designer of golf courses took off. Ross would eventually design or remodel some 400 private and public courses across the country.

Although his design for Brookline’s course was never realized, there are about 50 golf courses designed by Ross in Massachusetts alone. For those without a membership to a private club, public Donald Ross courses in the state include Bass River in S. Yarmouth, the William J. Devine course in Franklin Park, George Wright golf course in Hyde Park, Newton Commonwealth, Ponkapoag in Canton, and Whaling City in New Bedford.

For further reading

Arnold, David. “Inside The Country Club,” Boston Globe Magazine, Sept. 19, 1991.

Cappers, Elmer Osgood. Centennial History of The Country Club, 1882-1982 Brookline: The Country Club, 1981.

Damiano, Mike. “The In Crowd: Inside Boston’s Elite Country Clubs,” Sept. 11, 2018.

Donald Ross Society

“The Donald Ross Society was founded in 1989 to promote the recognition of Donald Ross, the excellence of his golf architecture and the preservation and restoration of the golf courses he designed. This site maintains a list of Ross’s designs as well as links to other historical materials.”

Driscoll, Ron. “Everything Old is New Again in Return to The Country Club,” Dec. 7, 2021.

King, Brad. “A History of Donald Ross in America,” LINKS Magazine.