Ross was born in 1872 in Dornoch, Scotland, but he became a U.S. citizen in 1921.
Ross was just 16 when he apprenticed under Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews for a year.
Ross used his life savings and came to America in 1899. A Harvard physics professor named Robert Wilson, who spent his summers at Dornoch, helped Ross find his first job, which was to redesign Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Mass. Ross had $2 in his pocket when he disembarked on U.S. soil.
James Tufts hired Ross as the head professional at Pinehurst in 1900. He would design the first four courses at the resort with the famed No. 2 course, completed in 1907, as his signature creation.
Ross said No. 2 was “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.”
The No. 2 course evolved over time as Ross fine-tuned his beloved creation. In a ground-breaking development, he transitioned the rolled clay and oiled sand putting surfaces to Bermudagrass in advance of the 1935 PGA Championship.
Ross also was ahead of his time when he created Pinehurst’s Maniac Hill, where golfers could take lessons and practice their shots under the watchful eye of the instructor. Playing lessons, which actually took place on the course, had been the previous norm.
Ross was an accomplished player. He won the North & South Open three times (1903, 1905, 1906), as well as two Massachusetts Opens (1905, 1911). He also placed fifth in the 1903 U.S. Open and eighth in the 1910 British Open. (One of his three brothers, Alex, won the 1907 U.S. Open)
Ross lived in a cottage behind the third green on his famed No. 2 course. He raised championship roses in his spare time.
For 27 years until his death in 1948, Ross owned one of Pinehurst’s most enduring landmarks and what remains its favorite watering hole, the Pine Crest Inn.
Ross was famous for his turtleback, or crowned, greens that are almost like upside down saucers, designed to repel indifferent shots into collection areas at the bottom of the slopes.
Ross developed a thriving design business known as Donald J. Ross and Associates that employed thousands, including his design assistants were J.B. McGovern and Walter Hatch. His winter office was in Pinehurst. His primary summer office was in Little Compton, R.I., but there were affiliates in North Amherst, Mass., and Wynnewood, Pa.
Although an exact number is not known, Ross designed roughly 400 courses in the United States with more than 40 of those in North Carolina alone.
A total of 31 states and four Canadian provinces can boast of Ross creations.
Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, which hosts the Wyndham Championship is the only Ross design currently hosting a regular season PGA TOUR event although one of the FedExCup Playoffs events, The Barclays, will return to his Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey next year. It was also played there in 2011.
Ross was married twice. His first wife was Janet Conchie, whom he met in Dornoch one summer. The couple was engaged for seven years before Ross returned to Scotland to marry her in 1904. They had one daughter, Lillian. Janet died in 1922 and Ross remarried Florence Blackington, of Little Compton, R.I., two years later.
Ross was a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, which was formed at Pinehurst in December of 1947. The organization’s highest honor bears his name.
Ross died on died April 26, 1948 while designing his final course, Raleigh Country Club in Raleigh, N.C.