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Rebirth of a Legend

Restored to the glory Donald Ross envisioned (and then some), the beloved and popular Wilmington Municipal Golf Course makes a spectacular comeback

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By Jill Gerard • Photographs by Mark Steelman

ome say that those who know and understand golf courses can identify them from the air. Each course is distinctive: fairways leading to the brighter greens, rough and waste areas adding distinct texture, water breaking the green expanse. And perhaps in the courses — whether seen from far above, down the long stretch from a tee box, or from the roadside — we all find some bit of beauty that asks us to pause and take it in. Some find the such vistas sacred. Donald Ross did. Ross’ roots are firmly Scottish, but his story distinctly captures the American dream. He came to the States with little money and a determined optimism. Perhaps he had a sense already of his future, of the hundreds of courses to come. Golf was part of his makeup, and he is reputed to have proclaimed, “The Lord made golf courses; golf architects simply discover them.” While golf has long been associated with affluence — and Ross worked with many affluent clubs — his modest Scottish roots kept his vision tied to the idea

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that anyone could and should have access to golf. He understood too that public courses made sound business sense, remarking that he saw a “brilliant future for the pay-as-you-enter golf courses of America, a tremendous big, new industry.” The Wilmington Municipal Course began simply enough: conversation, desire and an advertisement that ran in the Wilmington Morning Star seeking tracts of land that might make a suitable spot for a municipal course. The city leaders — including county commissioner and bank president Frank Ross, Mayor James H. Cowan and fellow commissioners, Thompson, Cantwell and Wade — understood that a public course would draw tourists in winter and summer. Three tracts of land were offered, the most desirable of which came from the MacRae family: 133 acres near Winter Park Gardens. Oleander Drive, then just a dirt road, and Wrightsville Avenue, the shell road to the beach, made for easy access. The price: $15,625 and an agreement that stipulated the property would continuously be used as a public golf links. The Art & Soul of Wilmington

Profile for Salt

March Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

March Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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