Rediscovering a Ross Classic

KENOSHA, Wis. — Kenosha Country Club, one of only two Donald Ross-designed tracks in the state of Wisconsin, has retained architect Drew Rogers to oversee a comprehensive design reinstatement.

“We’re nearly 100 years into the evolution of this fine golf course, and any layout will undergo marked change over such a long period of play,” said Rogers, “But there’s a spectrum of change that can take place on courses like this one, from the ‘Golden Age’. At one end, there are courses where the greens, tees and bunkering have been actively modified, moved or replaced with ever more modern feature components. At the other end, you have clubs like Kenosha, where all the original features are still intact and recognizable but have fallen into disuse.

“The goals of this project appear simple and straightforward: Recover these original features and bring them back into play in a way that best suits today’s game and also address deferred infrastructure needs and other practical management benefits.”

Kenosha Country Club was founded, in 1898, strictly as a golfing club near the shores of Lake Michigan, some 50 miles north of Chicago. The club moved to its current location in 1920, when Ross was commissioned to design 18 holes beside the Pike River. Rogers and Kenosha superintendent Paul Bastron secured the original Ross routing plans from the Tufts Archive in Pinehurst, N.C. — they revealed Ross definitely spent time on site in Kenosha, alongside his trusted construction foreman Walter Hatch, who built the course.

But much has changed over the intervening decades. The putting surfaces are another example of how strategic interest can be lost, over the course of decades, through benign neglect. The contours on these putting surfaces, according to Rogers, “are incredibly dynamic — as dynamic as anything I’ve seen. It’s all there today, in tact.”

Unfortunately, like so many 100-year-old greens, Kenosha’s have shrunk over time — to the point where their dynamic contour has rendered significant portions of these smaller putting surfaces uncuppable.  “There’s an important relationship between contour and green size,” Rogers said. “Today, at Kenosha, these dynamic feature slopes within the putting surfaces sort of negate the ability to cup certain parts of the green. When we push outward and recover lost square footage at the green’s perimeter, all of a sudden those cupping areas formed by the feature slopes can again be utilized.”

Rogers has more at his disposal than the original Ross plans for Kenosha: He and Bastron have secured aerial photography of the course dating from 1937, which has greatly aided in the pending recovery of lost bunker and green perimeters. This vintage imagery also delineates — for Rogers, superintendent Bastron, and the entire Kenosha membership — how rampant tree growth has warped Ross’ intended strategies.