Another Donald Ross Gem to be Restored

The restoration of many of the great courses designed by Donald Ross has – thankfully in most cases– been an ongoing process over the past several years. Another such project is now in the works. Ninety-eight-year-old Merrimack Golf Course in Methuen, Mass., a semiprivate layout designed by Ross and owned by George Kattar, is slated for an extensive remodel overseen by golf architect, George Sargent.

A major facelift is needed for the venerable Merrimack, one of 47 Ross designs in Massachusetts and 86 others in New England, including 11 in New Hampshire. All told, Ross is credited with having designed 413 courses, primarily in the first half of the last century. Uninterrupted use and considerable wear and tear of Ross-designed layouts have led many of their owners or members to hire “restoration specialists” to modernize the courses, while retaining most – if not all – of the master’s essential architectural features.

“Golf is just like anything else that wears out and needs to be changed to adapt to the times,” Sargent told reporter Jason B. Grosky of the (North Andover, Mass.) Eagle-Tribune. “We have to be competitive, and to do that, the course needs a facelift. This is a major facelift and there will be a major transformation at the Merrimack Golf Course.”

Sargent said he’ll renovate the 6,220-yard Merrimack with “sympathetic restorations,” explaining, “We’ll be sympathetic to him and what he did, while also being realistic to know what needs fit into 2004. We do a lot of things today that he would probably concur with he if was still kicking.”

Among these are the green slopes Ross favored and those employed today. Ross built many of his greens with a 5 percent to 7 percent grade. Contemporary greens are built with a slope of 2 percent to 3 percent because of the lower mowing heights achieved with modern equipment. Merrimack’s tilted greens, combined with their generally small dimensions, are one of the areas to be targeted by Sargent. Not only are Merrimack’s greens difficult to find with approach shots, but their diminutive sizes afford only a few pin placements, thus exacerbating wear and tear.

“It’s a difficult course to putt on unless you understand the slope of the greens,” said Donald “Gus” Ouellette of Salem, N.H., who’s played at Merrimack since 1965. “There isn’t a straight putt on the golf course. Everything is a breaking putt and it’s sloped, and the left-to-right putts are the hardest ones to make at Merrimack.”

Kattar hopes the renovations to his course will restore some of its luster. “Merrimack at one time was one of the nicer courses in the area,” he told Grosky. “We want to bring it back to that state.”

Besides the greens, Sargent will address a restoration of the bunkers, clubhouse upgrades and the installation of an expanded irrigation system. Only Merrimack’s greens and tees are now serviced by the existing sprinklers. The renovation also involves replacing two older holes with two new ones. These new holes, a 400-yard par-4 and a 160-yard par-3, will be built beyond the current fourth hole in the neighboring town of Salem, N.H.

Because of course’s expansion into Salem, the project must be approved by officials in that city and Mithuen. Salem officials are concerned that the expansion and accompanying course chemicals could have an impact on nearby World End Pond. The area is protected by New Hampshire’s Shoreline Protection Laws, and construction of any kind is prohibited within 100 feet of the pond.

If all goes according to plan and permits are received from both cities, construction will commence in early 2005. This revamped Ross-designed layout will be unveiled next fall or in spring 2005.