Many don’t know, but Donald Ross is a fairly influential figure in Canada’s early golf course architecture history. His bigger designs, like Rosedale and Essex, are still celebrated in national rankings. However, he was accredited for the first 18 hole golf course at Banff Springs (two of his holes were roughly used by Thompson during his overhaul), he has three designs in Winnipeg, two in New Brunswick — not including the totally revamped Algonquin Resort which started as 27 holes from Ross — and two in Nova Scotia. In total, Ross had his hands on twelve golf courses in the country, which is the same total as world renowned architects Herbert Strong, Walter Travis, A.W. Tillinghast, C.H. Alison, Harry Colt, and Devereux Emmet contributed to the Canadian Golf Scene combine. [editor’s note: C.H. Alison’s York Downs & Devereux Emmet’s Beach Grove no longer exist]
There are only three public Donald Ross courses remaining in the country: White Point Beach in Nova Scotia, Westfield in New Brunswick, and Roseland, a City of Windsor municipal golf course.
There is little information about Roseland out there, but with a big name like Donald Ross attached to it and a walking rate of $45, I was sold.
Introducing you to Roseland is probably the widest tee shot on the golf course. 413 yards, it’s a nice way to ease into the round.
Like most of the tee shots at Roseland, there are a couple of bunkers to avoid, but the main defense is the wicked greens. Ross is widely known for his signature style pushup greens that fall away on all sides, like Pinehurst No. 2. The truth is, however, that Ross rarely did this. Pinehurst No. 2 can attribute its extreme turtleback greens to modern topdressing practices more so than any sort of Ross “style,” but at Roseland, the greens feature more internal movement and less bleeding edges. Still, there are pushed up greens, but it’s cool to see some variety. On the first, for example, there is a ton of movement out of the gate.
The second, a shorter par 5 at 524 yards, features a great tee shot. It is difficult visually, but there’s a lot to avoid.
After navigating the tee shot, a tricky cross bunker situated dead centre in the middle of the fairway must be danced around to stay out of trouble. This is sort of the old school architecture philosophy I live for: middle of the fairway isn’t always point A, and Point A isn’t always straight.
The third is the first short par 4 on the golf course at 333 yards. Without much trouble in the driving area, the goal here is to set up your second shot. Having a comfortable yardage into this green is well advised.
With four bunkers short, this was one of my favourite green complexes. There’s some pretty good movement, too. Being on the proper side of the ridge is key.
The first par 3 on the golf course stretches 200 yards to a pushed up green with a bunker short left and short right as the main defense. Over the back is also dead. Another very nice golf hole here.
A closer look at the green complex below. Good stuff from Donald Ross!
The long par 4, 5th plays along a boundary fence on its left side. Roseland has this funky idea of having a “modern par” and a “Ross Heritage Par.” For example, on the scorecard, this is a par 5 at 489 yards, but when Donald Ross built Roseland, it was a par 4. Crazy! Two bunkers eat into the fairway on the right, but the angle of the tee shot shouldn’t bring OB into play just yet.
As opposed to the last two holes, there’s room for the ground game here. Perfect for the situation, whether it be a short 4 or 5!
You may notice a difference in Ross’ style of bunkering as opposed to someone like Stanley Thompson. Where Thompson would often surround greens with bunkers that extended behind the putting surface, Ross rarely used back bunkers. At Roseland, there are only four bunkers that are not placed to the side or short of the greens. At Jasper Park Lodge’s 9th, for comparison (designed by Thompson), there are five back bunkers on a single hole, contrasting the style between the two.
Turning back towards the clubhouse’s general direction, the 394-yard par 4, 6th is a lovely golf hole, with four bunkers in the driving zone. From the tee, it’s hard to see the bunkering, but the hole moves left around a complex of three on the left that are unavoidable for most.
A closer look at the staircase bunkers left of the fairway:
A bunker short left is a ways back, so the short right bunker is the main defense. As with the previous holes, being cautious with the green contours is probably ideal. Ross knew how to build a green, and Roseland is certainly a good example of his prowess.
The seventh, another dogleg left par 4, plays 398 yards. With a bunker on the inside corner eating into the fairway, the player decides how far he wants to cut into the hole by challenging the bunker.
This is yet another excellent green complex with two bunkers cut into the front, and one left.
It is probably becoming quite evident that the highlight of Roseland is Donald Ross’ green complexes, which are full of vibrant movement and interesting contours. In all honesty, I was surprised by how much Ross demands an aerial approach to the game here. As a result, Roseland may be the hardest Ross golf course I’ve seen in Canada.
Speaking of aerial approaches, we move to the par 3, 8th, which a stern test at 208 yards. The green location, cut behind the ditch (which has now been filled with water), requires an all-carry approach.
Anything short will be requiring a drop and a penalty stroke. It’s a tough par 3!
Coming up to the halfway point, the 420-yard par 4, 9th negotiates the same water-filled ditch the 8th crossed, sidewinding its way up the left side before cutting in front of the green.
The water runs in front of the green but likely won’t come into play unless a poorly struck shot comes up thirty yards short. This is one of the biggest greens on the course with some good movement yet again.
Kicking off the inward stretch, the 394-yard par 4, 10th is a straight two-shotter.
With a generous tee shot and a second shot that’s rather mundane, this is a great chance at saving a few strokes, especially moving into the difficult back nine.
The 11th, a dogleg left par 4, measures 429 yards from the back deck. Two bunkers on the outside corner seem like the main defense, but unfortunately, trees that haven’t been maintained hang over the fairway like a canopy tree in the jungle. This makes it incredibly difficult to find the fairway. For those who hit it higher, or longer, you’ll have to low hook it off the bunker right! A shame as this would be on my short list of the best holes with the trees gone on the left.
The approach, thankfully, does not have any trees in play (as long as you got past them off the tee). A big green is inviting, and perhaps it’s part of the (unplanned) charm of the 11th. A shot affected by the trees has a fair amount of room to negotiate with.
The 513-yard par 5, 12th is a very fine par 5. There’s no denying that it’s a tad tight and could benefit from a bit of tree work.
The tee shot is fairly straight, but after negotiating the trees and bunkers, the hole bends to the right. This is where Ross really hits his stride. In similar vein to Pinehurst No. 2, Ross places the green at a strange angle to make it play quite a bit different than you would think. Ross did this at both No. 2’s par 4, 11th, and the par 4, 18th, which is a really cool, albeit subtle feature.
This is easily my favourite green complex on the golf course. Brilliant stuff!
The first par 3 on the back is 183 yards to a pushed up green. Two bunkers right and one left flank the green. The green doesn’t have any uniquely defining features, so I’d say this is one of the more tame holes at Roseland.
The 14th starts a very difficult closing stretch particularly if you’re playing the “Ross Heritage” par, or the back tees. At 469 yards, the 14th plays as a par 4, but for those who aren’t masochists, it’s a gentle par 5 doglegging to the right with bunkering on the outside.
After getting around the corner, a low-profile green built on grade awaits and is wonderfully receptive to low, running shots for the long second or those trying to get home in two.
This green is awesome as well. With a lot of movement, and a smaller false front, it’s an impressive site.
The 15th hole is a mid-length par 4 at 413 yards that struggles with trees making for a very tight tee shot. A bunker on the right is almost unavoidable with the trees overhanging on the left. Aiming for the bunker and short is probably the play. A quick trim of these trees would both improve turf quality and improve options off the tee. This, as a result, would perhaps improve pace of play as you would have less tree issues.
Thankfully, Ross rarely misses with the green complexes, as another pushed up green is an excellent example of his catalog.
The 201-yard par 3 16th is the last par 3 at Roseland. A bunker short right and left make this green appear smaller, but there’s a decent amount of room. Another good green with nice movement, this is a splendid hole.
Heading back towards the clubhouse, you are met with the longest par 4 on the golf course for the penultimate trek. At 492 yards, it’s a beast! A bunker left and right guard this tee shot. No doubt, a difficult hole.
This was perhaps my biggest question mark at Roseland. As previously mentioned, the course asks for an aerial game quite often, but on the longest par 4, it does as well!
That is perhaps the biggest question in golf course architecture: “fairness.” How does one define fair? Yes, the 17th requires a long iron in the air, and perhaps an open fronted green would be a better call from a “playability” perspective, but golf course architecture, at times, is meant to offend, insight anger, questions and make no sense. Like any art form, it may tilt some people, or inspire others.
For those who might dismiss Roseland’s 17th as a poor hole due to playability, I ask you take into consideration numerous other examples from great courses. The 10th at Augusta National is a long par 4 requiring a long iron from a downhill hanging lie. Shinnecock’s 9th is a long par 4 asking for a long iron into a green forty feet above you from a downhill lie. These are some of the world’s very finest holes, yet they’re borderline in terms of what it asks the golfer to accomplish.
Here’s a closer look at the green at the 17th, which is one of my favorites.
Roseland ends on a long par 4 measuring 467 yards. Doglegging left with a bunker on its inside corner, there’s a fair amount of room off the tee to challenge the left side for a shorter club into the green. You can also decide to bail out right for safety.
The approach has more bunkers in play than the tee shot with three green side. With the clubhouse looming, one notices the wicked back knoll in the green. It’s a fun final approach shot.
A closer look at the green complex, which would be an epic conclusion to any championship or tournament.
There’s no denying Roseland’s architectural pedigree, with Ross showing his traditional archetypes throughout the round. It’s an exceptional golf course — especially for less than $50 — and among the very best municipal golf courses in the country.
For those of you who would like to see more of Donald Ross’ designs and either do not want travel far distances or perhaps struggle to get on the likes of Essex or Rosedale, Roseland is an excellent value and a wonderful case study into golden age architecture.