On October 1, 2014, a new chapter will be added to the collection of Donald Ross golf courses that have been restored, as the Wilmington Municipal Golf Course in Wilmington, NC opens to the public after a spectacular renovation by former US Amateur Champion and PGA Tour pro, and highly successful course designer, John Fought. Host Mitch Laurance is joined by John and Head Professional David Donovan for an in depth discussion on Donald Ross and the WMGC, one of the most interesting and affordable public golf courses anywhere in America.
Listen as Mitch discusses with John his beginnings in the game, as a youngster who learned from his grandmother, who supported him along his path. John talks about his connection to Johnny Miller, who was responsible for John’s introduction to Brigham Young University, and a highly successful career there. The friendship with Johnny Miller and Biilly Casper, who both supported the BYU program, was a key to John’s development, and John talks about the other members of the BYU program, many of whom went on to the PGA Tour as well, which makes for interesting background in how the BYU program became one of the most successful programs in the country.
Mitch then asks John about his magical year of 1977, in which John went on a remarkable tear through the highest level of the amateur ranks, winning 22 straight match play matches, playing on the Walker Cup team, in the US Open and the Masters, and culminating in his victory in the US Amateur at the famed Donald Ross course, Aronimink Golf Club in PA. John shares his story of that eventful US Amateur and the feelings that come with winning the most distinguished amateur event in American golf.
John then discusses why Donald Ross is, for him, the foundation of every great course in terms of style, layout and philosophy. John’s description of Ross’ genius is a passionate and thoughtful one, and his sharing of that connection, and how amazing he feels Mr. Ross’ work is considering the time his courses were built, makes for great listening for all who love the game and the process of renovation of Mr. Ross’ courses.
Mitch then mentions John’s career on the PGA Tour, which included being named Rookie of the Year in 1979 and 2 wins on Tour that same year, and then discusses the spinal injuries that lead to a fortuitous change in career plans for John. Listen as John talks about that fateful transition, how his connection to Jack Nicklaus helped him along the path to course design, and how his initial passion for the artistry of courses, for playing the game, for his worldwide journey playing the game’s great courses, as well as the need to protect his body, all conspired to bring him to the career he enjoys today, with brilliant original courses to his credit like Pine Needles and restoration gems like Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon.
Mitch then asks David Donovan, who has been a part of the Wilmington course for 7 years, to talk about the process of deciding to renovate the WMGC, a city-owned facility originally built in 1926. David discusses the state of the Ross course when he arrived, which had gotten run down over time, and which looked little like the course Ross had in mind when he finished it. Bare fairways, small circular greens, and an outdated drainage system prompted the decision to renovate. David talks about the Advisory Board and the city participation in that decision, and describes the process of bringing in John Fought. Mitch asks about what John brought to the table that made him the choice, and David’s description of that process is a fascinating glimpse into the process of selection.
Mitch then asks John what it was that attracted him to the project, and his description of that decision gives us all an inside look at the architect’s mind in choosing projects. The WMGC provided a perfect backdrop for John’s interest in historic renovation, and in the idea of bringing back the course to what Donald Ross envisioned. John’s description of actually completing the course, one which he believes was never actually finished, is like a detective novel, and makes for a truly unique story on this project.
Mitch then asks David about the physical process of the work done to the course, and he describes the total overhaul to the course that opens in October. It was a monumental task, and one which makes the finished, beautiful project even more impressive. John then discusses the process of transposing Mr. Ross’ design to the modern game.
Mitch concludes the interview by asking about pricing at WMGC, and David explains the incredible value that ‘The Muni’ offers golfers, with prices lower than you’d ever imagine. John concludes the interview with his reaffirmation of what an amazing course it is, especially for the value, and Mitch thanks John and David for the time and for their contribution to the game.
Click HERE to download the podcast of this interview.