By David Droschak
Founded in 1753, Salisbury is noted for its preservation, with 10 National Register Historic Districts dotting the Rowan County landscape.
And then there is one special iconic golf course, which if stories are accurate was started here in 1919 with six tomato cans as cups along the old racetrack and fairgrounds. Soon, legendary architect Donald Ross found his way here and Salisbury Country Club was born, a private club which is beginning its centennial celebration this summer with a major membership drive.
It’s quite the understatement to say the Ross layout is a sense of pride to a community 45 minutes northeast of Charlotte where Cheerwine was born and Food Lion calls home.
“What makes our club special is it’s multi-generational,” said head golf pro Chad Campbell. “And it’s not just 10 members. We have 100 members who are multi-generational. That’s the neat side of us approaching 100 years because it means so much to the members.”
“When you look back at the members who play here now that are my age in their 70s, their dads and granddads were involved here and now their children, so this is a legacy club and the legacy they pass down is the great Donald Ross course,” added longtime member Dave Roueche. “Sure, there are cultural amenities in Salisbury, but the course is something that has been discussed, talked about and played within family dinners, lunches, so many different ways. The enjoyment is you can come out here and you can remember playing with your dad or your dad can tell you when he played with his dad.”
Campbell came to Salisbury in 2015, lured by the Ross mystique in which he soaked up while spending more than 20 years at Pinehurst Resort in a number of capacities, including director of club operations and director of golf.
“You can’t spend that much time at Pinehurst playing those golf courses without appreciating all the subtle things that a Donald Ross golf course brings,” Campbell said. “It doesn’t slap you in the mouth and say ‘I’m a great golf course.’ But there are just so few level lies. You have to do a shot evaluation every time. Where do I need this ball to be off the tee? Where is this tee box pointing me? You have to pay attention on a Donald Ross course. You have to pay attention at Salisbury Country Club.”
Salisbury has added 250 or so yards to the par 71 layout, and still measures just over 6,800 yards from the tips, and there is plenty of challenge weaving your way around Grants Creek, up-and-down significant topography and around some magnificent towering trees.
The course’s par-3s are also some of the best in the area.
“I can go out there and if I hit the ball well I can shoot 66, but if I don’t hit the ball very well I can shoot 80 real quick,” Campbell said. “You don’t have to hit it a whole lot different, either. Not all golf courses are going to be 7,500 yards and host U.S. Opens. The cool thing about here is if you do play well you are rewarded. And you can play OK and run up a pretty good bar tab or get on the bogey train and you may not get off until you are in Charleston.”
With some of his best work scattered across the state of North Carolina, the debate rages among golf experts as to which Ross courses are the best. Of course, Pinehurst No. 2 and Pine Needles get much of the attention, but Salisbury’s strategy gives Ross enthusiasts a treat that’s hard to match.
“We have to be one of the top Donald Ross golf courses in the country period, only because of its sustainability,” Roueche said. “The footprint has changed very minimal. If you were to resurrect Donald Ross and bring him back and ask him about his vision he would say the layout of the course was his vision.”
A common thread of a Ross design is tricky greens. Salisbury has them in spades.
“Coming here I knew a lot about Donald Ross greens, but it still took me a good two years where I really felt like I knew the greens a little bit,” Campbell said. “And the wind blows different directions here, too. We don’t have a predominate one-direction wind, and I think that has a lot to do with our proximity to Grants Creek, High Rock Lake and Lake Norman and how the weather patterns come through here. We don’t get just one type of weather, which makes it even more interesting when you go out there and play.”
Salisbury Country Club also has been a hotbed for developing golfing talent over the years, including professionals Tripp Isenhour, Elliot Gealy and Will Collins.
“The golf course certainly holds its own and is known for grooming great talents,” Campbell said. “Our handicap ledger is amazing; we probably have less than five golfers with handicaps over 20 in the entire club.”
Having managed 375,000 rounds of golf a year at Pinehurst and played all over the world, Campbell is often asked to name is favorite golf courses.
“I’ve got different answers depending on what we’re talking about,” he said. “Are we talking about the one-time play, my bucket list, or are we talking about a golf course I have to play every day for the rest of my life? Salisbury Country Club is one of those golf courses you could play every day for the rest of your life because you’re not going to get bored. That is where you evaluate if a golf course stands up to the test of time. You are not going to get tired of this golf course.
“Being a small community we only have a certain pool of people to pull from,” added Campbell. “But as Charlotte grows we’re in a great position because we have the No. 1 and No. 2 best assets – we have good employees and we have a great golf course. That’s at the heart of everything that happens here.”