Born in Dornoch, Scotland, Ross apprenticed at St. Andrews in 1888 and became head golf professional, club maker, and keeper of the green at Royal Dornoch in 1893. He moved to the Boston area to build and run the Oakley Country Club in Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1899. A year later, he was hired by the Tufts family to design and build a golf course as part of the resort community of Pinehurst in North Carolina. In 1900 he became the winter golf professional at Pinehurst, a position he held for the rest of his life.
During summers, Ross began to design and build golf courses throughout New England, eventually extending his practice into the Midwest and along the Southeast coast. He worked primarily from Pinehurst in association with design assistants J.B. McGovern and Walter Hatch.
Ross went on to design or improve more than 400 golf courses in the United States and Canada. Representative works include Seminole in Florida (1929) and Oakland Hills in Michigan (1917). He promoted the sport through the construction of public courses like William J. Devine Golf Course in Boston’s Franklin Park (1922), the Wilmington Golf Course in North Carolina (1926), and the George Wright Golf Course (1938) in Boston. He was a Founding member of the Society of American Golf Course Architects (1947). Ross died in Raleigh, North Carolina.