1997 GOLF INDUCTEE
Len Ross’ vision was to teach young people to golf, no matter where they lived or how much money they had. With Ross’ gift for rallying others around his dream, the Fresno Junior Golf Learning Center opened its doors in the spring of 2006 in West Fresno. With the founding of the center, Ross left a legacy for thousands of junior golfers, the pinnacle of sixty years of working with youngsters for the ex-Marine, school teacher, and principal reverently called “Mr.Junior Golf.”Ross never accepted kudos for his efforts without giving credit to his wife, Vel. His son, Randy provided invaluable help behind the scenes for the annual Len Ross Fresno City Junior Amateur tournament.
He fashioned thousands of new and used clubs into cut-down versions for youngsters at the golf learning center, taught classes, and managed the center. One of Ross’ favorite expressions was “It’s not a me thing; it’s a we thing.” His circle of supporters included thousands of junior golfers who participated in his annual Fresno tournament and volunteers who year after year did the work needed to conduct one of the finest junior tournaments in California. His network who supported his efforts for forty years included hundreds of donors who contributed money, manpower, or equipment for the golf learning center. Donations made it possible to equip children with balls, bags, shirts, shoes and caps, and use of the center’s facilities at no cost. Ross made sure the program also helped special needs children.
Ross never saw race, physical ability, or social status as a barrier for youngsters to learn golf. To him, all kids needed to be loved and nurtured, taught honesty and sportsmanship, as well as compassion and work ethic-skills to benefit them for the rest of their lives. He found those qualities initially in a three-year tour of duty with the Marines during World War II that included such hot spots as Guam, Guadalcanal, Tappan and Okinawa. “I was in the First Marine Division, which meant we were the first in,” Ross recalled. “[A]lot of memories I try to forget. But I learned that the men on the right and left of you are very important to you and that carries over to the people who surround you.” Ross, born in Fresno, had a humble upbringing, spent mostly in Santa Cruz. His father, Tony Ross, a middleweight boxer. Ross’ mother tolerated her husband’s sparring, but forbade it for her son. “I did do some boxing in the Marines and at Fresno State, but I started caddying as a youngster at Pasatiempo Golf Club,” Ross said. “I didn’t play golf in high school because I thought it was a sissy game.” After graduating from Fresno State, Ross became a teacher, then earned his Master’s degree and eventually became a principal. One of his projects was the Len Ross Environment Center. “Each class had its own garden,” Ross said. “I also made a deal with a store, so we sold what we raised. We had our own publication, so we did our own writing. We also had to know how much things cost. What am I talking about? Reading, writing and arithmetic and how to meet other people. That’s how you teach. If they are reachable, they are teachable. Golf is the same way. When I get a big hug from a little girl who has grown up [in our tournaments], that’s nice, but she is telling me she has learned what we’ve tried to teach.”The Fresno Junior Amateurs was started in 1948.
Ross formed the Fresno-Greater San Joaquin Valley Jr. Golf Foundation, Central California as a mechanism for providing trophies, snacks, and the other amenities that made the tournament special. “The title was a mouthful, but I wanted to include everyone in our entire area,” Ross said. “It was that group that set the stage for us to proceed in building the golf academy.” Some questioned the site Ross selected for the golf learning center, property on the west side at Teilman Avenue,a few blocks from Chandler Airport in the midst of a crime-ridden, high-poverty area. But Ross has a simple but profound answer: “Because that’s where it’s needed.”Ross and other organizers spent eight years securing the site, a difficult process that included fundraising. sparring with the property owner, lobbying city and state officials and wrangling over permits.
Ross also took time to encourage neighborhood support and pride in the project to help protect the facility from vandalism. He received grants from various national golf organizations and support from former players, their families and other Valley residents. Ross’ accomplishments include founding the Northern California Junior Golf Association with Charley Carver of Salinas and Walt McConalogue of Alameda in 1970. He was awarded lifetime USGA Junior Golf Official status for his work in promoting his junior tournament, the annual junior national qualifying tournament and the North-South matches. Hall of Famer and golf commentator Johnny Miller played in Ross’ tournaments, and later brought his sons to participate as well. He summed up what so many juniors and parents discovered. He said that he had never met anyone so dedicated to promoting junior golf as Ross. “He’s been like a father to me and a father to many of the juniors,” Miller said. “I love him, and really appreciate all he’s done. He’s a truly amazing man.”