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ROBERT TRENT JONES, Jr.
In a career spanning more than four decades, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. has designed more than 270 golf courses in more than 40 countries on six continents. RTJ II courses have won countless awards and accolades, been ranked among the best layouts throughout the world, and hosted tournaments on every major golf tour. The Trent Jones name has become a trademark—like Rolex watches or Faberge jewelry: it guarantees a well-crafted golf venue set comfortably in its natural environment.
The Trent Jones golf legacy began with Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who was born in Ince, England—on the Trent River—in 1906. The elder Jones emigrated to Rochester New York in 1911 and was introduced to golf as a caddie at the Rochester Country Club. Jones, Sr. developed an original course of study at Cornell University (including such subjects as landscape architecture, agronomy, horticulture, hydraulics, surveying, and economics) that provided him with the ideal background to launch a career in golf course architecture. After school, he enjoyed a brief partnership with revered Canadian golf course architect Stanley Thompson before striking out on his own.
Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (Bobby) was born in 1939 and learned about golf at Winged Foot Golf Club from the legendary Tommy Armour, who not only taught Jones the techniques of good golf but also captured his imagination with the folklore surrounding the game. After studying geology and majoring in history and American Studies at Yale, and attending a year of law school at Stanford University, Jones, Jr. graduated into the family business. His earliest experience was working beside his father on the legendary Spyglass Hill in the 1960s. After apprenticing with the senior Jones for several years, becoming vice president of the company, and assuming control of west coast operations, Jones, Jr. eventually expanded the company’s business to Asia with his debut international effort, Bangkok’s Navatanee Golf Course. This foray across the ocean represented the first of hundreds of international course designs he would create in the ensuing years as he matured into a great artist. In 1972, the son left his father’s firm and set out on his own by founding Robert Trent Jones II golf course architects, where he has assembled what is arguably the most talented golf course architecture team in the industry. Jones is a member of the California Golf Hall of Fame; a long-standing member, former president, and current board member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects; and the recipient of many other industry awards and honors.
Politically active and highly opinionated, the well-read Jones quotes Jesus, Odysseus, and Gorbachev with equal ease, and counts many powerful celebrities, politicians, and even kings and queens among his friends. He is extremely driven and creative, a wonderful story teller, an aggressive self-promoter not embarrassed about singing his own praises, a brilliant architect, and a true ambassador of the game of golf. Explaining why golf matters at all in a world rife with turmoil and tragedy, Jones says, “I believe that if we can play a sport together then we might not kill each other. It’s the Olympic ideal: get guys communicating by having a competition through sports. And what sport do older diplomats and generals play? Golf.”
Commenting on golf course architecture in general, Jones says, “All great courses possess an overall mood or rhythm that engenders feelings of anticipation mixed with nostalgia in most players when they reflect on the course. The architect produces this effect in a fashion similar to the way in which a great composer creates a symphony. Each hole is deftly adapted to the site’s natural attributes. A great course also has balance, which derives from the melding, in a pleasant order, of holes of varying degrees of difficulty. For me the hallmark of a great course resides in a golfer’s ability to remember and visualize all the holes after playing the course once.”
Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s own golf course designs have scaled mountains, enlivened deserts, ranged across prairies, carved through forests, reclaimed wastelands, and rolled down to the edges of the world’s oceans. Known as the father of environmental golf course design, Jones respects and embraces the land in his work. He describes his courses as “of the earth . . . for the spirit.” Whether carefully routing holes around ancient holy sites on the lava fields of Hawaiian Islands, or devising drainage systems that help purify water on the site of former oil fields, Jones has made it his signature to listen to the land. An article in Smithsonian Magazine once described his work as “a case study of how a golf course can have a surprisingly low impact on even a sensitive environmental area.” Jones has proved this at courses from California’s The Links at Spanish Bay to The Mines Resort and Golf Club, built on a former tin mine in Malaysia.
Jones describes his own architectural style as “Complex, eclectic, and wide ranging—like a jazz musician—like Waller or Gillespie. It’s got hints of Tillinghast, McKenzie, and Ross, but it’s still my own.” He also suggests that his style is always evolving as he learns new things from other courses—which is evident in such recent and award-winning RTJ II designs as Osprey Meadows at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Idaho, Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Bro, Sweden, and Chambers Bay, in University Place, Washington.
In creating his well-loved courses, Jones likes to present golfers with a blend of penal, strategic, and heroic golf puzzles that it is up to each golfer to solve for himself—often by determining the best position from which to attack the holes. Jones keeps metaphorically comparable activities such as chess, billiards, and certain target sports in mind when sketching out holes. His focus is on shot values and fine aesthetic appearances.
Like the best writers and artists, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. employs subtext and symbolism, imagery and illusion, as well as a range of other techniques from the verbal and visual arts to express aspects of philosophy, drama, and aesthetics in the golf courses he builds. An RTJ II design is challenging, memorable, and well crafted, blending in with the surrounding topography as if it has always been there.
Jones adds, “The very best courses are those where nature has provided the canvas and my job is to discover her secrets and reveal them. I try to design golf courses that will fascinate people so they’ll want to play them many times and learn the depths and meanings of the courses’ stories, their subtext, their poetry.”
A U T H O R
In much the same way that he expresses complex themes clearly and beautifully in his golf course designs, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. has written and designed an insightful and entertaining book about golf course architecture. In Golf by Design: How to Lower Your Score by Reading the Features of a Course, Jones describes theories and secrets of the golf architect’s art. He also relates stories, personal anecdotes, and an insider’s observations about the design and building of some of his most well known courses, from The Prince Course at the Princeville Resort in Hawaii to Blessings in Arkansas to Le Meridien Moscow Country Club in Russia. Jones also draws on his long intimacy with the world’s oldest and most revered courses to communicate with readers about the very spirit of the Royal and Ancient game.
Following a foreword by Tom Watson, the beautifully crafted coffee table edition presents photos, sketches, diagrams, and other sleek graphics depicting some of the world’s best golf holes and courses, and includes insights and observations from RTJ Jr. the golfer, as well as the golf course architect. Written in a crisp, classical style with a touch of irreverence and warm humor, Golf by Design is like an intimate conversation with the author himself.
J O U R N A L I S T
Although Robert Trent Jones, Jr. has more often been the subject of magazine articles, he has also expressed his views and talents in the realm of journalism. Jones has written stories for dozens of national and international publications. His body of work as a journalist has addressed such topics as course ratings, whether to remodel or not to remodel, and “fairway robbery”—about development encroaching upon golf courses. He is currently the author of a bi-monthly column called “Architect’s Corner” for the Swiss Magazine Golfers&Co. Jones has always believed that golf course architects, much like journalists, work with certain given truths, but that the real artistry of their profession is encapsulated in exactly how they convey information or tell a story. The best journalists write in a way that can be as compelling as fiction, just as the best golf course architects can make a golfer ask himself whether the beautiful lines and aesthetics—not to mention the optical wizardry of a well-crafted golf course—are real.
P O E T
Considered by many as a kind of landscape poet who uses natural features such as trees, grass, water, and sand to pen his epics, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., is, in fact, also a poet who uses words to create poetry of the more traditional, written kind. Jones is the author of hundreds of poems that vary from intricate verse based on his own life experience (Red Letter Day, Kite Flying at Fu Zhou) to more personal poems dedicated to family and friends (Noble Terry, Ice Brother Bear, Unbearable Spring). Jones has also written lighter, more rollicking verse (Cinco de Mayonnaise, Irish Easy Pieces). But perhaps his most enduring poetic works are a quartet of poems entitled American Festivals (Oration on July 4th, Black Suit Blues, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving). These poems have been set to music for full symphony orchestra and oratorical chorus for concert presentation.
Describing a surprising connection between golf course architecture and poetry, Jones observes, “The formal requirements of a golf course demand intense discipline in the execution. It’s very similar to poetry. The sestina, for example, or the haiku form can be seen as ways of placing very strict demands upon the poet. The discipline of the form in golf design resembles the formal requirements of poetry. I believe my work as a golf course architect has benefited from my experiments with poetry, and vice versa. There is poetry in the land, as there is music in the spoken word, which can only be revealed by sensitive inquiry and careful study. We seek to discover what the English poet Alexander Pope called “the genius of the place.”
Written by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
for Golf&Co magazine.
Who's Design Anyway?, February
Golf in the Ruins, July
Fiddling With Great Architecture, September
Mr. Stimpson and the Stymie, November
Shorter, Smaller Golf Course, March
Fairway Robbery, July
Tent Towns... A New Golf Genre, November
A Game of Patience, March
Site + Setting = Course Rating?, May
Good Drainage is the Key, July
Rating the Raters, September
To Remodel or Not To Restore, November
Restore Integrity, March
Focus on U.S. Major Championships, May
Saint Andrews, July
The Ryder Cup Our Olympics, October
Practice Facilities, November