Class of 1963, golf team manager and player, now golf course designer
Interviewed on September 14, 2006
- Upper: from the 1962 Golf Team picture of Rees Jones as team manager and player.
- Lower: taken at the Atlantic Golf Club for the cover of Golf Course Management magazine, December 2003, announcing his receiving the 2004 Old Tom Morris Award
Rees toured the course with Peter Pulaski, Scott Ramsay, John Godley and Bill Kelly, in a steady cold rain. Later, a telephone interview was conducted.
Rees Jones interview summary, 1/2/2006
Rees choose Yale for his college education quite naturally. His mother’s father, grandfather and other relatives had attended Yale. She believed in his having a liberal education, before he chose a profession. He attended many Yale football games as he was growing up. This turned out to be “a great choice” for him. The Yale education “expanded his life” and there he made many lifelong friends. Even though growing up with his famous father he had been exposed to all the aspects of golf course design, it wasn’t until his junior year that he decided to practice that “craft”. After graduation he studied the technical aspects of his chosen profession, such as drafting and landscape design at Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. So, with both a liberal and technical education and the “learning done in the field”, he “had the best of all worlds.”
At Yale, he failed to qualify for the freshman golf team by 1 stoke. But, because his older brother [Bobby] had been on the team, he knew Coach Al Wilson. As a sophomore the coach asked him to be the manager of the freshman team. In retrospect he thinks that was probably chosen because he had a car and could help transport the team to away matches. As a junior he became manager of the varsity. For three years he practiced with the team. In his senior year he “was playing well in practice” and the team qualified for the NCAA national championship. Coach Wilson picked him for the team that traveled to the tournament, played at the Duke University course designed by his father [Robert Trent Jones] in 1957. Several decades later one of his daughters attended Duke. In 1994 he redesigned the course, making it “stronger and longer and with re-contoured greens.” He is very proud of this work, which allowed Duke to host the NCAA championship again in 2001.
Like Rees, his father was an admirer of the work of CB Macdonald, especially that at the National Golf Links and Yale. His father came to watch matches at Yale during the years that his brother and he were there, but never played the course. As with most of their projects, Rees believes that Seth Raynor did most ”of the work at Yale”. Raynor “was like my father’s Roger Rulewich”. As far as design is concerned, Rees now considers Macdonald, Raynor and Charles Banks all together. He was first exposed to their work at Yale and since then as a member of National and the Montclair Golf Club [Banks] as well as through his work of redesign and restoration at Monterey CA [Raynor] and the Hackensack Golf Club [Banks]. Rees pointed out that in our research there is one Yale graduate designer that we have overlooked. That is Roy Dye class of 1950, the brother of the more well know Pete Dye.
Rees came to know Jess Sweetser very well. He first saw him when Sweetser visited their home as a frequent guest of his father [who “greatly admired” Sweetser’s golfing triumphs as a played and Walker Cup captain]. “Jess was a great influence on my father and took a liking to his sons.” Later Rees saw him many times at Yale reunions. Rees was well acquainted with Mark McCormack who “was the first to see golf as a business as well as a game”. He began with the TV marketing of The Big Three [Palmer, Nicklaus & Player] and went on to “elevate the economics of golf” and many other sports. Rees knew Charles Fraser even better. They served together on the Urban Land Institute. He designed a course for Fraser that was never built. The Harbour Town Links course designed by Pete Dye [with Jack Nicklaus] at Hilton Head Island “has set a very high standard”.
When asked his opinion about a “standard ball” to combat the effective shortening of courses by new equipment Rees said, “all equipment improvements are positive for the average golfer. A ‘standard ball’ is a good idea for the professionals, but it will not be adopted because of the loss of revenue to manufacturers and the experience of the “square groove” litigation.”
As for his undergraduate days at the Yale Golf Course, Rees said that, “he was lucky to be introduced to a great golf course over four years. To learn that a course doesn’t have to be perfect, but that bad bounces and blind holes make it a course that you never tire of playing.” He gets ideas for designing from playing old courses, as Macdonald did before him and Old and Young Tom Morris did before CB. After his recent tour of the course he said that “Yale is still one of the great courses in America. Length is not as important as the angles and hazards, which dictate the shots that make it, like Pinehurst # 2, a stout test of golf which has stood the test of time”. Therefore, the “Open Doctor” will not be needed. The course as it now is “would be an excellent site for the women’s and men’s Amateur or the women’s Open championships. That is a credit to Macdonald and Raynor 80 years ago and to the University today”.