Golf course architect and “The Open Doctor II”
The final round of the US Open is traditionally played on Father’s Day. In 1951 at Oakland Hills Country Club, when Ben Hogan was presented with the winner’s trophy, he said, “I’m glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.” Neither he, nor anyone else, had broken par until the final round. That was the first time that the usga had a course redesigned for the championship. It was the work of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who would do this so often that he would become known as “The Open Doctor.” In 1954, at age thirteen, his younger son, Rees, was given the job of measuring drives on the fairways at Baltusrol Golf Club, so that his father could analyze and plan the relocation and positioning of bunkers in preparation for future US Open sites.
Rees Jones (Class of 1963) was born not far from Baltusrol, in Montclair, New Jersey. After attending Montclair High School and working summers on his father’s course construction crew, he chose Yale for his college education. This was quite natural, since his mother’s father, grandfather, and other relatives had attended Yale. She believed he should have a liberal education before he chose a profession. Jones says that Yale was “a great choice” for him, since the 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 Jones decided to practice that “craft.” After graduation he studied the technical aspects of his chosen profession, such as drafting and landscape design at Harvard. With both a liberal and technical education and the “learning done in the field,” he “had the best of all worlds.”
At Yale, Jones failed by one stoke to qualify for the freshman golf team,. But, because his older brother Bobby had been on the team, he knew Coach Al Wilson, who asked him to be the manager of the freshman team. In retrospect, Jones thinks that he 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 and, for two years, practiced with the team. In his junior 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 that was played at the Duke University course designed by his father in 1957. Several decades later, one of his daughters attended Duke. In 1994 he redesigned the course, making it “stronger and longer and with recontoured 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 C. B. Macdonald, especially his work at the National Golf Links of America and Yale. His father came to watch matches at Yale during the years that Jones’s brother and he were there but never played the course. As with most Macdonald/Raynor projects, Rees believes that Seth Raynor “did most of the work at Yale.” Raynor “was like my father’s design associate, Roger Rulewich.” As far as design is concerned, Jones 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 Golf Links of America (Macdonald) and the Montclair Golf Club (Banks) as well as through his work of redesign and restoration at Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Raynor) and Hackensack Golf Club in New Jersey (Banks).
Jones joined his father’s firm in 1965 and then started his own company, Rees Jones, Inc. in Montclair in 1974. In 1978 he became the youngest president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Golf Digestnamed him Architect of the Year in 1995. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of American awarded him the Old Tom Morris Award in 2004. The award had gone to his father in 1987. The unofficial title of Open Doctor passed to the son when Rees redesigned The Country Club for the 1988 US Open.
Rees Jones now has more than 140 golf courses to his credit. Though most of them are original designs, he is best known for his redesign work. These courses have been the sites for seven US Opens, six PGA Championships, three Ryder Cup competitions, two Walker Cups, and one President’s Cup. He redesigned East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta (Bobby Jones’s home course) for the PGA Tour Championship. In addition to the redesign of his father’s original design of the Duke University course, Jones redesigned Baltusrol Golf Club, Congressional Country Club, and Hazeltine National Golf Club for US Opens twenty or more years after his father had done the same. The other Open redesigned courses are The Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2, the Black Course at Bethpage State Park, and Torrey Pines South. Three original designs are on the Golf Digest 100-best-course list (Ocean Forest Golf Club, Atlantic Golf Club, and The Golf Club at Briar’s Creek).
In addition to his brother, Jones has known others who have been part of the Yale golf story. He knew Jess Sweetser very well, meeting him first when Sweetser visited their home as a frequent guest of his father (who “greatly admired” Sweetser’s golfing triumphs as a player and Walker Cup captain). “Jess was a great influence on my father and took a liking to his sons.” Later Jones met him many times at Yale reunions. Jones was well acquainted with Mark McCormack, whom he considered “the first to see golf as a business as well as a game,” beginning with his television marketing of the Big Three (Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player). He went on to “elevate the economics of golf” and many other sports. Jones knew Charles Fraser even better through their service on the board of the Urban Land Institute.
When asked his opinion about a “standard ball” to combat the effective shortening of courses by new equipment, Jones responded that “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.”
Reflecting on his undergraduate days at the Yale Golf Course, Jones said that “he was lucky to be introduced to a great golf course over four years and 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 C. B. After his recent tour of the course, Jones 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 No. 2, a stout test of golf, which has stood the test of time.” Therefore, the “Open Doctor” will not be needed at the Yale Golf Course. As he himself opined, the course as it is now 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 eighty years ago and to the University today.”