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Golf architect
Interviewed on June 4, 2006 at the Yale Golf Course 
(photograph of “Bobby” Jones in 1959 team picture and of Mr. and Mrs. Jones)

Interview (1 hr 17 mins)

Mr. Jones grew up in Montclair NJ. His paternal grandfather had been introduced to golf when in grade school in Rochester NY he pulled a girl’s pigtails and she offered him a job if he would stop. “You need a dime to go to the end of the trolley line, then walk a mile to the golf club where my uncle will give you a job as a caddy.” Her uncle turned out to be Walter Hagen!

Jones’s father, Robert Trent Jones, was away a lot and his mother was a strong influence. Her father was a Yale graduate, as was her grandfather, Rees, for whom his brother was named. Grandfather Rees had grown up in Cincinnati, and Mr. Taft had arranged for him to the Taft School on a football scholarship, then to Yale, where he shoveled coal to make money, played football under Walter Camp, and was a sprinter. He graduated in the class of 1896, and participated that year in the first modern Olympics in Athens (paying his Atlantic passage by shoveling coal on a Grace Line ship).

Bobby Jones’s father wanted him to take a “combined course of study” in college, as he had, including agriculture and liberal arts. Bobby was considering Princeton, where many Taft graduates went, but his mother encouraged him to follow her father and grandfather to Yale. Before he made his decision, he was able to play the “interesting and unique” Yale golf course. After that his choice was easy.

Before Yale, Bobby had played competitive golf in high school. He was a member of the junior U.S. team that played the U. K. team in 1956 at Winged Foot. His performance there, especially on the 10th hole, prompted Tommy Armour to offer his services [free] to teach him “how to play the game.” He had already learned ball striking from his father and his home pro. Armour taught that each hole had character. In Scotland each had a name, Redan, Hell’s Bunker etc. The course is “animate” and this leads to club selection and “working the ball”. His father wanted to and did teach him course design. Armour, without meaning to, also taught him course design. At Yale, he says, he was “frightened” by the academic work but he “worked hard” and did well. He learned how to study and be curious, especially in regard to “cultural history”. The only course that he took that was directly applicable to his work as a golf course architect was geology.

Making the golf team was not easy. There were five students who had been their state junior champions. He made the team by winning his qualifying match, playing the last three holes in a March snowstorm. The team trained for the spring season in both Bermuda and Florida. They played in the NCAA tournament in Oregon and Colorado. He enjoyed the “psychological ” challenge of match play.After Yale he attended Stanford Law School. His mother had cautioned him that course design was a “cottage industry” and that he should train for a more substantial job. But, of course he apprenticed for his father and concentrated designing and building on the West Coast and internationally. He believes that his father “transformed golf architecture”. Robert Trent Jones began to attract the same attention, as did the players. Especially after Hogan won the 1951 US Open at Oakland Hills, and called it a “Monster” which he had “brought to its knees”. His father taught him the merits and demerits of design by Macdonald, Banks, Tillinghast, Ross, and his favorite Mackenzie.

The interview concludes with an overview of his own design work, the details of which are found in his bookGolf by Design. There is also discussion of the different challenges of working around the world, in Japan, Korea, China, Europe and Norway. But, where ever the location, he looks upon his work as that of “stage craft…setting up the game…and creating a challenge”. Therefore, technology has not diminished the value of the older courses like Merion. The “golf course is alive” and like Augusta often “a work in progress”. He has worked in the “golden era” of golf course design.