Robert “Bobby” Trent Jones, Jr.
Varsity golfer and course designer
Bobby Jones (Class of 1961) has designed more than 200 golf courses in thirty-eight countries on six continents. As he has acknowledged, he could not have accomplished this without “a creative father and a wise mother.” His connections to golf and to Yale go back even further. His paternal grandfather was attending grade school in Rochester, New York, where he enjoyed pulling the pigtails of the girl sitting in front of him. One day she turned around and told him, “If you’ll stop, I’ll give you a dime so you can take the trolley to the end of the line, then walk a mile to the golf club where my uncle will give you a job as a caddie.” That he did, and there he learned the game from the club pro who was none other than Walter Hagen. Jones later taught the game to his own son, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., who was determined to become a golf course architect. As an undergraduate at Cornell, he created his own course of study, combining agriculture and liberal arts. Both his maternal grandfather and great grandfather were Yale graduates. Great grandfather Rees grew up in Cincinnati, where his athletic ability came to the attention of Horace Taft (brother of William Howard Taft, both Yale graduates). Taft arranged for him to attend the Taft School and later Yale on scholarships linked to his football playing. He played for Coach Walter Camp and, after graduating in 1896, participated in the first modern Olympic Games as a sprinter. Jones paid for his Atlantic passage by shoveling coal on a Grace Line ship.
Jones learned to play golf from the club pro and from his father. In the 1950s they were both good players. Bob was a finalist in the 1956 Metropolitan Junior Championship, and he and his father finished third in the 1957 New Jersey Father-Son Championship. Bob was a member of the 1956 US Junior team that played the U.K. team at Winged Foot. Based on his performance there, especially on the famous tenth hole, Tommy Armour offered to instruct him in course management.
When it came time to decide on a college, his father favored Princeton and his mother preferred Yale. While still in high school, Jones had played the “interesting and unique” Yale golf course, and that made his decision easy. At Yale he was “frightened” by the difficulty of 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 directly related to his profession was geology.
Making the golf team was not easy because Jones was competing against five former state junior champions. But, he made the team by winning the last three holes of his match in a March snowstorm. The team won the eiga Championship twice and went to the NCAA nationals in Oregon and Colorado. Jones enjoyed the “psychological” challenge of match play. His parents were very supportive; his mother Iona attended every home match, and his father came when he was not traveling. Coach Wilson’s son Al caddied for Jones and often borrowed his 1958 blue Impala convertible for an evening date, while Jones was having a post-match dinner with his mother.
After he graduated from Yale, Jones attended Stanford Law School, again at the urging of his mother. She thought that he should train for a “substantial job” and not follow his father into the “cottage industry of golf design.” This time, his father won. He joined his father’s business in 1962, at the time when Robert Trent Jones, Sr., was transforming golf architecture. Bob concentrated on designing and building courses on the West Coast and internationally. His father taught him the merits and demerits of design by Macdonald, Banks, Tillinghast, Ross, and his favorite, Mackenzie, as well as his own. His father had first taught him how to strike a golf ball, now he taught him how to design and build a course. He had another teacher as well, Tommy Armour. When Armour taught Jones course management, he pointed out that in Scotland the “features” of the courses had names like Redan, Hell’s Bunker, etc. These features dictated club selection and how you “worked the ball.” Armour, without meaning to, had also been teaching course design.
In 1973, Jones formed his own company, Robert Trent Jones ii Golf Course Architects, in Palo Alto, California. He served as president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and in 1993, published the book Golf by Design. It is a clever title because the book is about course design, but it also a primer on how a golfer should manage his or her game by attending closely to the designed “features” of tee, fairway, bunker and green, to the illusions that these features can create, and to natural elements of wind and rain. The foreword to the book was written by five-time Open champion Tom Watson, who, along with former USGA president Sandy Tatum, assisted Jones in designing of one of his most acclaimed courses in the United States, The Links at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, California. Other notable designs among his now more than 200 are the Prince Course at Princeville on Kauai, rated sixty-third in the United States by Golf Digest; Moscow Country Club, the first course built in Russia; Spring City Golf & Lake Resort, ranked number one in China; Le Prince de Provence, ranked number one in France; and Miklagard Golf Club, ranked number one in Norway.
Jones believes strongly that his Yale education made him appreciate cultural history, which helped him considerably in facing the challenges of working around the world. But wherever the location, he looks on his work as “stage craft, [as] setting up the game and creating a challenge” for the player. He doesn’t believe technology has diminished the value of older courses like Merion. To him a “golf course is alive” and, like Augusta National, often “a work in progress.” He takes great pride in having worked in the “golden age” of course design.