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On web May/June 1999

By Eric Alpenfels

The legendary Pinehurst course gets a makeover for the U.S. Open Championship.

For one week in June, the golf world will be watching Pinehurst as the venerable venue for the last U.S. Open Championship of the 20th century. More precisely, all eyes will be on Pinehurst No. 2. Here, the preparations for tournament week have been ongoing for more than four years to ensure a challenging course for the competitors and a successful viewing opportunity for the on-site spectators and the television audience. The preparations have included such large-scale productions as the coring and resurfacing of the greens to minute details such as the elimination of excess pinecones in the rough and the appropriate placement of trash cans. At the whack of the first drive, however, preparations will fade into the background. The focus for players and viewers alike will become the greens, the distance, and the key holes.

Some men have childhood memories of tossing a football with their dads. Rees Jones remembers measuring drives on the fairways of the famed Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, site of seven U.S. Opens, so his father, the prolific golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, could position bunkers.

With golf courses as his playground, young Rees lived the stuff of legends. When the elder Jones redesigned the par-3 fourth hole on Baltusrol’s Lower Course, members complained the forced carry over water was too difficult. He silenced the protesters by acing the hole with a 5-iron the first time he played it — and declared it “eminently fair.”

“I grew up in the business,” Rees Jones explains in understated fact.

It seems natural that Jones inherited from his father, who is now 92, the unofficial tag of “The Open Doctor.” He has become the country’s leading restorer of some of America’s most revered golf layouts, including five courses immediately prior to their being venues for the U.S. Open. Four of the courses, including Baltusrol (remodeled for the 1993 Open), improved their ranking on Golf Digest’s Top 100 List immediately following his work. Also on the list: The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, site of the 1988 Open and this September’s Ryder Cup; Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, where the 1997 Open was played; and the two-time Open site of Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, where Jones worked on the track for the 1991 Open. He also has been retained to restore the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Long Island , which will host the 2002 U.S. Open.

And, of course, he recently completed work on Pinehurst No. 2, which Jones describes as Donald Ross’ “ultimate test of golf.” That wasn’t quite how Jones found No. 2, however, when the doctor came calling.

The signature Ross-crowned greens had virtually shrunk from the effects of motorized mowers. But thanks to the extensive research by No. 2’s course superintendent Paul Jett, collaboration with the U.S. Golf Association, and the surgically precise massaging by Jones, the new bentgrass now slides over the slope of the greens so it releases the ball, creating what Ross had originally intended — one of the greatest recovery, chipping, and putting challenges in the game.

“I wanted to restore it as close [to its original state] as possible,” Jones explains. “Architects are in a period of rebuilding and revering classics. We’re back to building shot options.” The result is a par-70 Pinehurst No. 2 representing “the way golf should be played,” Jones describes. “You have to think about every shot.”

That demand for precision shotmaking is exactly what will make the U.S. Open at Pinehurst exciting to watch. And the conversion to a par-70 course, he says, will make par “more of a standard of excellence.” Jones encourages spectators to attend the practice rounds to view the best players’ garnering their skills for No. 2’s refurbished short-game challenges. “The practice rounds will be phenomenal — and very important,” he says.

What will we see? The pros confronting the choice of making a shot out of the rough or an uphill putt. Jones offers the competitors some advice about approaching the green: Miss on the near side. Don’t go for the flag. Just go for the surface.

He predicts the par-3, 15th hole will be the pivotal test. And the winning score? “A couple under par will win,” Jones forecasts, adding the qualification, “if it doesn’t rain.”

But golf stats and course contours fade as Jones waxes philosophic about Pinehurst. To him, the resort triggers another childhood memory — the scent of pine in the air, which signaled the Jones family’s annual arrival in the Village of Pinehurst where the elder Open Doctor kept check on the pulse of golf’s mecca. — Patricia Baldwin


Business: Rees Jones Inc., Montclair, New Jersey. Golf course architect who has designed or redesigned more than 100 golf courses.

Born: Montclair, New Jersey, 1941.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Yale University, 1963. Graduate work in the Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Design, Harvard University.

Honors: Elected president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, 1978 (youngest person ever to hold the post). Golf Digest magazine Architect of the Year, 1995.

Published: In 1974, wrote a text for an Urban Land Institute guidebook for real estate developers called Golf Course Developments.

Design awards:Golf Digest awarded Nantucket Golf Club (Nantucket, Massachusetts) as Best New Private Golf Course in 1998; named Atlantic Golf Club (Bridgehampton, New York) as Best New Private Golf Course in 1992; and cited Sandpines Golf Club (Florence, Oregon) as Best New Public Golf Course in 1993.

Other notable designs: Pinehurst No. 7 (Village of Pinehurst, North Carolina); Huntsville Golf Club (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania); The Oxfordshire Golf Club (Thame, England); Ocean Forest Golf Club (Sea Island, Georgia); Haig Point Club (Daufuskie Island, South Carolina); Duke University Golf Club (Durham, North Carolina); LPGA International, Daytona Beach, California.

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