Robert Trent Jones Golf
"See gentlemen, it’s not that difficult." - Robert Trent
Jones, Sr., 1954
Robert Trent Jones, Sr. has surely earned a place in golf's pantheon.
Over a period spanning seven decades, he has designed (or re-designed)
some 500 golf courses in over 40 states and 35 countries. It is not only
the quantity of his work that impresses, however; it is also the number
of enduring golf courses he has created, and the fact that he never tires
of turning them out.
He was born in 1906 in Ince, England, a town on the Trent River - from
which his middle name derives. He came to the States in 1911 and settled
down in East Rochester, New York. A fine golfer in his own right, he held
a few jobs as club pro and teacher and even competed in several professional
events. He became the first person to study expressly for a career as
a golf designer. He fashioned his own program of study at Cornell University,
drawing upon courses in landscape architecture, agronomy, horticulture,
hydraulics, surveying, public speaking and economics.
Just as he was ending his studies in 1930, however, the course design
business ground to a halt thanks to the Depression. Trent formed a partnership
with Canadian architect Stanley Thompson and helped on two of his most
famous projects, Capilano in Vancouver and Banff in the Canadian Rockies.
Trent also did six low- budget courses on his own that incorporated W.P.A.
labor. The partnership ended in 1938, but it was not until after World
War II that Trent's work flourished. Along the way, he and his wife, the
former Ione Teftt Davis, had two children, Robert, Jr., in 1939, and another
son, Rees, in 1941.
Trent was a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects
in 1947. Beyond his considerable abilities as a visionary of golf land,
he acquired a well-deserved reputation as a brilliant salesman and promoter.
He had an uncanny ability to meet the right people and to cultivate relationships
with the giants of industry, and in some cases, the kings of countries.
made his reputation after World War II with a handful of high-profile
projects. He worked with Bobby Jones on Peachtree (1948)
in Atlanta, a course that launched the broad-shouldered, heavily sculpted
power golf look that defined the postwar years. Trent also worked on Augusta
National, transforming the 11th and 16th holes from indifferent
to bold and memorable. And he became a national celebrity in 1951 owing
to his complete redesign of Oakland Hills-South Course
for the U.S. Open that year. While retaining Ross' routing and his green
sites, he filled in all of Ross' fairway bunkers at Oakland Hills, moved
them back to the 230-270 yard range off the tee, and created "a Monster"
out of what had been a much more modest if always sound layout.
Trent's reputation was made. He became "The Open Doctor" -
the man to whom clubs turned in prepping their course for a U.S. Open.
In quick succession, he worked such major venue as Baltusrol-Lower
Course, Olympic-Lake, Southern Hills, Oak Hill and Congressional.
When it came to employing earth-moving equipment, Trent held nothing
back. If the site was completely flat, such as with the course he came
to own in Fort Lauderdale, Coral Ridge CC, he simply
create massive lakes on the property and used the excavated earth to elevate
tees and greens. At Mauna Kea in Hawaii, he routed a course through an
ancient lava flow; there he invented the method of crushing the lava to
make the soil, a method that was copied by others working in Hawaii. He
built Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico on nothing but a base
of sand. And on the Italian island of Sardinia, he literally broke new
ground, and defied expert advice in the process, by pulverizing the on-site
granite and using it for top soil.
He tried to juggle more than a dozen projects at one time - in some cases,
sacrificing detail and attention for the sake of productivity. While he
did much of his own routing, he also surrounded himself with top-flight
design associates. Frank Duane was at his side from the late 1940's to
the early 1960's. Since then, his chief designer was Roger Rulewich -
who in 1995 left to form his own design group, and took with him most
of Trent's in-house construction crew.
his career, Trent
catered to good
players and virtually
His greens usually
required a shot
flown all the
way over sand
and water, rather
liked to say that
on his holes,
tough but a bogey
Yet this only
pertains to a
to shooting in
the 70's. More
than any other
set out to build
courses that were
- not fun, not
subtle, but difficult.
He also took on
much too much
work. In the process,
the art of course
design into a
business in which
hype and self-promotion
time with the
and in large measure
because of his
success, the game
of golf has become
and lost a measure
of subtlety and
But is that Trent's
fault, or would
it have happened
anyway? In either
case his genius
lay in having
been present at
the creation of
a revolution in