On the record, Jones said resort officials gave him a "mulligan" by letting him come back and revise his first draft. He was just darn glad to have a crack at retooling one of his first solo designs. Just happy to be here, on the record.
Off the record, he was issuing the golf world a 600-yard, par-5 sized, "How do you like me now!"
Eighteen years ago -- when he was just a pup by golf course architect standards -- Jones was tapped to design No. 7. Gigs at Pinehurst Resort aren't easy to come by, even for the wily veterans of the design world.
But Jones had earned a reputation as an up-and-comer while working for his father, the late Robert Trent Jones. Young Rees was so excited about the job, he laid out the course on his kitchen table that night.
"Getting to do that course at that resort with that piece of land was a boost at that stage of my career," Jones told Pinehurst Golf shortly after the course re-opened in December 2002.
That career doesn't need a boost these days. Jones is considered one of the top two or three designers in the world and has earned the moniker "The Open Doctor" for his restoration of U.S. Open venues.
But being established doesn't translate into complacency, and Jones isn't content to sit back and let the competition get the best of him. More specifically, he still has designs on becoming Pinehurst Resort's favorite son.
That title, for now, belongs to the redoubtable Tom Fazio -- Jones' chief adversary in the battle for the throne of golf course architecture. In 1995, Fazio was given carte blanche to design the No. 8 course in celebration of resort's 100th birthday. Five years later, the resort commissioned Fazio to redesign No. 4.
No. 4 originally was designed by Donald Ross, but underwent revisions by Jones Sr. and even Rees Jones. While Jones would never say as much, hiring Fazio to redesign a course he and his father had a crack at could have been taken as a smack in the face.
"I think that hurt him because it is a competitive business at the top," said one golf writer in confidence.
Jones was afforded multiple opportunities to gloat about the new-look No. 7 last week. In each instance, his remarks were humble and to the point. In other words - words that would go unsaid - Jones wanted to let the course do the talking.
In short, here's what it had to say: Game on.
Before the remodel, No. 7 was brawny, quirky, hilly and modern. It was the essence of the 1980s course design philosophy that conventional wisdom is to be rebuffed at all costs. Still, as late as 1996, No. 7 was considered one of the top 100 pay-for-play courses in the U.S. In the late 90s, golf course architecture trended back toward classic design and No. 7 fell out of favor with the critics.
In one national magazine's Top 100 list, No. 7 was even put out to pasture by a crop of new "traditional" courses that included No. 4 and No. 8.
The tables easily could turn as more golf media and course raters tour around this new layout Jones succinctly describes as "neoclassical." Neo-spectacular is more like it. Gone are the blind tee shots, the hills that encroached into landing areas and the smallish, severe greens that had been placed in bizarre locations.
In their place are new square tee boxes that take advantage of jaw-dropping views, majestic green complexes (in logical spots) with forgiving surrounds, and generous landing areas that make No. 7 a grip-it-and-rip-it golfer's paradise.
"This course is so different from many of the courses that are being built these days because the emphasis is on the tee shot," said head professional Chad Campbell.
No hole was sparred during Jones' reconstructive surgery. Even the par-5 18th, long considered one of the best finishing holes in the Sandhills, got the knife. The green was pushed back toward the small lake that sits between it and the clubhouse.
"We want people to come here because they want to play No. 2, but we want them to leave talking about No. 7," Campbell said.
Based on early feedback from the members, resort guests and the media, mission accomplished.
Jones also has been selected to design Pinehurst Resort's new No. 9 course on a parcel of land once owned by his family. A murky travel market and a suppressed economy have kept the project on hold. Should the course come to fruition, favorite son status may be up for grabs.
April 17, 2003