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Golf course designer Rees Jones sounds off

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Rees Jones, The Open Doctor, is in the house. Actually, the legendary golf course designer is in his office in his hometown of Montclair, N.J. It is not cold in the Northeast yet, but it will be soon. And when the mercury dips too low to golf, Jones will be out the door, on a plane, and off to some sunny location to tee it up with clients or friends.

"In the winter, I go to just about every member/guest tournament I get invited to," Jones says. "I won the member/guest at Redstick in Vero Beach (Florida) last year."

Yes Virginia, Jones has game. He says he plays to an eight or ten handicap, depending on the slope rating of the course. He won all his singles matches at the prestigious Lesley Cup matches at the Nantucket Golf Club in Nantucket, MA.

Jones knows what you are thinking - he's a good stick, therefore to enjoy his golf course designs, you should be a good stick, too.

Hogwash, he says. Jones likes to think his designs set up well for golfers of various skill levels. His father, the late Robert Trent Jones, is famous for having introduced the concept of hard par, easy bogey into golf course design. His brother, Robert Trent Jones Jr., has crafted some arduous modern layouts himself. But Rees Jones says golfers with good course management, regardless of handicap, will enjoy playing his courses.

"There's not a style, there's a strategy," Jones says about his philosophy. "I create style depending on whether it's a wind swept, parkland or heathland style piece of land. I play with angles and I like to have open entrances into greens on longer holes."

The USGA's Open Doctor

Someone, however, thinks that Jones can design one teeth-gritting, foot-stomping, stomach-churning golf course. The United States Golf Association. Jones has earned the moniker "U.S. Open Doctor" for his remodeling of five courses prior to their hosting of the Open. Most recently, he took the knife to Bethpage Black in 2002 and Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999.

Just last week, the USGA offered the 2008 U.S. Open to Torrey Pines South Course in San Diego. Jones recently reworked the popular seaside track into a 7,400-yard monster capable of challenging the flat bellies on the PGA Tour. He says he'll probably begin work on the North Course soon, Southern California golfers beware.

Dave Pelz once told me that Rees Jones might be the best practicing golf course architect on this planet. Those were strong words coming from a guy who knows his stuff. It was also surprising, since so many writers and design critics insist that Tom Fazio is the best thing going. Pelz said the "mental gymnastics" Jones must go through to make a course worthy of hosting a U.S. Open even better are "unimaginable."

Perhaps its Jones' ego, or lack thereof, that keeps him from gloating about his accomplishments. Roger Rulewich, Jones Sr.'s right hand man for over 30 years, recently announced that he'd be designing a new addition to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. Most golfers who play the Trail don't realize that Rulewich was the project manager and principle designer for each and every RTJ hole down there in Dixie.

Wouldn't Rees like a stab at contributing to his father's legacy?

"Roger deserves to be the guy over there," Jones says. "He was very loyal to my father and stuck with him for over 30 years. He really knows how to build a Jones style golf course. That whole project really kept my father alive towards the end of his life. They treated him very well."

Rees Jones does Long Island

Jones believes that his legacy is taking shape much closer to home.

"I have a place where I have been able to increase the lore of golf, and that place is Long Island," Jones says. "We did the Atlantic Golf Club and the Bridge Golf Club near my summer home and that has been a pleasure. I fiddle with Atlantic all the time like Ross fiddled with (Pinehurst) No. 2. I even built a nine hole course on someone's property out there called Three Ponds Farm."

We should all have neighbors like Rees Jones.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Question

    Patty Baker wrote on: Nov 3, 2005

    The Rio Secco Golf Course is beautiful and challenging. Could you please tell me if the Rio Hotel and Casino directly hired you to design it? If yes, what month and year did you begin? Or if no, who did hire you? How long did it take to design and build? When exactly did you begin work on it?
    Patty Baker


  • courses

    roger wrote on: Jun 29, 2005

    Hi there, I have heard that there is a robert trent course in the dominica republic.Can you tell me if so, can you please email me with some details. I am hoping to come on holiday next year. Many thanks Roger Baillie


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