Ask any golfer to name the premier architect of today’s modern golf course and the name Robert Trent Jones, Sr. is sure to be the first name on the list. His innovative approach to course design is unrivaled in the history of American golf, and his influence truly stretches around the globe.
In this fascinating biography, A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf best selling author, James R. Hansen describes a man passionate about the game of golf and determined to make the game not only accessible to everyone but a thoroughly enjoyable experience for every golfer, amateur to professional.
Hansen has meticulously researched Jones career (1930-2000) from his first efforts at Midvale Golf and Country Club in Penfield, NY to his final designs as the head of his own major golf architectural firm. Jones was full of confidence and a determination that impressed not only his clients but also fellow golf architects. Leading Canadian golf course architect, Stanley Thompson was Jones’ early mentor at Midvale and for a time, his business partner.
Jones’s business grew in the 1930s, under FDR’s New Deal and the efforts of the Civil Works Administration. He convinced municipalities that creating, upgrading or redesigning a public golf course would not only pay for itself over time, but would attract new development. A beautiful golf course would encourage citizens not only to play the game, but also to live and work nearby. It was a “win-win” proposition for politicians and citizens alike.
But it was more than Jones’ ability to negotiate a contract that helped his business prosper; it was his creative course designs and philosophy towards the game that really set him apart. Hansen spends the better part of the book describing how Jones would approach every new design job. He studied both professional and amateur golfers as they played a course. Did the placement of bunkers or hazards reward or hinder the play? Were golfers given strategic choices on how to play a hole? Were the greens so flat as to be without challenge, or so uneven as to be impossible to play? Was the course laid out in harmony with the land or was it bulldozed out of the landscape without thought to retaining what was beautiful and natural?
Author Hansen makes it clear throughout that it was Jones’s sense of aesthetic values and his ability to bring both challenge and satisfaction to a player’s game that made him the successful golf architect that he became. Jones was the first to employ what he would later call the “heroic school” of golf design in which better players are challenged and rewarded and every golfer no matter his or her ability has a chance for a par.
All was not always a “straight fairway” for the Jones family, and Hansen spends much of the book describing Jones’s home life, his children, and the highs and lows of his business dealings. His work brought the golfing community hundreds of brilliant course designs, but it came at a price.
Every golfer who has ever wondered about the philosophy behind course design will thoroughly enjoy this biography.
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A Difficult Par: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the Making of Modern Golf published by Gotham Books, is now available at Amazon.com