On the eve of our country’s national championship, the United States Open, we remember the original U.S. Open Doctor — one of golf course architecture’s most legendary and prolific names — who indelibly left his mark at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort.
During seven decades, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (1906-2000) traveled an estimated eight million miles and created some 350 courses — including more courses for national championships than any other golf architect — while renovating another 150 on his way to becoming the first architect to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Today, Jones' works are found in 45 states and 35 countries.
“Trent,” a name he chose to distinguish himself from Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones, was a small, gentle, cherub-faced man who nevertheless was capable of near-sadistic use of huge bunkers, ponds, creeks, and undulating greens. His designs often bamboozled touring pros, particularly during the U.S. Open. Earning his nickname as the original “U.S. Open Doctor,” Jones believed he was merely defending par against the evolution of golf equipment and the golf ball. ''The shattering of par without a proper challenge is a fraud,'' he said. ''I make them play par.''
When Jones redesigned the fourth hole at the Baltusrol Golf Club's Lower Course in Springfield, N.J., prior to the 1954 U.S. Open, some members thought the par 3 over a pond was unfair. He offered to play the hole along with the club pro, Johnny Farrell, and two members, while others watched.
Playing from the 165-yard members tee, Farrell and the two others each hit balls on the green. Jones stepped up and swung his 4-iron. His ball landed on the green and rolled into the cup for a hole in one. Turning to the assembly, Jones said: ''Gentlemen, the hole is fair. Eminently fair.''
As we know from his work at Palmetto Dunes, Jones’s designs embody three cardinal virtues: beauty, challenge and flexibility. Jones was dedicated to the proposition that all golfers are not created equal. By incorporating his distinctive, elongated “runway” tees — some as long as 100 yards — Jones made it possible for average golfers to play the same course.
“The sun never sets,” he enjoyed saying, “on a Robert Trent Jones golf course.”
In addition to his 21 United States Open courses, Jones worked on courses that have held the PGA Championship 17 times and on venues for the World Cup six times. He designed Valderrama in Spain, the site of the 1997 Ryder Cup matches, and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club course in Virginia, the site of three President’s Cup matches.
Jones collaborated with Bobby Jones in designing Atlanta’s Peachtree Golf Club, and in the late 1940s, he worked with Jones on the redesign of the 11th and 16th holes at Augusta National — annual site of the Masters — famously turning No. 16 into one of the world’s greatest and most beautiful one-shotters.
He created a putting green at the White House for President Eisenhower, as well as a hole with three different tees at Camp David, the president's weekend retreat in Maryland. Jones's clients included the Rockefeller family, the Aga Khan and King Hassan II of Morocco.
His resume also includes American gems such as Spyglass Hill in Pebble Beach, Calif., Mauna Kea in Hawaii, The Dunes in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Golden Horseshoe in Williamsburg, Va. In semi-retirement, he and his protégé, Roger Rulewich, helped transform the economy of an entire state with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
Jones, who for most of his career worked out of offices in Montclair, N.J., passed away in 2000 at age 93. His legacy rests with his two sons, Robert (‘Bobby’) Trent Jones Jr. (born 1939) and Rees Jones (born 1941), both among the world’s preeminent golf course architects. Together the three formed the “first family of American golf.”
''You look at a piece of ground,'' Jones Sr., once said, ''and you know instinctively what makes a great hole. There is a flow and rhythm that you can feel. You think how to stake it out, and then use logic to make the right choice. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. But you have to play golf well, too.”
Those of us at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort will never forget the second half of the 20th century’s most prolific golf course architect. We take great pride that the name Robert Trent Jones Sr., will live on here forever.