Published Sunday, January 9, 2005 1:00 am
by Hannon Deutsch
Golf is a game of patience and understanding. The same qualities that are inherent to the game apply to the architects who sculpt the topography Mother Nature has blessed us with.
Over the last four decades, Rees Jones has made his own signature mark on the land. His dedication to making golf enjoyable, yet challenging, has earned him countless number of accolades. But perhaps more important than earning the well-deserved title of “The Open Doctor,” Jones has captured the respect of his peers in the architecture industry as well as the best players in the world.
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So when the Breakers Hotel was searching for a renowned artist to redesign its course in West Palm Beach, the process of elimination brought them straight to Jones. Golf Digest recently ranked him the second most powerful architect in golf behind Tom Fazio. Interested in who’s third? Jack Nicklaus.
Jones’ resume includes remodeled courses such as The Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2, Congressional Blue, Hazeltine National and Torrey Pines South in addition to designing more than 100 courses. Hazeltine is now the site of the 2009 PGA Championship and host of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
“I think they have crowned the proper champions on the Open courses that I have redone,” says Jones, who owns an 8 handicap.
The Breakers West, now known as The Breakers Rees Jones Course, was constructed 72 years after its Ocean Course appeared in 1896. Since Jones is synonymous with marrying classic designs with innovative and strategic thinking, planning the fit between the two groups was seamless. By working on several U.S. Open courses that are rich in tradition and remembering what was passed down from his late father Robert Trent Jones, he carries with him a timeless tradition of superior standards.
“I think this is an era of building classic style golf courses with the shot options,” says Jones, 63, a purist in every sense. “I follow the Neo-classic design style. The bunkers are on angles and the landing areas are narrowed down. I think we are in a wonderful style now where we are not over-baking out golf courses and we’re not undercooking them either.”
The 8-month, $6 million project was designed with flexibility in mind. The course now plays to a par 72 with an additional 400 yards in length and 4 1/2 acres of new lakes. Jones was on-site with his sleeves rolled up during the first critical 10 weeks of the project. The risk/reward option was tactically designed throughout the course, offering a variety of shot options to challenge each player’s cerebral game.
“I have been fortunate to work with really good clients like the Breaker’s,” says Jones. “It’s about getting the team working on the same level. You have to be there. My approach was to bring this golf course to a pre-depression standard. In the 70s, it was a real minimalist period. Now, we’re back into the stylistic approach.”
Jones stays ahead of the pack when it comes to the equipment aspect of the golf industry.
“We have to build golf courses that are enjoyable to play on a continuing basis that also stand the test of time,” he said. “Golf architecture is a competitive profession. There are many more people in it now than when I first started. Each job is your credential. You have to devout the time to building a golf course that is challenging, intrigues and is enjoyable to play.”
According to Jones, a golf hole can be defeated, but more than likely it will defeat the golfer. When asked if a certain hole he has redone stands out more than any other in his memory bank, Jones quickly mentioned the 17th hole at Brookline. Before entirely restructuring three greens Jones examined old photographs of the original Willie Campbell layout with the intent to keep the putting rub of the green into play. It was remodeled prior to the 1988 U.S. Open and will be forever known as the site of Justin Leonard’s famed putt that won the tournament for the Americans. Leonard’s 45-foot putt on the 17th against Jose-Maria Olazabal capped a remarkable comeback win by the United States at the 1999 Ryder Cup after it trailed Europe, 10-6, heading into the final day’s singles matches.
“It was a famous hole to begin with and now it is even more famous,” says Jones, who was the recipient of the Old Tom Morris Award last year. “It has one of the best small championship greens for a 370-yard par 4. It determines the winner every time it has been played.”