Not Giving the Membership What They Want

At times Trent Jones’s chief obstacle was not the landscape, but the club membership. “When you have 400 members,” Trent said, “you have 400 architects. Everyone wants the course adapted or built to handle their game. If someone is a natural hooker, he wants no ponds or out-of-bounds to the left. And they especially don’t want me to remodel their favorite scoring holes.”

Jones ran into such a problem when he redesigned the 4th hole at Baltusrol for the 1954 U.S. Open. He lengthened the hole, placed a tier in the green, put all the trapping toward the back, and then extended the water hazard around the front of the green.

These changes were permanent and some of the members complained that Trent had made the hole too tough for them. Jones felt the hole, at 160-yards, wasn’t tough enough and when the remodeling was completed, he played a practice round with members of the construction committee.

At the 4th tee Jones hit last, after the others in the foursome had driven safely onto the green. He addressed the ball and then paused a moment, thinking how the players had easily reached the green and remembering that they had thought the hole was too difficult.

He smiled and said in his soft, unassuming voice, “I told you this hole wasn’t unfair.” And then he laced a low five iron onto the green. The ball hit six feet before the pin and hopped into the cup on one bounce. He had made the new hole’s first hole-in-one.”

For all his successes as a golf architect, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. did not think he had contributed that much more to the development of the game. “There is nothing new in course design over the last 50 years,” he told me. “The principles are the same. It is only from the imagination of the creator that a course gets its character.”

While this is true, he, more than any other modern practitioner, made the profession of golf architecture both a science and an art. He enriched the lives of millions of players and made everyone who appreciated natural beauty thankful that today, years after his passing, the sun, still never sets on the gifts that Robert Trent Jones, Sr. gave the game of golf.