Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Goes To College

Robert Trent Jones went to Cornell to become a golf architect, at a time when no one in golf saw a connection between golf and higher education. He spent three and a half years studying in Cornell’s various undergraduate and graduate schools. His special curriculum in “golf architecture” was made up of courses in surveying, hydraulics, landscape architecture, horticulture, agronomy, economics, chemistry, public speaking and journalism.

And after he graduated from Cornell in 1930, Jones spent another year studying sketching at Rochester School of Art before teaming up with a Canadian golf architect, Stanley Thompson.

Their first clients were members of a club in Rochester, New York but the country club went bankrupt before they finished construction. Three more clients in those first years of the depression followed into bankruptcy, and Jones and Thompson had to go as far away as Rio de Janeiro to find solvent clients.

In 1935 Trent Jones decided the new Works Progress Administration might be a good paying customer. “If the W.P.A. could spend its money,” he told me, “to put the unemployed to work raking leaves, then I didn’t see why a golf course wasn’t a legitimate relief project. Also, you’ll have a beauty spot that everyone in the community is going to enjoy for years to come.”

Over the next four years Jones designed six public courses in Illinois and New York and began to experiment with the type of course layouts that would put his mark on modern golf architecture.

For the heavy traffic of public courses, Jones came up with the innovative notion of duplicate par-3 holes to keep play moving on short holes. The duplicates were adjacent and identical in length, grade, hazards, and greens.

But it was only after the war, when money was again available to build private clubs, that Jones’ real genius for golf architecture began to flourish. He dissolved his partnership with Stanley Thompson and struck out on his own and began to change the design of golf courses in America and around the world.