If you’ve played golf very often for more than a few years, chances are you’ve played a course designed by Robert Trent Jones. Indeed, his empire is so vast it’s been jokingly said that “the sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones golf course.”
From the early 1930s, when he began a solo architecture career, until his death in 2000, Jones designed or remodeled some 500 courses worldwide. His creations span 40 U.S. states and 35 countries.
Perhaps ironically, the Great Depression provided a boost to Jones’ fledgling business – the Works Progress Administration (WPA) supplied labor for six of his projects. While he was firmly established by the mid-1940s, Jones’ star rose to a new level when Robert Tyre Jones – aka “Bobby” – chose him to assist in building Atlanta’s Peachtree Golf Club.
Of course, Bobby Jones was the most revered man in golf, having won 13 major championships as an amateur before founding Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. Thus, the “other” Jones thought it best to use his full name after their collaboration.
Robert Trent Jones’ fame rose another notch in 1951 with his remodeling of Michigan’s Oakland Hills Country Club for the U.S. Open. Winner Ben Hogan called the course a “monster,” and Jones would later rework a number of Open host sites.
All the while, Jones was busy building 10 or more courses at a time all around the globe. He was often required to get creative with the land he was given. In Hawaii, Jones ground lava into soil for Mauna Kea CC. In Sardinia, he did the same with granite.
Jones took full advantage of technological advances, moving mountains of earth to produce mounds, swales and other features on his courses. Indeed, one might credit (or blame) Jones for “Americanizing” the game. By building long courses that often deemanded high shots into elevated, heavily guarded greens, Jones drew up the template for course design from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Jones’ best-known courses in the U.S. include Spyglass Hill (Calif.), Hazeltine National (Minn.) and the North Course at Firestone Country Club (Ohio). The popular Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama was the first of its kind, inspiring other states to build similar trails.
Jones’ sons, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and Rees Jones, became famous designers as well. But put together, their considerable portfolios don’t match the scale of their father’s. It’s a collection that will likely never be topped.