Robert Trent Jones Is the Magic Name in Golf Course Design: but Is It Junior or Senior?
On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, there is a golf course with a Zen sand trap—a large bunker with three boulders reminiscent of the temple gardens of Kyoto. In the shadow of Egypt’s pyramids, another course will be built in the shape of an ankh—the Egyptian symbol of eternal life. In Mexico, a third has been carved out of a thick jungle where crocodiles, iguanas and armadillos still prowl the rough.
All are projects of a 38-year-old Palo Alto, Calif. golf course architect who bears the most distinguished name in his unusual field, Robert Trent Jones Jr. His famous father, now 71, is “the Michelangelo of the business,” the son says. But Bobby Jr. is moving up fast. In 15 years he has designed 52 courses on his own and 25 in collaboration with Dad. (An architect’s fee is 10 percent of the construction cost, which is normally about $750,000.) Splitting the golf world with Jones Sr., who is based in Montclair, N.J., Junior has taken over the Pacific Basin. He built Silverado north of San Francisco (Johnny Miller’s home course) and Navatanee in Thailand (used for the ’75 World Cup) and is now at work on four new courses in the Philippines and one each in Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan.
While his father is notorious for making difficult courses that drive even the pros wild, Bobby is more interested in courses as works of art that blend with the environment. “The bane of our existence,” he says, “is land planners who try to make the course subordinate to selling their houses.” He is also scornful of the 70 or so other golf course architects in the U.S. “Most of them are charlatans,” he asserts. “You don’t have to have any special training—you just say you do.”
Junior even takes a dim view of courses designed by such distinguished golfers as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. “Pros design courses to make themselves look good,” Jones says. “It’s like asking the attackers how to defend the city under siege.” The ideal course, he declares, should present “a variety of problems to overcome. It is 18 little puzzles.”
Jones got started in golf when, at the age of 14, he dropped a fly ball during a championship baseball game and was told by Dad, “It’s time to play a sport in which, win or lose, nobody is depending on you.” Bobby eventually won some junior golf championships and played on the Yale team that took the intercollegiate title. After a year at Stanford Law School he decided to try to fill his father’s spiked shoes. “He was the toughest professor I ever had,” says Bobby, who apprenticed on California’s Spyglass Hill and Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Bobby is still an expert player. “My motive is to create the pure golf experience,” he says. “Sometimes I like to play alone at sunset or in the mist. It can be a meditative experience.” He adds, “I hate golf carts. They ought to be the first thing to go in any energy crunch.”
With businessman Armand Hammer, the Joneses are collaborating these days to build the Soviet Union’s first 18-hole course, outside Moscow. Bobby admits to a touch of father-son rivalry, and is teed off when clients sometimes publicize his work as that of his better-known dad. “It gets to be an emotional thing,” he says. “My father was king, and he is still the best living golf architect in the world. But you know—he can’t do it all.”