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For the Love of the Fairway

Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03

Rees Jones is into dirt. If his pants get dusty, his boots get muddy, no problem. Dirt is his medium, the landscape his canvas. Dirt is what he does best. Dirt for fairways and greens and tees. Dirt is the man's destiny.

For nearly 40 years as a golf course architect, Rees Jones has left his mark on courses from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Canadian border to Mexico. If you go to the hallowed golf grounds of eastern Long Island, the land of Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links and Maidstone, you will find Jones's Atlantic Golf Club and the newly opened The Bridge Golf Club. If you go to the sand hills of North Carolina, to the land of Pinehurst, you will find Jones's No. 7 Course at Pinehurst Country Club. If you go to almost any of the recent U.S. Open courses, the lands of the United States Golf Association, Jones has redone, restored and rejuvenated them, courses like The Country Club at Brookline in Massachusetts, the Black Course at Bethpage on Long Island, Congressional near Washington, D.C.

And everywhere he was into the dirt, directing its movement into the flowing forms we recognize as golf holes.

With a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University and studies in landscape architecture at the Harvard School of Design, he has the formal education to pursue his passion. He was born to that passion, born to walk the land and find a golf course on it. What else might you expect from the son of the most prolific golf course architect of all time, Robert Trent Jones?

If you were looking in an illustrated dictionary for the word "affable," Rees Jones's picture would appear next to it. His broad smiles strongly suggests a man you would like to talk to, a man who would like to talk to you. He laughs easily, often in loud eruptions that belie his soft voice. Conversations, on any topic, are easy and intelligent.

Jones has designed courses for the privileged and the public, for championships and for recreation. Most of all, he has designed courses to be enjoyed for their shot values, their ebb and flow, their aesthetics, and courses to be remembered, not because he designed them but because he discovered them.

"I like to build golf courses that are suggested by the land," says Jones. "I love to walk the site and look for holes, look for natural sites for tees and greens, fairways that flow. You have to make golf holes work with a bulldozer, but for the most part you want to discover as many holes as you can rather than create them."

When Robert Rubin wanted to build a golf course on a magnificent piece of property he owned on eastern Long Island, he turned to Jones, who had completed the nearby Atlantic Golf Club in 1992. "I see Rees as the custodian of neoclassical golf course architecture," says Rubin. "This was a very important piece of property in the Hamptons; it had been the site of a prominent racetrack, and I wanted a classical course there that paid homage to both the land and the track. Rees is an architect with the assurance and the ability to build a course the old way."

Golf courses aren't built the old way anymore. No more horse-drawn scrapers and hordes of day laborers with shovels and rakes. But most modern courses built recently are in the old style where the land dictates what is done, where the natural drama of the landscape is emphasized. It's a style that fits Jones like a favorite wool sweater. So many of his cues come from his father, who traveled the world to build courses. And much of what Rees brings to the game comes from his love of it and an upbringing in New Jersey that allowed him access to the great old courses of the East, to courses designed by legendary architects like A. W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross.

"I think one of the reasons I am an accomplished architect is that I like to play golf and I like to walk the great courses," says Jones. "I'm really anxious to play them. Playing golf is a learning process anyhow. You have to learn how to play a course, and in doing so, you can take things away that can help you in your design work, the shot values, strategy. I think you have to play a lot of courses to understand how to design them properly."

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