For the Love of the Fairway
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03
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"David Fay's dream was totally realized," says Jones. "My goal was to put the Tillinghast character back into the course. The Black changed the face of the game, the fans, the enthusiasm. From the pros' standpoint, it could have been the best-maintained golf course they had ever seen. The players loved it."
Certainly, Fay was thrilled, and loved what Jones had accomplished. "He has been a good friend of mine for many years," says Fay. "He's very easy to work with and very caring about what he does. He has a great eye and he's a great listener. He has his own style, but when he does work on an existing course, he can weave in his own talent with the designer of the original course. When you look at Rees's work at Baltusrol or Congressional, or the Black Course, you don't say, 'Oh, this must be a Rees Jones course.' You say, 'Gee, there was some great improvements, but it's in the style of the original design.'" Fay's admiration for the Long Island course also led to an announcement last fall that the Open would return to Bethpage Black in 2009.
For three weeks in August of 2001, the impact of Jones's work was felt throughout the golf world. Three consecutive high-profile tournaments were held at courses that Jones either had redone or created. It began with the Walker Cup, the biennial competition that pits amateur teams from Great Britain and Ireland against a team from the United States. The Walker Cup was held at Jones's magical Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island, Georgia. The course winds through marshland, along a river and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Next was the PGA Championship on the Highlands Course at the Atlanta Athletic Club, which Jones had totally made over in 1995. Then it was crosstown to the East Lake Golf Club, the course where Bobby Jones grew up playing, and where the 2001 U.S. Amateur Championship was held.
These were three very different projects. Ocean Forest is a private club attracting a small and elite clientele. The Atlanta Athletic Club is an enormous suburban private club with two courses and a ton of other athletic facilities, and was the original club that owned the East Lake Golf Course. East Lake, abandoned by the ACC in the 1960s, had fallen on hard times, but because of the desire of Atlanta developer Tom Cousins to restore the neighborhood by restoring the course, Jones was called in to give it a sprucing up.
"Ocean Forest was a wonderful piece of land to work with," says Jones. "You don't get many pieces of land like that, so I have been very lucky. The Atlanta Athletic Club is a very knowledgeable group of people. They couldn't have treated me any better. And to redo East Lake, for the purposes that Tom Cousins had in mind to revitalize the community, was a very special thing to do."
Jones has no shortage of work and has created or renovated more than 100 courses during the past two decades. He could have taken on much more work, but he learned something from his father beyond the scope of golf course design.
"My father was never home," says Jones. "He started up a business coming out of the Depression, and he had to take business wherever he could get it around the world. I made the decision to stay within the confines of the continental United States. I coached my daughter's basketball team for three years and I wanted to do that."
Unlike his older brother Robert Trent Jones II, who followed his father's footsteps around the world, Rees Jones is a comparative homebody. He has worked on a course in England, The Oxfordshire; a course in Puerto Rico, at the Palmas Del Mar Resort; in Canada, the Royal Oaks Golf Club in Moncton, New Brunswick; and in southern Africa, the nine-hole Swakopmund Golf Course in Swakopmund, Namibia.
He holds a landscape license in Hawaii, but has never used it. "The Oxfordshire, that wasn't hard to fly over, have dinner with them, look at the course and fly back," says Jones. "I'm doing a course in Madrid now and that's the same thing. The reason I never went to Japan or the Philippines is because it's a 10-day trip. I like to be involved in the field, and if you have to give a lot of time to a job like that, then the other jobs suffer. My worst nightmare is too many jobs, not too few. If I took too many, I'd lose my influence, my control. I take five or six jobs a year and a couple of remodels."
The awards have frequently come Jones's way. Golf Digest named the Atlantic Golf Club its best new private course in 1992 and bestowed the same award for the Nantucket Golf Club in Massachusetts in 1998. The magazine also selected the Sandpines Golf Club in Florence, Oregon, as the best new public course in 1993. A number of Jones's courses are rated in the top 100 by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and he was Golf Digest's 1995 Architect of the Year.
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